A group of mills is about to get access to a large area of forested Crown land in Queens, Shelburne, Digby and Yarmouth counties.

The parcel is 566,600 hectares — roughly the same size as Prince Edward Island — and basically represents all the Crown land west of Highway 102, which runs between Truro and Halifax.

Approximately one-third of the parcel was once owned by Resolute Forest Products Ltd., former operator of the now closed Bowater-Mersey paper mill in Liverpool.

A group of mills have now formed a consortium under the name West For. Final details are being worked out with the province, but associate deputy minister for the Department of Natural Resources, Allan Eddy, says 16 mills were invited to participate.

He says “the majority” have agreed to be part of the consortium. Eddy says the goal of setting up an agreement with the West For consortium is to create “an efficient framework to ensure we can achieve world-class management on the Crown lands and it will also allow the most efficient forestry operations.”

The consortium will harvest from the land as if it is one company, but the wood will then be divided between all the mills in the consortium.

Eddy says all types of harvesting will take place, including clear-cutting. The consortium will harvest mostly softwood, but Eddy says there are also “hardwood allocations within the consortium.”

West For will be responsible to the Department of Natural Resources, he says, and the department will ensure the appropriate forestry standards are met.

Eddy says there will be stumpage rates established based on fair market prices for privately-owned wood. He says he hopes the West For consortium will begin cutting early in 2016.