With an exchange of gifts at the new Campbell River Band office Friday, Wei Wai Kum Chief Robert Pollard and Steve Thompson, Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, signed a woodland licence agreement designed to enhance employment and economic opportunities in the region.

The 25-year First Nations woodland licence allows the Wei Wai Kum to harvest almost 9,900 cubic metres of timber per year from their traditional territories. The agreement covers a 2,414 hectare parcel of Crown land near Heydon Bay on B.C.’s south central mainland coast and another 1,212 hectares by Pye Lake, north of Campbell River.

“We have enjoyed success with a variety of economic development projects including the Discovery Harbour Marina and Shopping Centre, House of Treasures native art and gift shop and the Thunderbird Campground,” said Robert Pollard, Chief of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation. “This new forest licence allows us to build on our strong economic base, while taking the lead in managing traditional lands and better conservation of our cultural interests in the region.”

This is the third First Nations woodland licence issued since the Province began the program through legislation passed in 2011. The initial First Nations woodland licence was awarded to the Huu-ay-aht First Nation on Vancouver Island in 2012, and an agreement with the Canim Lake Indian Band in the Cariboo followed. A number of additional First Nations agreements are currently in negotiations, said Thompson.

“The Province recognizes that First Nations like the Wei Wai Kum have a strong connection to the land and resources within their traditional territories,” said Thomson. “Along with creating economic opportunities, the new licence helps the Wei Wai Kum more effectively manage for traditional land use practices and take a stronger role in managing forests and lands in their traditional territories.”

The Province signed the first direct-award agreement with First Nations in September 2002. Since then, the Province has signed forestry agreements with 177 First Nations providing $382 million in revenue-sharing and providing access to 180 million cubic metres of timber.

Thompson said Friday’s agreement followed nearly a year and a half of negotiations between the province and the Wei Wai Kum, a process that began with putting forest tenure operations and revenue-sharing agreements in place.

“It ultimately moves to a First Nations woodland license, which gives them their own specific area-based tenure for 25 years and which provides the longer-term security to make investment and build capacity in their community,” he said.