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B.C.’s community forests are at the heart of sustaining rural regions

An inside look at a community forest in British Columbia

Harley Wright is voicing his concerns about the future of community forests in British Columbia.

Wright is the chair of the Lower North Thompson Community Forest Society, and is the past president of the British Columbia Community Forest Association.

In a recent interview with Black Press, Wright says he is concerned to see B.C.’s community forest organizations struggling in trying to show what the positive benefits are they are creating for their communities and for the land, as a result of their community forests.

“That’s something that the provincial government hasn’t necessarily recognized,” said Wright, who says the provincial government is currently conducting a review of all of the community forests within B.C.

“Before COVID-19 arrived we met with government in two meetings. What we wanted to do was understand the positions of the provincial government with regards to this review, and also wanted them to understand the positions of the community forests with regards to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” said Wright.

The review includes all of the community forests within the province, along with the Intentions Paper (which discusses the current intended direction of new legislation being considered) the government is also conducting a review of tabular rates,

review and changes to the waste assessments, and review and changes to the forest policies which have been most recognized.

In addition, and aligned at the same time is a review regarding old growth management.

“In one sense, this is a review that’s good,” said Wright, “Where our people have a problem is that they aren’t part of the review.”

He notes the community forest organizations can make a submission, but that there is always a general provincial mistrust of government, whereby items could be eliminated by government that they don’t necessarily feel is beneficial for rural communities without including those communities in building the legislation.

“That’s always the problem with any legislation,” said Wright, “They put the legislation through, and then they build the regulations behind the legislation. A lot of times in the regulations there are things that definitely get left out because those creating the regulations don’t understand the scope of what those regulations mean. Then a lot of outview and outcry takes place, and it comes back to the provincial government to make changes so that it is more beneficial to the province.”

Community forests are usually found in rural communities, but there are community forests in major communities such as Powell River. There is also the Malcolm Knapp Research Forest at University of British Columbia that has been there for many years, and the Alex Fraser Research Forest in the Williams Lake area that has also been there for many years.

Community forest pilot projects started in 2000, at the time the provincial government allocated a certain volume of timber

towards community forest wood lots. By 2002 the British Columbia Community Forest Association was established, and today there are 58 community forests and 860 wood lots operating within the province.

Wright says some of the frustration for licence holders is that there are implications with the low cost of the stumpage on community forests and wood lots, which are called tabular stumpage rates (or tab), and that it is having a reflection on two or three things in the provincial government.

“One is stumpage and our softwood lumber agreement, and also the ability for the government to budget the funding that it receives, and to allocate it where it wants to, instead of the community forests allocating it where they want to,” explained Wright.

When a community forest is formed they sign an agreement with the government around eight principles of social support for the community. These include stewardship, economic development, education, sustainability, and health and welfare of the community. Each year the community forests look at where they are putting their profits and how they can put that profit back into their community, and they try to put that whole spectrum of eight principles that the provincial government has set up back into their communities as well.

“It’s very important that this connection is made because a community forest is not profit centric, it is community centric,” said Wright, “And what we find in rural areas, in my experience, is that the rural area loses because the government tries to centralize it’s assets and it’s expenses in major centres and the rural areas lose out.”

He provided a few examples whereby what the community of Barriere initially fundraised for, built, staffed, and operated have since been taken over by the provincial government.

“We lost out on the ambulance service, which is now controlled by the Interior Health emergency services system,” said Wright, “We built our own ambulance system, but it’s also now controlled by Interior Health. We built our own D&T (diagnostic and treatment) centre, and we lose out on that as well.”

He pointed out that when these services are no longer supported by the community, but instead by the provincial government, that service then becomes subject to provincial budget cuts and to redistribution of control.

“A lot of those things rural people lose out on and miss, is in a sense because they do not have any jurisdiction over the decision or how it is made,” said Wright, “I think this is where a community forest brings that decision making back to the rural areas. This is an asset that the communities really need to protect wholeheartedly, or there is a possibility under review that the government could centralize these as a large corporation asset instead of a community forest asset.”

If the province makes this change, the profits created by a community forest would no longer be earmarked for that community but would go directly to the government.

How does the Lower North Thompson Community Forest (LNTCFS) which supports communities from McLure to Little Fort decide what to do with the profit they make on the forest each year?

“It’s predicated by annual grant submissions from the LNTCFS’s communities, and we try to make the grant submissions equal to the funding that we have available,” said Wright, “Quite often it is oversubscribed, but that’s normal for any kind of grant application. We try to facilitate all of the different applicants because we think they are all important.”

He notes LNTCFS has also made a number of major contributions to other organizations to help improve the communities within their catchment area. This has included assisting with large donations in the construction of the new Barriere Search and Rescue building, the splash pad, and the skateboard park.

“We are trying to not only improve the social aspect of our communities, but are working to facilitate in all different areas. We have contributed to recreation enhancements at the Barriere Forks Park on the Barriere River, worked with Simpcw First Nation on their Mountain Bike Trails, and assisted the Backcountry Horseman of BC with their trail network within our area.”

Read: Lower North Thompson Community Forest Society recognized for excellence in community forestry

Read: Community Forest is alive and well in the Lower North Thompson

Read: Lower North Thompson Community Forest reports $240K going towards supporting local communities

Wright says the LNTCFS board work hard to look at all different facets of the social fabric of their communities. Especially in the area of education opportunities for young people, and this includes increasing their scholarship program to $40,000 for Barriere Secondary graduates.

“I think we have one of the highest scholarship rates within our school district,” said Wright.

He explains there are many different aspects to the social fabric of the community forest, but also the aspect that keeps it supported which is the logging.

“Logging is one of the biggest parts, and we try to do the logging aspect as best we can. I think because there is a vested interest from community members at our board level that we do a much better job than a large corporation because we have a different perspective entirely,” said Wright, adding they log their community forest on a 250 year basis.

“We establish that the volume we log is over 250 years, which is done by mathematical calculations, and we try to log no more than what can be sustained during that 250 years.”

He notes most First Nations do seven generations in their forest tenures.

“That is similar to what our thoughts are with regards to over that period of time. So we are aligning with that philosophy where we want to have timber in perpetuity,” said Wright, “In order to have timber in perpetuity you have to look at the insects, the plantations, the amount you log, and the influence of different aspects of your community forest with development.”

There are many things to consider in the research, planning, and implementation required to make sure the community forest survives for 250 years.

“However, what we are seeing is there are inroads being made by the provincial government into the ability of community forests to manage 250 years, and they are doing this without a lot of research and scientific information. Therefore, we are being cautious about how things are moving forward.”

If an area of the community forest is logged this year, how soon can that area be logged again?

“Generally, we are looking at 80 years,” answered Wright, “If we log today, in 80 years we could be logging it again.”

He noted in past years it was perhaps only 60 years, because they were planting only one species of timber, lodgepole pine.

“We are now planting a mixed species, and by doing this it creates a better mixed species landscape so that bugs aren’t as apt to be a problem such as lodgepole pine was, and/or Douglas fir with the fir bark beetle. By mixing the species we are looking to the future to try and create better landscapes of species that are more resistant to the natural pathogens that are in the area,” said Wright.

“We are also looking at climate change, and planting trees that are recognized by the provincial government to change over the next 50 years due to climate change – and that’s large ponderosa pine. In these areas ponderosa pine were never here, but what we are seeing is a migration northward of these species. We are looking at species that will offset some of the degrees of climate change as we move forward. Many of the other community forests are also following similar plans, and many of the majors [large corporations] as well.”

He notes a government initiative is currently underway trying to create types of land tenure that will be able to make change towards climate change.

Wright points out that a community forest land base is a sustainable land use of 8,000 hectares that will continue to produce timber in perpetuity on a 250 year cycle.

“To make sure the community forest is there for our children and grandchildren you can’t over log that area. You have to try to project each time you log that you will be able to log that again in the next 80 to 100 years. We do analysis when we are planting, and logging about every five years, and that shows we are actually increasing the amount of volume that we are sustaining, or decreasing in volume that we are sustaining. What this has shown us is after about 10 years of working we are actually increasing our volume by logging in a different manner than what we were before.

“When we log we take out areas that have low productivity and match it with higher areas that have high productivity when we log. Then when we plant we have productivity across the whole landscape.”

Wright explains the LNTCFS have taken areas in their tenure where there are roads that weren’t being used anymore, they reconditioned those roads and planted trees in place of the roads. In this way they have rehabilitated some of their previously non-stocked areas back into timberland, which will increase the amount of productivity over the next 250 years.

“Every time we look at an area with regards to roads and improvements, we try to make improvements on that land,” said Wright, “We don’t just log it and go.”

Do they practice fire mitigation within the community forest area, or is that possible?

“We met with the provincial government, the Ministry of Forests and BC Wildfire Service, they have a high priority level in regards to people, houses, and transmission lines – and rightfully so,” said Wright, “We don’t have a problem with that. What we did see was that they have a low priority for timber. Timber is allowed to burn if there are no houses, farms, or habitation in it.”

The LNTCFS community forest is looking at 250 years for their community’s asset, and to protect that asset they have developed a community forest wildfire mitigation plan.

“We worked with a company that specializes in that, and together we looked at lightning strikes, historical fire and wind directions, areas of higher risk for wildfire possibilities such as roads, resorts and campground areas,” said Wright, “We tried to look at all the different aspects of what causes wildfire, and then look at how we can improve our land base to cut down on the amount of wildfire that we could experience.”

As a result of the project, the LNTCFS has identified six areas where they will by doing wildfire mitigation to try and protect their biggest assets, which is providing mature timber from the community forest to benefit five area communities for the next 250 years.

Part two of this article will appear in the January 6, 2022, issue of the North Thompson Star Journal.

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Karen McCloskey surveying growing trees in the Lower North Thompson Community Forest. (LNTCFS photo)

Karen McCloskey surveying growing trees in the Lower North Thompson Community Forest. (LNTCFS photo)