Watson Lake, First Nation hope to grow forestry industry

The Liard First Nation and the town of Watson Lake are looking to get back into the forestry game.

The Liard First Nation and the town of Watson Lake are looking to get back into the forestry game.

Both governments issued a joint press release on Tuesday agreeing to work together to support a sustainable forestry industry in the southeast Yukon.

“We’re working on putting together a sustainable forestry management plan that would allow for an annual cut, in case down the road things start to pick up in the forestry industry. We’d be prepared to move ahead right away instead of having to go through those hoops down the road,” said Mayor Richard Durocher.

A sawmill wouldn’t be a first for Watson Lake. South Yukon Forestry ran one in the community for two years in the early 2000s, but they were forced out of operation because they couldn’t get enough timber to keep the mill running.

South Yukon argued that the federal government, which was responsible for administering the Yukon’s natural resources at the time, had gone back on its promise to provide the necessary 200,000 cubic metres of wood per year to keep the mill running.

The company sued the federal government and last spring it won – to the tune of $67 million. But that decision was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal and the company is now defunct.

Now that the Yukon administers its own resources thanks to devolution, Durocher and Liard First Nation Chief Liard McMillan are hoping the time is right to try again.

“Back in the 70s when I first moved here, I worked at a mill that was a year-round operation that employed between 100 and 150 people,” Durocher said.

The Kaska Dena Council also used to have an agreement with the Yukon government that laid out forestry royalties – called stumpage – for the council, but the government ended that agreement several years ago.

In 2006, the Kaska Forest Stewardship Council was created to negotiate with the territorial government and created a draft management plan, but international softwood lumber tariffs kept the forestry industry in a slump. But McMillan said that management plan is still viable today, and that will form the basis for the region’s work going forward.

“A forestry industry could still be several years off, but the First Nation and the town want to make sure there is a clear government-to-government relationship between the Kaska and the Yukon government well in advance of any new forestry development,” McMillan said.

Alicia Debreceni, a spokeswoman for the Yukon’s Department of Energy Mines and Resources, said that officials want to continue talks about the possibility of a forestry industry in Watson Lake.

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