BCCFA advises caution on community forest partnership

“It’s definitely a radical departure from community forestry as we know it in B.C. today.”

B.C.’s Community Forest Association says Haida Gwaii should carefully weigh all the pros and cons before agreeing to a community forest run in partnership with BC Timber Sales (BCTS).

Jennifer Gunter is executive director of the association, which includes 57 community forests across B.C.

So long as Haida Gwaii can meet all of its goals through a BCTS partnership, Gunter said the association will certainly support it.

But that may be a big ‘if.’

“It’s definitely a radical departure from community forestry as we know it in B.C. today,” said Gunter.

Haida Gwaii is only the second place in B.C. considered for the new partnership model.

Qala-yit, a community forest that involves Lake Cowichan and the Pacheedaht First Nation, is the first and a major step ahead — the Ministry of Forests has made the two communities a formal offer of tenure.

But unlike on Haida Gwaii, only a third of the Qala-yit Community Forest would share tenure with BCTS. Two-thirds would be under exclusive local control.

“The fact that for Haida Gwaii it’s 100 per cent BCTS volume makes it a different animal,” said Gunter.

Erik Leslie is president of the B.C. Community Forest Association, and also a forest manager for the Harrop-Procter Community Forest, outside Nelson.

Leslie is quick to point out that there is no apples-to-apples comparison between Harrop-Procter and the kind of community forest the province may offer Haida Gwaii.

For one thing, he said, the 17-year-old community forest has just 10,000 cubic metres of timber a year.

“The other unusual thing is that we have our own little sawmill,” he said, and they’re the only B.C. community forest that does.

“There’s been lots of interest in our model, but no one else has really taken it on yet.”

Leslie said Harrop-Procter now supports three or four full-time jobs in the woods and seven more in the mill.

“That may not sound like a lot, but that’s based on only a couple hundred of truckloads of logs a year,” he added, noting that a recent report shows B.C.’s community forests tend to produce 50 per cent more jobs than other forestry tenures.

While the mill handles kiln drying, moulding, planing, and retail sales, all on a micro-scale, only about 20 per cent of the harvest goes there —the rest is sold as logs on the open market.

“We’re social enterprises, basically, competing in a very commodified global market,” he said.

And although Harop-Procter has added a new job and new machinery every year for the last three, it hasn’t always been easy.

“We went backwards for the first five years or so of our start-up phase,” said Leslie.

“We tried to start a lot of businesses at once — the community forest and the sawmill — and nobody had done anything like this before.”

It took several in-kind deals, and a lot of volunteer hours to get off the ground, but Leslie said they’ve met their number-one goal — protecting the local watershed from poor logging practices — while also creating local jobs.

Given that local control is the core idea of a community forest, Leslie said the B.C. Community Forest Association (BCCFA) did oppose the provincial legislation that created the BCTS model last spring.

At the time, Forests Minister Steve Thomson said the model would only be used in places where there was no more tenure available for a community forest because BCTS cannot have less than 20 per cent of an area harvest and still keep up its goal of providing market pricing for U.S. trade negotiations.

On Haida Gwaii, the BCTS share is already down to 19.5 per cent.

“I’m not saying there can’t be a measure of local control or there can’t be local benefits through a BCTS model — there could be,” said Leslie.

“I think the devil’s probably in the details, and we just don’t know yet.”

According to Misty Isles Economic Development Society (MIEDS), a second round of public meetings will be held on island if Haida Gwaii gets a formal community forest offer.

The board of directors has said it wants 100 per cent of the community forest’s net revenues to be invested here, and that its forest management plan would be written by a forester hired and directed by the communities.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the potential offer of a Haida Gwaii community forest would involve a partnership between islands communities and BC Timber Sales, not co-management.