In the nooks and crannies of Clayoquot Sound, a small number of people are realizing their vision of value-added forestry.
In August 2008, the Hesquiaht Nation in Hot Springs Cove opened one of the most beautiful and environmentally responsible schools in Canada, using wood harvested and processed from their traditional territory. A quick tour with Cecil Sabbas, the project leader, reveals the Hesquiaht’s pride in building in their own signature West Coast style.
Nearby, at the back of Hesquiaht Harbour, Peter Buckland and the Boat Basin Foundation have spent eight years building the Temperate Rainforest Field Study Centre. Designed for university students and natural history enthusiasts, the facilities are crafted out of carefully salvaged wood. Closer to civilization—yet still miles away from a road—Ben Ronnenbergh and Nick Bodding have created a successful value-added business based on smart marine salvage and a keen eye for the perfect milling cuts.
And then there’s Joe Martin, a Tla-o-qui-aht member who, according to the latest report, is fast approaching the production of his fiftieth carved cedar canoe. If you could paint what a conservation economy looks like, Joe’s work would be its perfect illustration.
These are just a few examples of the some two-dozen native carvers, weavers and bent-box makers, plus eight portable sawmill operators, who make up the current value-added industry in Clayoquot Sound. As impressive as the individual efforts are, it’s a paltry number given the volume and quality of timber being harvested in the region.
Getting more value from less volume of timber is central to building a sustainable forestry industry—and sustainable communities—on the West Coast. In order to meet this objective, Ecotrust Canada hired forestry consultants John Lerner and Deb Delong to research a detailed, comprehensive strategy for scaling up local value-added manufacturing based, in part, on the timber harvest of Iisaak Forest Resources, a local native-owned, FSC-certified forestry company.
The study identifies opportunities that Iisaak could pursue in order to create jobs, build self-reliance and maximize the value of Clayoquot’s unique rainforest ecosystem. To a great extent, these opportunities are built around Iisaak’s Western Red cedar supply and small-scale production that focuses on high-value, niche products. The study’s authors recommend a phased approach to launching various ventures, rating each based on risks, investment level and local capacity.
Conservation & Competitive Advantage
Iisaak has a unique opportunity to be a leader in world-class forestry. Not only does the company have an exceptional supply of Western Red cedar, but it has one of the few FSC-certified coastal forest tenures in Canada.
The company, wholly owned by five local First Nations, operates in a spectacular coastal environment characterized by steep mountains, numerous islands, streams, lakes and extensive old-growth forests. The sensitive ecosystem, and environmental conflicts in the 1990s, mean the company must adhere to a strict ecosystem-based management approach to logging in the area.
The Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) is currently set around 110,000 cubic metres. In 2007-2008, under a management contract with Ecotrust Canada and Triumph Timber, Iisaak sold most of its timber in large batches to FSC-certified mills on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. The strategy brought financial stability to the company and jobs in harvesting, but not value-added processing.
According to the feasibility study, there are opportunities to market small-volume, high-value products, particularly cedar, to many local developments. FSC and First Nations branding could also strengthen the position of local wood products in niche markets, especially in LEED-certified green buildings.
The study identifies a range of opportunities that vary in investment, capacity building, difficulty and risk. Some can be developed fairly readily while others require long-term capacity building, capital investment or both. Which opportunities are developable and when is dependent on local interest, aptitude, patience, availability of joint-venture partners or local entrepreneurs, training and financing.
The study’s authors recommend that Iisaak and the Nuu-chah-nulth Central Region First Nations begin developing the easiest opportunities first. Confidence, capacity and profits earned from early successes can, in turn, be reinvested in more challenging opportunities later on. It is a phased approach that mitigates risks and builds upon successes over time.
The following table outlines the various value-added opportunities and associated risks, and capital and capacity requirements.
A number of potential synergies can emerge when a significant number of wood processing opportunities are considered together.
First, the commercial mill, the architectural log-profiling operation and the log-home building business could realize cost savings associated with log shipping and handling if they were located near or close to each other. They could also benefit from collaborating to create innovative new products or take on new markets.Second, a shared shop or joint furniture-millwork business could work well together since many of the same skills and machinery are required for both ventures. Local native artists could also provide design and carving services to the furniture and millwork businesses, creating unique local Nuu-chah-nulth designs.
Third, there may be an opportunity for certain businesses to share marketing staff. This may be the case for the commercial mill and the custom-cutting program, and for the log building and the architectural log profiling businesses.
Finally, all businesses will produce products from an FSC-certified forest. This positions Iisaak and the First Nations to sell some of their products into common markets, particularly Europe, where FSC certification is highly valued by conscientious consumers.
There is a common need to discover the entrepreneurial spirit among the youth and adults on First Nations reserves. All of the opportunities outlined in the study need First Nations entrepreneurs to champion them and to make them happen. Without these leaders, without their drive, creativity and commitment, the businesses will simply not develop, or will be managed by others with marginal First Nations involvement. In order to avoid this predicament, an awareness campaign about opportunities in the wood sector and entrepreneurial training needs to occur on reserves and beyond.
The processing of wood is both highly energy intensive and waste producing. However, a number of strategies can reduce its ecological footprint.
First, waste wood can be utilized as firewood, as material for carvers or shakes and shingles, as bark mulch or wood chips for local gardens or possibly as hog fuel to produce alternative energy.
Wood processing also often involves using toxic chemicals for varnishing. However, many non-toxic, water-based finishes are now available and can be used to reduce the need to recycle oils and other harmful chemicals.