A silviculture program within the traditional caretaker area of the Tletinqox First Nation community is making a difference.
“We line up forestry training courses for all of our community members to make sure they are certified,” Tletinqox Chief Joe Alphonse said. “That way if things happen, say people get injured or have family situations, then we make sure there are a wide variety of qualified people that can step in.”
Tletinqox has five pack crews that fit into trucks comfortably.
“We design our fleet with dry boxes containing three days of dried food inside them if anything happens, they have a tent and pegs, pit cans, shovels, chainsaws,”
Three of the five crews are trained and qualified to do spacing, dwarf mistletoe management, or when it is hot and dry, help with fire suppression.
Tletinqox is proud to have developed the first First Nation firefighting crew in the area, he added.
“We weren’t as organized eight years ago as we are now and silviculture-related work is the number one employment for people in our community.”
During the last few years, it has turned into year-round work for some, even though it was originally designed to be seasonal work, Alphonse said, noting every year is different and depends on the weather and conditions.
“In the future we would like to expand and go to other areas to do this type of work,” Alphonse said.
Most of the work is through local companies such as Tolko Industries and West Fraser and for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, he added.
“Contractors all have obligations if they log in an area to carry out silviculture, it’s just that everything silviculture related in Tletinqox territory has to be done by Tletinqox.
“If we catch any other crews out there we will ask them to leave because we can do the work.”
When companies come in and log the trees it impacts the First Nations’ resources, he said, noting it is up to the community to hold companies accountable.
“It has to be a win-win situation. If resource extraction companies are willing to work with us, it will work.”
The silviculture crews don’t make a lot of money, but it is about choosing a lifestyle that makes community members feel like they are giving back to the environment.
And with technology, what used to take a 200-man crew is done by five guys making the cost of every log less and less so it is very competitive.
“Those logging machines cost half a million dollars so supplying crews and our trucks is more feasible and employs more people.”
This year, in partnership with West Fraser, two rookie crews with 20 people were established to give more individuals a chance and Alphonse half expected many of the people would drop out.
However, the work ethic and commitment of the rookies pleasantly surprised him.
“The work they’ve done has been excellent and we have had more and more work lined up for them and they have built up their confidence and industry has stepped up and provided more work for them.”
During the Williams Lake Stampede, a 30-year-old rookie crew member was very proud to tell people he was working.
“In his past he has spent time in rehab centers and institutions and getting himself into lots of trouble and said it was the first job he’d had since he went to high school and worked as a summer student for the band,” Alphonse said.
“As it turns out he’s one of the best workers we have and it’s encouraging to see. Those are moments that make me glad we are pushing for these types of things to happen.”
Tletinqox doesn’t engage in tree planting because there are established companies out there doing it that are pretty hard to compete with, Alphonse said.
“If there were opportunities to go into partnership some time in the future with a tree planting company then we might be able to do that.”