In October 2013 it was announced that the Klahoose First Nation and the Cortes Community Forest Co-Op had been jointly awarded a Community Forest tenure on Cortes Island, which will constitute the majority of the Crown lands on Cortes.
Their plan is to net out of the equation sensitive ecosystems, riparian zones, areas with very thin soils, and groves of old growth—and do selective, ecosystem-based forestry on what remains of the land base.
This kind of thing has been done before. Eco-forestry gurus Merv Wilkinson and Herb Hammond have proven that one can manage a forest over the long-term, extracting timber and turning a profit, while not harming the overall ecosystem-health or productivity of the forest. But in order to build a forestry economy for the people of Cortes Island, this will also require training the youth and building the infrastructure that will be necessary to mill and process the timber that's being harvested. This will take time and some logs may leave the island, perhaps even the country, in order to maintain the integrity of the business model. But their dream is to eventually curtail log exports and keep the logs on Cortes as much as possible—or at least within BC.
James Delorme, current chief of the Klahoose First Nation, is committed to developing a sustainable economy for his people on Cortes. The band recently purchased an Alaska mill for milling lumber for their own use and for sale off-island. Young people are coming to him asking to be trailed in logging, milling and woodworking, so that they can become involved in the various Klahoose logging operations, both on and off Cortes Island. James sees forestry as being a crucial component of the Klahoose economy that aligns with traditional values.
But the grand plan goes way beyond just the Community Forest. It also involves their small community woodlot on their territory on Cortes, which is separate from the community forest. They recently harvested some trees from the woodlot and, despite grumblings on the island, they were not at the receiving end of any sort of protest actions from the non-native community. They also have a Tree Farm License on their mainland territory, where they are doing larger-scale forestry; they have aquaculture operations in the waters around Cortes; and they have got several tidal power projects up Toba Inlet.
Despite some head-shaking from the locals about their use of industrial practices, revenues from their power-generating projects allowed them to build a new community facility for their band. Aquaculture provides fresh seafood for Klahoose families. And in terms of forestry, they are working a land-base that is orders of magnitude smaller in scale than that of Island Timberlands. They are employing Klahoose men and women and using at least some of the wood to build homes for their members. And the remaining logs are mostly being sold for use in our own bio-region. (However, the band council has been deafeningly silent on the Island Timberlands issue, when they were once the ones leading the blockades against MacBlo in the early 90s. I am very curious to know what has changed in their views since those days.)
So while the Klahoose have been criticized, I have to point out that in the case of their TFL up Toba, this is their traditional territory and if anyone has a right to harvest the timber, it is them. And ultimately, Klahoose members and their descendants are going to have to live in the area for generations to come, whereas the big logging companies can simply flip the land for real-estate once they can't grow any trees anymore, so the Klahoose have a far deeper interest in developing a truly sustainable economy than Island Timberlands.
And lastly, while our culture has been built from cashing in the natural wealth of native lands, it is unfair to say that First Nations should not have the same opportunity to develop their own culture or make use of their own resources. If you look at the Hul'qumi'num peoples on Vancouver Island, where the vast majority of their lands were privatized and are now owned by big timber companies, most people are dependent on Federal aid for survival. But the Klahoose, who have regained control over a good portion of their territories, are now working towards the ultimate goal of all this economic development, which is to gain independence from the Federal Government. One can only hope that their connection to the land and traditional knowledge will prevent them from making the same mistakes that we did.