Recent economic challenges throughout B.C.’s forestry have been felt in the Nicola Valley lately, with Aspen Planers closing their mill for more than five weeks, only reopening last week for a limited run. While the length of the re-opening is up in the air due to what Aspen Planers has said is stalled ‘reconciliation negotiations’ on cutting permits with local First Nations, the mill’s 150 employees are back on the job for now.

The Herald has reached out to Stuwix Resources Joint Venture, a Merritt-based forestry company owned by eight local First Nations, to request an interview on the topic of cutting permits, but has not heard back after leaving a number of messages. The Herald looks to engage a number of stakeholders in local forestry as a part of an ongoing series on the industry and its various local impacts, and will continue to reach out to First Nations and other organizations. 

This week, the Herald sat down with MLA Jackie Tegart, who represents the Nicola Valley as part of the province’s Fraser-Nicola riding. Tegart said her office has been busy with calls about the forestry industry, with constituents voicing their concerns.

“There’s a great deal of concern about forestry, and about the lack of support for resource industries as a whole by the government,” Tegart told the Herald.

“We’re hearing mill announcements, it seems, on a regular basis for closures. Forestry has been cyclical for many, many years, but what I’m hearing from people is that they get a sense that their government doesn’t see a future in the industry.”

The change from short lay-offs and breakups to deeper industry challenges and permitting issues is one of concern, Tegart noted, adding that a review of the cutting permit process has been advocated for by opposition. She added that while the industry may be in transition, she believes it certainly isn’t going away any time soon. 

Tegart noted that she believes the private sector is already working to engage local First Nations to partner on forestry projects and include them in decision making processes, and that along with government consultation of First Nations, a prosperous forestry industry is possible for the foreseeable future.

“I think that if you talk to most forestry companies, they have already taken the steps to very much become partners with First Nations in their areas,” added Tegart.

“Government as a whole has very much recognized First Nations as partners in planning and in actually cutting and processing of wood. I think that we need to work in partnership, we need to ensure that stewardship and biodiversity is part of planning to ensure a sustainable industry.”

The Herald reached out to the Ministry of Forests to request an interview with Minister Bruce Ralston on the topic of possible negotiations with local First Nations and the impact of forestry on smaller locales, to which Ministry staff responded with a statement. 

“The Ministry of Forests values the contribution of forestry to the regional economy of the Nicola Valley and the people who live and work there,” said the Ministry of Forests in a statement.

“The Province is working with the local communities and First Nations to design a collaborative and principled approach to issuing cutting permits that addresses stewardship concerns.”

Tegart added that she believes the government is treating forestry as a sunset industry, despite its future potential in the province. With the industry undoubtedly in transition, its future in the Nicola Valley remains uncertain.