Guest View: Community forest proposal may work — we need to know more

By Keith Moore, RPF

I write to support Alexandra Hepburn’s call for more community forums and more information about the proposal for a community forest on Haida Gwaii. In my opinion, it is very early days and much too early for anyone to state firm and final opinions for or against it. There is a lot of misunderstanding and a serious lack of real information. At this point, I suggest we mandate MIEDS, with the support of the CHN, to find out much more detail from the province about the possible benefits and limitations. Only then will we be able to make an informed decision.

At this point, we know our situation on Haida Gwaii is highly unusual. We know a community forest tenure gives a community a defined area of land (like a Tree Farm Licence, TFL) with a responsibility and a right to manage that land according to community objectives. This creates some real opportunities we do not have at present.

We also know that for Haida Gwaii, we have been told that a “partnership agreement” will be required between the community forest and BC Timber Sales. This is a new situation, different than the over 50 other community forests in B.C., and is cause for concern and caution. But right now, we definitely do not know most of the important details about what a “partnership” with BC Timber Sales will involve. This is a new situation under new legislation and there are no precedents. There might be options to make this work with real benefits. It is too early to reject the idea and we need to know more before we can reach a good decision.

I am a long-time island resident, a long-time community forest supporter, and a professional forestry consultant. In the summer of 2016, as a consultant, I prepared a full report on the community forest proposal for MIEDS. A copy is available at www.mieds.ca. I have not worked for MIEDS since August 2016, so I do not feel in any conflict of interest. I am writing as an island resident and professional forester to share some publicly available information and some opinions.

Discussion of a community forest on Haida Gwaii goes back at least 25 years. This is a new proposal made in 2010 for a relatively large community forest on Haida Gwaii. However, the minister of the day who made the proposal had no legal mandate to do what he proposed. New legislation was needed. It only passed in the summer of 2016 and was brought into effect in March 2017. This new legislation allows the minister to require the “partnership with BCTS” on Haida Gwaii that Jennifer Gunter and Erik Leslie refer to in the May 12 article by Andrew Hudson. This is a radical and entirely new proposal for community forests, and there are no precedents for how “partnership” should work. But within the legal forestry framework, it appears to be the only offer now potentially available for us.

In my opinion, it incorrect to refer to this requirement as “co-management with BCTS” or to “management by BCTS.” I think the Observer headline referring to “co-management” is inaccurate and exaggerates the concerns with this arrangement. The legislation is clear: a community forest is managed by a community, not BCTS, based on a management plan and annual allowable cut (AAC) prepared by the community. The legislative amendment allowing the “partnership” deals with the sale of any timber from that forest, the bidding processes and the revenue sharing, not the responsibility for overall forest management.

As Erik Leslie correctly says about this partnership, it is new and untested and the devil is in the detail. It will require serious negotiation with BCTS and the province to determine just how it might work, and what would be allowed. In my opinion, the community could have control over such things as the annual harvest, access management, the location of cutblocks, the harvest methods, the species cut and so on, but all this is yet to be determined. This is not a co-management arrangement. It is community management for multiple values, with BCTS involved in selling and sharing revenue from timber which the community, based on the plan, decides to sell.

The community forest legislation sets out a series of steps. The first real step is an invitation from the government to apply for one. There is no invitation to anyone on Haida Gwaii yet, but MIEDS has requested one and expects to receive it. After the invitation, there will be a negotiation period to test and detail the requirements, establish the nature of the anticipated “partnership,” do a management plan, and negotiate the most favourable “partnership” arrangements possible for Haida Gwaii. A set of draft management plan principles has already been developed by MIEDS with support from the CHN. It seems impossible to get everything Haida Gwaii might want in terms of timber-sale control and revenue sharing, but we need to work on the details to see what is actually possible.

I think that even in a “partnership” with BCTS, there are at least three very significant opportunities on potential offer here, and we should look hard at these.

First, is the control of forestry activities within a community forest. The community forest is a defined area of land (likely with discrete parts near each community), managed by communities to meet community objectives. As Janine North said in her response to Ms. Hepburn, there is potential scope to do many things differently. That could include recreational developments, potential set-asides for important values, promoting non-harvesting activities, and carbon credits. At the very least, the community forest would provide a great deal more control over activities in our backyards than we have now.

Second, is the potential for a flow of revenue for the communities. There would be harvesting in a community forest that is removed from the BCTS operating area. The community would have more say in that harvest, and some opportunity to decide how much revenue is available. Even with a 50/50 revenue split with BCTS, these are significant dollars available if the communities choose volumes and timber species in ways that create revenue. This revenue comes directly to the community for purposes it determines – to go back into the forest for bike trails or whatever, or into unrelated community infrastructure, or anything else the community decides. Like the control, this money can support different opportunities we lack under the current model.

Third, is the value of bringing another tenure home to Haida Gwaii to be managed by people here. This could be another incremental step in bringing all the Haida Gwaii forest tenures home, as many would like to see. At some point, I think we will get to the point of one large tenure under a common management regime on the islands. This is part of the reason that, at this point, the CHN is supporting consideration of a community forest proposal. It could be good for all of us, and it creates opportunities currently unavailable with multiple off-island tenure holders.

Because of the new legislation and untested provisions, this would not be a community forest like others in B.C. For sure we should be cautious. But I suggest it is way too early to be rule out this new proposal. It would not be everything we wanted — it comes with a partnership. But it still might be a good deal, with real opportunities. And it might be a start, or a platform, to renegotiate the arrangement if the political climate around softwood lumber and the legislation changes. I think we need MIEDS, with CHN support, to work on the details and get the best possible “partnership” they can. Then we can decide if the best we can get is good enough for the communities to support.

Keith Moore, RPF

Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii

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