Course:CONS200/2019/Social, ecological and economic outcomes of forest practices and operations of First Nations in BC.

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Forest management is defined as "the practical application of scientific, economic and social principles to the administration and working of a forest for specified objectives"[1] by the Government of British Columbia.

Forestry has a long history in British Columbia, where it accounts for 32% ($14.1 billion) of B.C.’s total exports and employs 57 000 people in primary and secondary industries[2]. Canada's current forestry practises are structured as industrial operations. As a settler-colonial nation, many of these operations were founded by European settlers who systemically sought to repress Indigenous cultures [3]. Built into the governments' relations with First Nations people, the presence of First Nations groups in forestry is limited because of they are systemically disadvantaged under the "postcolonial social and administrative system"[4].

It is important to remember that First Nations groups are not one homogenous group. Assuming this homogeneity is a large part of the problem. There are 198 distinct First Nations in British Columbia[5]; each hold their own social, ecological and economic claims to the industry and their culture.


Forest practices and operations of First Nations in British Columbia (BC) are gaining momentum but are not fully integrated within the BC forestry industry. 80% of First Nations lands are located in forested lands, while they operate only 5% of large volume-long term lease forestry operations[6].

To involve First Nations communities in forestry practices, government institutions and forest sector companies use different integrative approaches. Through the use of treaties and partnerships[7], First Nations groups have been invited into the conversation of forestry practices but the extent of their input has been marginal in moving away from profit-focused practices.

The movement to increase indigenous presence in forestry has in turn caused the two different approaches and their world views to interact and, in some cases, clash. Conflicts between these value systems translates into the outcomes of each practice, as the two groups value economic, ecological and social outcomes differently - a relationship facing tension as industrial forestry forces the adoption of “dominant visions of development”[8] onto First Nations practices.

Types of practices

A typical industrial forestry practice in British Columbia

With almost 1 out of 17 jobs in British Columbia being in forestry[9], the industry generates large economic power for the province and has many social and ecological impacts. Dominated by industrial forest practices, forestry in British Columbia has recently seen the growth and acceptance of the First Nations forestry practices gaining momentum throughout the province[10]. However, the integration of First Nations and industrial forestry practices is not simple due to conflicting approaches within the industry.

Industrial forestry practices

Industrial forestry practises, traditionally anthropocentric (citation), can be defined as “the purposeful growing of wood for harvesting and utilization … on … lands dedicated for that purpose”[11]. Dominating the industry in terms of economic wealth, current industrial practises are socially and ecologically unsustainable[12][13].

First Nations forestry practices

Aboriginal Forestry has become understood as a prospective form of forestry that draws from a combination of traditional techniques and knowledge of industrial forestry as well as aboriginal rights, values, and institutions [14].Traditional ecological knowledge is a key component of traditional land use, which uses a more holistic, biocentric approach to forestry practices. First nations feel a connectedness to the forest, taking only what they need ensuring long-term sustainability for both the forest and the community [15]. Parsons and Prest (2003) define aboriginal forestry as “sustainable forestry incorporating respectful interaction between Aboriginal peoples and the forest.”[16]The introduction of First Nations forestry practices represents an alternative forest management system in which the interests of first nations are considered central and ensures those interests are respected [14].

The evidence for the problem

The forestry sector plays a significant role in British Columbia’s economy, yet, First nations communities have largely been excluded from its benefits and the industry’s activities have elevated concerns among Aboriginals for the apparent lack of influence they wield towards how the land is managed. In recent years, protests and legal challenges among BC’s first nations meant courts were compelled to recognize Aboriginal land rights and establish measures to increase their involvement in the forestry sector. [17] Increased timber shares were extended as a restorative measure from the province, with the prospects that the relationship profits would aid in subsiding poverty and creating jobs in first nations communities. However, little analyses have been carried out on the effectiveness of these measures [18].

Profitability of First nation’s tenure in forestry has proven to be an issue. Since cultural and ecological values take precedence over revenues, they are unable to keep up with their industrial counterparts. Furthermore, additional investment in machinery, skilled workers, and management expertise is required in order to generate the anticipated socio-economic benefits [18]. The lack of acknowledgement of Aboriginal interests in the institutional framework of forestry means in order to succeed in the industry Aboriginal people must sacrifice their traditional livelihoods.

Bridging the gap between industrial forestry practises and the cultural considerations of First Nations groups in British Columbia, Aboriginal forestry incorporates both conventional and traditional forest knowledge in their forestry operations [19]. Moving away from the historical belief in the forestry sector that the inclusion of First Nations practises is “a hindrance, an inconvenience and an additional cost”[20], partnerships between BC First Nations groups and industrial groups are working towards an inclusive approach where reconciliation is a prominent part of the conversation. The overall trend of this relationship, while not complete, can be seen as one moving from 'conflict to collaboration' [21].

Case study: Tl'azt'en Nation

First Nations view the land with great respect. Some create sacred sites of importance, while others see the entire land as sacred. Regardless, a key component of Aboriginal forestry is taking what is needed without greatly damaging the land.  Due to their focus on sustainability, their practices ensure long-term stability. However, this often means that First Nations forestry practices are not able to compete with industrial practices involving clear cutting and other large harvest methods.

After much backlash from First Nations being excluded, the provincial government introduced the Forestry Revitalization Act in 2003[22]. An example of one First Nation that has worked this way while still operating at a large scale is the Tl’azt’en Nation. Being the first First Nations to obtain the proper licenses, the Tl'azt'en nation has dealt with much pressure from competing industrial-based practices. Their struggles with attempting to keep traditional practices as well as dealing with the development of industrial-based activities are well documented.

Tl'azt'en Nation's ecological approach

Previously managing forests under "Keyohs" and "Bahlats" systems of subsistence based practices, the Tl'azt'en Nation has had to greatly change their strategy to conform to new economic goals[22]. Receiving a Tree Farm License 42 (TFL 42) in 1982, the Tl’azt’en Nation looked to incorporate industrial strategies with their own. This consisted of a 25 year, renewable license to harvest from 54,000 hectares of Crown Land[23].

The TFL, being the largest available tenure in British Columbia, offered temporary stability to the Tl’azt’en nation. However, it was not until 1998 that another TFL was granted to a BC First Nation. The problem with the First Nation approach is that they are not able to compete with industrial forestry demands. In the Tl’azt’en case, the low annual allowable cut (AAC), proved to be their downfall. Unable to pay the high finances of timber practices, the Tl’azt’en were forced to cut more than what they felt they could, going against their traditional sustainable practices. Not sharing the same view of the land, timber corporations are able to harvest an amount much larger than what First Nations deem acceptable by the land, ultimately yielding larger cuts and higher profits[24].  

Stuart Lake and the bordering Tl'azt'en Nation forested land

Effects of current Tl'azt'en Nation approach

The Tl'azt'en Nation is the first well documented case of a First Nations attempting to achieve the same economic goals as an industrial group. While they are still greatly concerned about maintaining healthy forest ecosystems to support their subsistence-based lives, their new approach to forestry practices have had negative outcomes to the overall ecological integrity. Reduced numbers of fish and wildlife such as the sockeye salmon and moose have been reported. The Tl'azt'en nation are also concerned about increased wildlife habitat fragmentation. The Tl'azt'en Nation is currently considering obtaining a community forest agreement (CFA) as opposed to their TFL. However, doing so would mean they have little control over resource management and decision making, as well as obtaining the land base for CFA K4B, which is 5,000 hectares smaller than TFL 42. The CFA K4B land also consists of large volumes of poor quality beetle killed pine[22]. For the past 40 years, the Tl'azt'en Nation has struggled with maintaining this balance between forestry endeavors and their own traditional principles.Looking to alternatives would mean facing a new set of ecological challenges such as the beetle killed pine, creating a large problem for First Nations to be able to be successful in the forest sector.

Social outcomes

A product of the government’s relationship with First Nations peoples, systemic barriers to education and economic wealth limit the integration of First Nations practises and peoples into the forestry industry[10]. However, First Nations forestry practises have created an area of growth in both the internal and external relations of their communities.

Growth in education

The cost and length of a four-year university degree, the qualification needed to become a Registered Professional Forester (RPF), is not accessible to a large portion of the BC First Nations population[25]. This restriction, and the subsequent absence of First Nations people in the forestry industry, created a surplus of trained RPFs who are not educated in cultural practises. Without the RPF qualification, involvement in forestry can only be through workplace and college educations where the available certifications do not provide the ability to move upward and hold managerial positions.

Efforts have been made to combat this disconnect in forestry practises, most notably taken by the governing body of RPFs in BC. Their latest assessment guide, The Self-Assessment Guide for Registered Professional Foresters in BC released in 2012, features the inclusion of guidelines for Indigenous relations[26] to promote a better understanding of First Nations forestry practises throughout the province and to limit this systemic educational barrier.

With accessible education, communities benefit greatly. Training RPFs and other forestry partners in cultural practises allows First Nations to grow and sustain their forestry industry while also enhancing the standard of living[27]. The economic outcomes are closely linked to this growth in education. With the growth of education and the subsequent growth in employment, people now have the financial means to survive within their community and to help strengthen the presence of traditional knowledge within the industry.

Maintaining culture

First Nations cultures depend greatly on the land - an integral part of their existence. Closely linked to the land that they live on, these diverse cultures commonly practise sustainable land-use and interact with the land for economic, cultural and social benefits. An area of spiritual importance, many First Nations traditionally base their ceremonies and gatherings within the forest environment and interact with its components to access medicine, food, and shelter[28].

First Nations' forestry practises reinforce cultural beliefs and rituals, showing respect for the environment. The economic value of forestry in First Nations groups contributes to their survival because it provides the economic means to grow and support their population while still maintaining their connection to the land[29]. Applying their ecological perspectives and belief systems into an economic producer that exists where their culture is founded, First Nations practises maintain the culture that would otherwise be threatened by industrial practises.

Tl'azt'en First Nations

The Tl'azt'en First Nations group defines their purpose as maintaining a "strong healthy Dakelh community that celebrates and practices traditional uses as caretakers of the land"[30]. The community maintains traditional seasonal trips and practises as well as living off the land to achieve this purpose and applies their traditional knowledge in their forest practises. Their Community Forest Agreements through the Tanizul Timber Ltd are committed to the beliefs and approaches of the Tl'azt'en people [31] and seek to maintain cultural beliefs and rituals within the forestry industry.

Economic outcomes

Traditionally, first nations groups occupied different territories across BC and existed as small self sustaining communities. Of these traditional first nations communities still remaining, most do not exist close to modern economic centres where their inhabitants could find employment. The isolation of these communities in modern society leaves their inhabitants at a huge economic disadvantage due to a lack of income.[32] However, 80-85% of traditional aboriginal communities in BC are in forested areas, making forest products a possible source of economic stimulus for communities facing these problems. There is already reported to be 1500 different aboriginal forestry communities in Canada, with that number expected to rise.[33]

First nations are not free to use the land they live on for commercial harvests and their economic benefit. First nations would need to have rights to the land privately or as a tenure agreement, Most land in BC is crown land, privately owned or a part of a commercial tenure. However, the land that first nations Currently own in BC is not enough to sustain them economically.[34] Furthermore, a tenure owner is required to own and operate a mill to process the wood that is harvested from the tenured land. Building a mill is a large economic investment for small First Nations communities.

A mill owned by Canfor, an industrial forestry company

Partnerships between aboriginals and industrial forest firms

Harvesting on first nations traditional land by industrial forest firms with tenure on these lands has reduced the capacity of first nations traditional economies. Forests on their traditional land have and are being degraded, leaving first nations with less natural resources to live off. The removal of these natural resources has been of no economic benefit to the first nations occupying their traditional lands unless partnerships were created prior to harvesting.[33] Partnerships are of economic benefit to first nations, but first nations are forced to agree with industrial forest management practices which may not align with their own views on forest management. [33] Resolution of land claims and new tenure agreements for first nations to practice forestry on will be necessary if first nations are to achieve their economic goals and simultaneously practice traditional aboriginal forestry.

Treaty Negotiations & Government Policies

The provincial government began land claim discussion with BC first nations in 1990. Approximately 55 first nations group are currently in discussion with the provincial government on the ramifications of a treaty. However, only a small proportion of these groups have reached agreements with the provincial government on a treaty. A treaty in British Columbia would establish aboriginal title, aboriginal rights, and settlements for land claims.[34] A sweeping treaty agreed upon by the provincial government and first nations would solve many of the issues in British Columbia surrounding first nations forestry. Nevertheless, agreements between first nations groups and governing bodies are not easily met. To ensure the fair treatment of first nations in forestry related proceedings, a framework of guidelines was created for the British Columbia provincial ministry of forests to follow. The framework seeks to increase first nation economic stake in the forest industry, contribute to respectful management of forest, and the framework should be considered when a land claim is made. [34]

Distribution of tenure to first nations

Under the Forest Revitalization Act, a legislation passed in 2003 promises to grant 8% of tenure owned by a group of large forestry companies to first nations in rural areas.[34] Tenures granted under the Forest Revitalization Act are relatively small since managing large areas of land without the infrastructure of a large forestry company is difficult. Unlike traditional tenure, First Nation owners of the tenures are able to renew the tenure after it is up if they wish to continue managing the land. They can also choose to withdraw from the tenure at any time without penalty. This ensures the First Nations operating the tenure do not suffer any losses from the commitment[34]


First Nations in British Columbia face many barriers in the forest sector. They often face difficulty becoming a RPF due to the high level education required. This results of a low representation of First Nations in Forestry. They also face hardship in obtaining a TFL or CFA in order to have the proper licensing to harvest on their land. Once the land is obtained however, they face the larger challenge of maintaining the cultural principles while still making the most of their harvests. As seen in the Tl'azt'en case study, it is very difficult to keep up with industrial practices while trying to preserve ecological integrity. In the case of Tanizul Timber, attempting to compete with industrial practices came with the price of declining wildlife populations.

However, due to the First Nations focus on self-sustenance, often times their involvement in the forest sector is nonprofit. Their low harvests mean they are consistently out competed by larger timber companies with clearcuts and similar harvest practices. As of 1990, negotiations have occurred between the provincial government and First Nations discuss appeasement through a treaty. The Forest Revitalization Act of 2003 indicates progress towards proper assimilation of First Nations and provincial Forestry practices. However, tenures under this act are quite small,so more progress is necessary. Talks between the two parties have moved in a positive direction, giving assurance that both the provincial government and First Nations can eventually be happy with their situation through proper integration in the forest sector.

Comparing First Nations and Industrial forestry operations
First Nations forestry operations Industrial forestry operations
Benefits Drawbacks Benefits Drawbacks
Social Reinforces First Nations' worldview of the environment, supports the local economy while maintaining cultural ties and community governance Limited access to education, competition with industrial practises Movement towards including First Nations practises within the industry Threatens cultural ties of First Nations communities to the land
Ecological Large focus on preserving

ecological integrity

Conforming to industrial practices

negatively impacts sustenance-based


Large harvests and more control over

harvesting method

Very little focus on maintaining ecosystem

other than for timber needs

Economic Forestry is a source of income

for rural first nations

First nations do not own enough land to

economically sustain themselves off of


Partnerships between industry and first

nations benefit first nations economically

Reduces capacity of first nations

economies, management practices do not

necessarily align with first nations practices


Please use the Wikipedia reference style (see Wikipedia:Inline citation). Provide a citation for every sentence, statement, thought, or bit of data not your own, giving the author, year, AND page (when using direct quotes). For dictionary references for English-language terms, I strongly recommend you use the Oxford English Dictionary. You can reference foreign-language sources but please also provide translations into English.

Note: Before writing your wiki article on the UBC Wiki, it may be helpful to review the tips in Wikipedia: Writing better articles.[35] (Note that - if you look on the edit screen for this page when you are logged in - you will also see this as an example of how to create a reference!)

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  29. McGregor, D. (2011). Aboriginal/non-aboriginal relations and sustainable forest management in Canada: The influence of the royal commission on aboriginal peoples. Journal of Environmental Management, 92(2), 300-310. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2009.09.038
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