Community forest plans raise questions for some in Sandspit

  • Mar. 25, 2011 7:00 a.m.

by Heather Ramsay-Sandspit residents want to know why the Misty Isles Economic Development Society is involved in the islands communities’ forest tenure. Moresby Island Management Committee chair Evan Putterill told committee members at the March 10 meeting that the islands communities will have access to 50,000 cubic metres of timber for 2011. The amount is made up of a 25,000 cubic metre allocation for 2010 that hasn’t yet been processed plus a 25,000 cubic metre allocation for 2011. But some Sandspit committee members are raising concerns about the society’s involvement, saying that MIEDS has stated publicly in the past that it did not want to be involved in the forest business. “MIEDS shouldn’t be involved in this at all. Does MIEDS know what it’s getting into?” said committee member Robert Chisholm. Mr. Putterill said MIEDS is working to create an economic development corporation, but this will not be done in time to take advantage of this opportunity. “We didn’t want MIEDS to be the organization involved in running this but we have it now. It will create employment on the islands and it’s an opportunity we are taking,” he said. Other committee members said they were concerned that the forest license would become a cash grab for MIEDS, or wondered what would happen to the society if the community tenure loses money. Others asked what the business model would be. Would the logs be exported? Or would some be guaranteed to local mills? Would Sandspit be guaranteed any of the jobs? “Who at MIEDS has the experience to run a 50,000 cubic metre operation? Why would MIEDS get into it? Doesn’t [the Ministry of] Forestry let out bids? Why would government put the middle man in?” were some of the questions from committee member Stan Hovde. Mr. Putterill said that MIEDS was the only all-island organization that could be given the licence, other than the regional district. The Observer spoke with Mr. Chisholm after the meeting and he clarified some of his concerns. “It’s not that I don’t like where things are going, I don’t know where things are going.” Mr. Chisholm said. MIEDS is not transparent and, in this case, has completely turned from what Mr. Putterill had said in public before. (Mr. Putterill did say at a community forum in January 2009 that MIEDS would not operate a forestry tenure.) “If things were more open,” he said, there would be less cause for concern. Mr. Chisholm also had some personal concerns. He said a group of 26 people (which winnowed down to six) got together several years ago to look into community forestry and try and secure a tenure from the province for Sandspit. They were told by the regional district director at the time, Travis Glasman (who is now the executive director of MIEDS) that he would not go after it. He said he was waiting for an all-island opportunity, said Mr. Chisholm. The group was frustrated then and now he’s worried about what Sandspit will ever get out of this opportunity. We also spoke further with Mr. Putterill who, as well as being the MIMC chair is the chair of MIEDS. He said MIEDS hasn’t made any firm decisions on how the volume will be operated. “The intent is to find a way to have it logged that provides local employment and wood fibre for local manufacturers,” he said. He noted that there are several options, like selling the allocation as smaller timber sales, working with a logging company and auctioning off the timber, or finding a cooperative group of loggers. Previous MIEDS documents have stated that BC Timber Sales would develop the harvest area to the permit stage and then MIEDS would work with Taan Forest to log and market the timber. He said further decisions will be made at the next MIEDS board meeting, when all the elected representatives and members at large will have input. He said they have not made decisions yet because they have been waiting to see what type of fibre is in the blocks they’ve been allocated by BC Timber Sales. No firm decisions have been made about what to do with revenue either. Profits will likely go back into the business of community forestry, but in the long term this will be a broader discussion. “The shareholders (i.e. the communities) will decide how profits will be distributed,” he said. “We’d be more than happy to take suggestions on how to manage it,” he added.

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