Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun, August 9, 2006

Clayoquot Sound logging is on the verge of a unique restructuring that would blunt allegations from eco-groups that pristine valleys are under the axe.

The largest logging company in Clayoquot, first nations-owned Iisaak Forest Products, has confirmed it is ready to sign a deal with Ecotrust Canada to turn management over to Ecotrust, which has a record for merging capital with conservation.

Iisaak Forest Products general manager Gary Johnsen said Iisaak has worked out a management contract with Ecotrust Canada to establish a conservation-based economy in the rainforests of the Sound.

The deal, worked out over the last six months, would mark the first time one of B.C.’s struggling forest companies had been restructured not only for the bottom line but to make it ecologically sustainable as well.

"Our interest is not to take the company over but to move it into a different space," Ecotrust Canada executive director Ian Gill said Tuesday.

The Iisaak restructuring should resolve concerns from the environmental movement that Clayoquot Sound’s pristine valleys are in danger of being logged, he said.

"I don’t see any need for the company to be planning to log the pristine valleys just to increase its volume because the real issue for Iisaak at the moment is: Can the company operate profitably with the volume it has and with any other new volume that’s available to it without even thinking about the pristines at this point."

He said Ecotrust will be injecting new capital as well but declined to say how much.

Valerie Langer, of the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, said the proposed restructuring would ease environmental concerns if it meant Iisaak would focus on harvesting less timber, which is now ending declined to say how much.

Valerie Langer, of the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, said the proposed restructuring would ease environmental concerns if it meant Iisaak would focus on harvesting less timber, which is now ending up in commodity markets.

The contract between Ecotrust and Iisaak was ready to be signed on Tuesday. However, it was unclear as of Tuesday evening whether that had happened yet.

The restructuring was to be outlined at a meeting Tuesday between Clayoquot’s first nations chiefs and eco-groups to discuss tensions about future logging in the region.

Controversy erupted last week when land use plans identified pristine valleys for potential logging. Eco-groups claim the valleys are off-limits.

Iisaak, originally a joint-venture between Weyerhaeuser Co. and the Sound’s first nations, has the largest logging operation in Clayoquot Sound, cutting 85,000 cubic metres of timber in 2005.

When it was founded in 1999, its aim was to use Clayoquot timber to create a new forest economy. Environmentalists applauded when an Iisaak faller, accompanied by first nations elders, cut the first tree in September 2000.

Weyerhaeuser soon left, turning the entire company and forest tenure over to Clayoquot first nations but maintained the first right of refusal for timber harvested, using it to supplement timber for its own sawmills.

Eco-groups pledged to help market the timber, which has Forest Stewardship Council certification, but soon moved on to other campaigns. Provincial government requirements encouraged industrial logging and an overlapping of operations with the Sound’s other forest company, Interfor, often made it impractical to initiate innovative practices.

The result: Iisaak has seldom been profitable and has been harvesting higher timber volumes each year in a bid to make money.

The decision last week to approve plans that open the pristine watersheds to logging was the latest blow to Iisaak’s founding goals, drawing fire from environmental groups, which threatened to blockade the first nations company.

The issue of logging the watersheds is intertwined with Iisaak’s profitability. If it cannot make money by logging lower volumes of higher valued timber, then the watersheds offer a ready solution.

Making money by cutting less won’t be a problem, said the man who will be charged with doing the actual logging.

"It can be done," said Thomas Olsen, of Triumph Timber, one of the province’s top eco-system-based loggers.

Triumph is to take over the operational side of Clayoquot logging under the plan. Triumph pioneered new logging methods on the north coast, where it has developed relationships with first nations based on balancing ecological integrity, social well-being and the economic realities of the business, said Olsen.

He said it would be premature for him to comment on the watersheds until Triumph has a chance to develop short-term and long-term plans.

Ecotrust has an 11-year history in B.C. of promoting the emergence of conservation-based economies by raising funds from philanthropists and using the cash to capitalize green economic ventures.

The Ecotrust move is one of two changes underway in Clayoquot logging. At the same time Iisaak is being restructured, Clayoquot chiefs are also talking with the sound’s other major forest licensee, Interfor, over acquiring Interfor’s logging rights in the region.

Interfor vice-president Ric Slaco confirmed the forest licence is up for sale and that Clayoquot first nations as well as other parties have expressed interest.

"We have had some discussions with first nations regarding the tenure," Slaco said.


© The Vancouver Sun 2006