A Story of Partnership + Community Safety

The Nazko First Nation’s home community is located approximately 90 kilometers west of Quesnel, BC. Nazko is surrounded by vast forests and beautiful lakes. The area allows community members to access the land as their ancestors have done for thousands of years and enjoy the many urban benefits found in Quesnel. You could say Nazko members have access to the best of both worlds.

However, the forests in Nazko’s traditional territory were hit hard by the mountain pine beetle epidemic in the early 2000s. Wildfires are also a regular occurrence in Nazko territory. One of the outcomes of the major wildfires of 2017 and 2018 was the realization that many remote communities are at great risk to wildfires. Nazko is one of these communities and after surviving a close call during the 2017 wildfires, the community decided that something needed to be done to make the community safer.

In 2014, Nazko formed a joint venture (JV) partnership with Pacific BioEnergy (PacBio) called Nazbec. Nazbec developed a wood chipping operation on Tolko’s sawmill site in Quesnel. The operation ran steadily between 2015 and 2017 providing wood chips to pulp mills in Quesnel utilizing the dead pine not suitable for sawlogs.

Unfortunately, the 2017 wildfires in the Caribou region burnt a significant amount of the available timber supply. The Nazbec wood chipping plant operated on and off for the years following 2017 depending on pulp markets and fibre supply. Meanwhile, Nazbec began to focus more on forestry projects than wood chip production.

So, when Nazko decided that it wanted to better protect the community from wildfire, Nazbec stepped up and applied for funding to the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FES). The PacBio Woodlands team joined up with Nazko’s Natural Resources department to develop a plan. The Wildfire Abatement Project was presented to FES and qualified for financial support. Since the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, FES has funded dozens of community safety projects that reduce the fibre (fuel) load close to communities.

Phase One of the Nazko Abatement Project began in 2018 and involved several wildfire fuel reduction treatments around Nazko. This involved both mechanical and forestry crew work to thin the forests and remove excess fuel.

Phase Two was completed this past winter and involved constructing a football field wide fuel break stretching 2.5 kilometers west of the Nazko community. The project was developed with the help of the BC Wildfire Service and involved selectively harvesting dead standing trees, dead trees which had blown down, and smaller understory trees. Resulting sawlogs went to sawmills while pulp logs went to pulp mills in Quesnel. Waste material will be processed and sent to local pellet plants.

PacBio provided initial working capital to develop and design the plan. Nazko, through its Nazko Economic Development Corporation (NEDC) provided road construction equipment, operators, manual brushers and pruners, and field supervision. FES provided funding to make the project a reality and the BC Wildfire Service provided its expertise. A true partnership at every level and in every way.

NAZBEC Map - June 2020

The result is that Nazko is better protected from wildfires and much safer for community members. The project shows how world-class forest stewardship can be achieved when First Nations partner with industry and government agencies to achieve common goals.

Nazko Chief Leah Stump says, “The 2017 fires devastated our territory and impacted our community for years to come. This project was a good start to the replenishing of our lands for our future generations. It provided many job opportunities for our people. We must continue to work on the recovery plan for our Nation with available resources. The partnerships we have made and are going to make will greatly enhance the success of our path to rehabilitation for our territory. The next decisions to be made will be crucial for Nazko.”

PacBio Woodlands Manager Joe Kenney adds, “It was a pleasure to work with the Nazko First Nation and FES on this project. Most times in forestry the primary objective in a project is to supply fibre to a mill, but in this case, it was all about fire and forest management, I think we as an industry need to do more of this. This project would not have been possible without the funding from the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FES). The FES program is something that all British Columbians should be proud of. The need for these types of projects is very great and the Nazko Community knows firsthand how it feels when a fire is at your doorstep. Through this project and others, we are hopeful that Nazko will never have to experience this again. We look forward to working with FES and the Nazko First Nation again on other similar projects”.

PacBio CEO John Stirling states, “The Nazko Wildfire Abatement Project is a great example of effective partnership at every level. Our partner, the Nazko First Nation, had a clear fire danger at their doorstep and Nazbec had knowledgeable forestry staff able to help. We turned to the Forest Enhancement Society for funding and expertise from the BC Wildfire Service. The results of this collaboration and cooperation can be seen in the forests around Nazko and include better habitat for wildlife and more biodiversity. We look forward to pursuing more opportunities to work together.”