March 15, 2021 / All Stories, Community, Featured, Indigenous, Mercer Peace River, Sustainability Trust, Integrity and Transparency in Mercer Peace River’s Forest Management People hold unique connections to the forest, whether they be spiritual, social, physical, or economic. As Mercer knows, it is important to acknowledge these connections amongst our many stakeholders and to do all that we can to ensure the forest is managed sustainably so that everyone can remain connected to their forest in their own way. Operating in the Northern Boreal Forest region of Alberta, Mercer Peace River (MPR) holds two 20-year renewable government Forest Management Agreements (FMAs), along with three other deciduous (hardwood) timber allocations, totalling approximately 2.7 million hectares of Alberta forest. These agreements come with many responsibilities; one primary responsibility is to manage the forest sustainably and ethically. Managing Together As part of our forest management process, we consult and engage with Indigenous communities and with many government, commercial, and public forest stakeholders to ensure that our plans are responsive, diversified and inclusive. The work of MPR’s planning development team is focused on building relationships to gain a better understanding of the forest entrusted into our care to ensure sustainability. How Does MPR Build These Relationships? With all great relationships, there needs to be a strong foundation of trust and transparency. Forest management relationships are no different. With Mercer’s core values emphasizing trust, integrity, and transparency, it is fitting that our relationships be built on these values and instilled in our forest management practices. MPR engages and consults deeply with Indigenous communities to create the most sustainable and mutually beneficial plans. MPR also leads, invests, and meets regularly with many committees, advisory groups, and research teams, along with conducting many consultations with our stakeholders. It is through these conversations, and MPR’s strong commitment to ensuring a healthy future forest, that trust is built. Why Are These Relationships Important? MPR values relationships and understands that good relationships are an important part of sustainability. Having operated for over 30 years, there have been many long-lasting and strong bonds built with the community through the forest management process In return for the rights related to our Forest Management Agreements, MPR is committed to meeting key forest management requirements, including the completion of a detailed forest management plan. Within these plans, and after extensive consultation, MPR shows what will be done to ensure a sustainable, long-term even flow of wood fibre is produced. This also occurs while providing for important values identified by Indigenous communities and other stakeholders that depend on the forest for their livelihoods and well-being. Mercer’s planning process takes approximately 2 years to complete and requires extensive collaboration and research. Planning for the Future Mercer’s forestry in Alberta starts with a 200-year planning horizon-with the ongoing opportunity to refine and improve these plans. This approach provides all parties with more opportunities to collaborate, develop relationships, and work together to continuously improve forest management for the benefit of all. Stefan Szabo, Mercer Peace River Woodlands Manager, expressed his thoughts on how his team considers their responsibilities: “Forests are the biophysical expression of how the people that live on the land interact with the environment and how the land reacts to their actions. MPR has been entrusted to manage this natural resource through a forest management agreement with the Province of Alberta. Our ability to operate on these lands, entrusted to us, hinges on society’s trust that we will operate in a responsible and sustainable manner. This trust is built on openly engaging indigenous peoples and the public in our forest management activities; informing and listening to the unique set of values that the forests encapsulate for the people; and, ensuring that what we commit to doing is in fact how we conduct ourselves and our activities.” Traditional Land-Use Projects To support a sustainable forest we need to have a thorough understanding of the landbase. One highly valued collaborative effort that allows for an even better understanding of the forests is through our Traditional Land Use (TLU) projects. MPR’s FMA areas are situated within the traditional territories of multiple Indigenous communities and the consultation areas of 12 First Nations and 4 Metis Settlements. Indigenous peoples have a special relationship with the forests and have unique rights, values, and interests in their traditional lands. Each nation also holds generations of knowledge in relation to these areas. For these reasons, our relationships with Indigenous communities support our ability to access and harvest fibre for the long term. This dialogue also shapes our forest management plans to maximize sustainability, protect rights and values, and generate mutual benefits. The TLU projects, with funding support from the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta, provides for a community-led collection of historical and contemporary land-use knowledge which is loaded into a secure, web-based, and user-friendly application – the Spatial Viewer. This platform is offered free of charge to each Indigenous Community along with ongoing training and support. With data sharing agreements in place to protect intellectual property, communities may share key areas of interest, value, and concern so that we can incorporate this knowledge into the early stages of forest management planning. In turn, the Spatial Viewer also allows Mercer to share our plans, operations history, high-resolution imagery and other important landscape information with the communities. This approach provides more time and information to develop mutually favourable plans and mitigations. The TLU projects, and the enhanced relationships established through the forest management process, are a reflection of true trust and transparency and how this value is tied so closely to sustainable forest management. We look forward to continuing to build these bonds and learn more about the forests – continually improving our forest management processes. And this allows Mercer to remain Sustainable. By design.