Right now there is a window of opportunity to change forest management planning north of Kenora. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is looking at the possibility of establishing an Enhanced Sustainable Forest Licence (ESFL) for the Whiskey Jack Forest.
Gaining local community input into how the forest is managed, one of the benefits of a ESFL, may be key in sustaining forest industry jobs in the area and resolving Grassy Narrows First Nation’s long-standing concerns over clear-cutting of nearby forests.
Last week a Grassy Narrows youth group, band members and supporters staged a series of peaceful protests at several locations in Kenora over the province’s plans to permit clear cut logging in the Whiskey Jack Forest.
They want the province to remove what the band claims is their traditional land use area (60,000 hectares) from the ministry’s 2012-22 forest management plan. The protesters are also seeking commitments from Weyerhaeuser and Kenora Forest Products not to use wood harvested from their traditional lands.
The First Nation has maintained a symbolic blockade for more than a decade to prevent logging operations north of the community.
However, what was most interesting about media reports into the protests was that Grassy Narrows leaders hope to get the community’s young people involved in forest planning.
While band Coun. Randy Fobister told reporters that “we want to protect the land from destruction,” he also noted that, “we also want to give our youth an opportunity to plan for the territory.
“We will continue to ask the province and federal government for funding to give our youth a chance to do their own plan for the forest. Forestry is not the only revenue making activity; there’s also tourism and eco-tourism.”
According to Fobister, the band has invited ministry officials to meet with band members to address the issue and although they have received a positive response, no commitments have been made.
Those commitments should be made. It’s a great idea and one that could help resolve tensions over logging in the area.
Ministry officials have confirmed no logging activities will proceed in the Grassy Narrows area according to the annual work schedule for 2015; logging permits for forest areas in the vicinity of the First Nation community have been deferred to the second phase of the 10-year forest management plan from 2017-22.
Ministry officials also say that talks with Grassy Narrows, Whitefish Bay and Wabauskang First Nations over establishing a future ESFL for the Whiskey Jack Forest have begun.
The new licence would provide a mechanism for local stakeholders to have input into forest planning, including: governance, local aboriginal and non-aboriginal community involvement, wood use, new entrants, sustainable forest management delivery and economic viability, and competitive wood costs.
A forest management structure that provides for local input and governance could very well resolve Grassy Narrows’ logging concerns and end their forest road blockade.
This forest management structure would more than likely result in a more sustainable environment for everyone by providing smaller forest clear-cuts that benefit wildlife such as moose, more areas of old-growth forest left for wildlife shelter, larger buffers around lakes to benefit tourism, fewer areas sprayed with herbicide (resulting in more areas left for berry picking), and more winter harvesting to prevent sensitive areas from being damage by road building.
What a great solution — one that should have been put in place years ago.