Creating bio-diversity is a large part of managing a community forest. (LNTCFS photo)

Creating bio-diversity is a large part of managing a community forest. (LNTCFS photo)

Part 2: B.C.’s community forests are at the heart of sustaining rural regions

An interview with Lower North Thompson Community Forest Association Chair Harley Wright

Barriere resident Harley Wright has served as the president of the BC Community Forest Association, and is currently the chair of the Lower North Thompson Community Forest Society (LNTCFS).

In a December 2021 interview with this newspaper Wright explained, “There are many different types of formations of community forests within British Columbia. But of all the community forests that we have under the BC Community Forest Association membership, and even the ones that we don’t, their biggest drive is to try and have something sustained for their communities in one way or another. Some are corporations, some are owned by cities, some are owned by non-profits, some are owned by co-ops. But all of them have this rural mantra of trying to protect their forests for long term sustainability for the benefit of their community.”

Read Part I: B.C.’s community forests are at the heart of sustaining rural regions

Does the LNTCFS work with area First Nations?

“Historically, the First Nations in particular, were the ones that helped us get a community forest in 2003 after the McLure Wildfire happened here,” explained Wright, “With the help of First Nations we were able to acquire a community forest, and so we work together with Simpcw First Nation in particular because we are in their unceded land territory. We also work with other bands; Neskonlith, Kamloops Indian Band, Little Shuswap, and Adams Lake Indian Band. We refer to all of them, and we try to work with all the First Nations. From our perspective we don’t have any trouble in doing that because a lot of what we are doing is what they want to do as well”

He notes the First Nations operating a community forest have a community forest license, they also have a First Nations woodland licence, and may also have a wood lot as well. However, the provincial government’s regulations for First Nations’ community forests is not the same as other community forest licences, and as a result First Nations want to make that change so they can do more on their land base similar to what the LNTCFS can do under their licence.”

Wright pointed out that a First Nations woodland licence does not allow the same level of community involvement that a community forest does,

“They are currently trying to make that change with the provincial government so that the government will recognized their First Nations Woodlots as community forests.”

Currently there are 58 community forest licence holders and 860 wood lots operating in B.C., and Wright advises they are all concerned about what the provincial government is considering doing with tab rates.

“On most of the provincial Crown land, the government receives stumpage [a fee that businesses or individuals pay when they harvest timber from Crown land in B.C.] from the land sales. That stumpage is based on the sale of lumber and the average trend of bidding on BC Timber Sales (BCTS),” explained Wright.

“What the community forest has is a system that is separate from that. The community forest system was initiated a number of years ago where the community forest got what they call tab rates. Tab rates is a percentage of the stumpage – 15 per cent of the stumpage in the Interior, and 30 per cent at the coast. That gives a difference in what community forests pay in stumpage, and what a person who makes a sale on BCTS would pay. By having that difference in stumpage it allows us to create profit. If we were under the same stumpage system that BCTS has, which they call Market Pricing System or MPS, we wouldn’t be able to operate because what we find is that stumpage is keyed so high to log sales that we would actually end up not being able to log.”

Many community forests that are joined with First Nations woodland licences find that the woodland licences stumpages are so high right now that they can’t log and make money. Whereas a community forest such as the LNTCFS has a low enough stumpage rate that we can still log and contribute to our community.

Wright says the province is currently reviewing this system, and those operating community forests are very concerned that if the direction of the province was to initiate the Market Pricing System on community forests that most of them would be dissolved.

Would this mean the LNTCFS would also be dissolved if the community would receive no financial benefits from its continuation?

“Yes. Our community forest would essentially be non-existent and the province would take this tenure and change it into something else.”

Wright tells that his year alone, the LNTCFS will be putting approximately $150,000 back into their community area of Little Fort to McLure. Over a 10 year period this adds up to a million and a half dollars that will be invested back into the area.

“Some years we’ve made more – some years less, such as during the pine beetle epidemic when profit was down,” said Wright, “In recent years the community forest has been able to do more for their community because profits were up, we’ve made better money, and we’ve done better.”

He notes the LNTCFS board try to take some of the funding they receive and look toward the future.

By responsibly using the profits of the community forest they are also able to attract more benefits for their community through the process of leveraging their profits as seed money to grow larger projects from outside sources. The LNTCFS over time has leveraged a total of $451,979 towards Job Creation Projects, which provided employment for summer students; creating and maintaining 64 km of recreational trails, and purchasing an OS log splitter for community use.

“We are currently reviewing how we can help to create economic development within the community so we can bring more value to our community, more people to the community, and grow our community. As opposed to taking money out of the community like the majors [large corporations] are doing, and taking it down to the United States to buy mills in the U.S., said Wright, “The provincial government is making the investing climate not promising for the majors, so most are going south to invest in the United States. That’s just what large corporations do, but at the same time we will always be here if we are allowed to operate the way we are.”

If the Lower North Thompson Community Forest Society is allowed to carry on the way it has been doing, it will be able operate into perpetuity as an ongoing benefit for the community. That ongoing benefit is not just about the giving back of dollars raised from the land to the community, but also giving back by being a good steward of our natural environment.

A community forest is not just about giving work to those in the logging industry who live locally.

“We find that the directors of our community forest are very supportive of the community, and also of the community for what it does,” said Wright, “I think most people are supportive of us as well, but we do find that many people don’t know enough about the forest to really understand what we do.”

Wright related a good example regarding public perceptions about what a community forest does.

“I recently chatted with some community members who were speaking about the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and how the company has to have concern for frogs, for snakes, and for birds such as hummingbirds and nesting birds. People are finding about that now because Trans Mountain is a major project going through our valley. But that’s something we’ve been doing in our community forest for the past 10 years.

“Most people don’t know about that. There have been frog migrations in Nakusp that have been resolved because of community information and the logging aspect of it was resolved so that the frogs can co-exist with logging. Merritt has also dealt with migrating frogs, and they have erected frog barriers and mitigated it so frogs weren’t harmed where there was logging. We have animals, such as the wolverine that is red listed, as well as the marten. We have tried to increase the habitat of the wolverine and also have put up wolverine nesting boxes and marten nesting boxes to try and enhance the wildlife.

“There are areas where policies are put in place, and the majors [large logging corporations] have them as well, where a bird migration aspect of mitigation has been put in place. If you are in a bird migration route and there are birds passing through that area the logging is stopped until the migration is over. There are also red listed species like the goshawk that we watch out for. If we are out cruising cut-blocks and you notice a goshawk nest in the area, then that cut-block cannot be logged until the goshawk babies have feathered out and moved on.”

After an area has been logged are the roads into that area automatically deactivated?

“Not until we have finished planting,” said Wright, “But what we do is try to not put a road in that we cannot redevelop into timber. When we put a road into a cut-block, a lot of times what we do is set it up so we can take that road back out and plant it. A lot of roads we put in are just quad track roads, not vehicular roads. In this way we are trying to cut down the footprint of the road in the forest so that we can do a couple of things; wildlife protection and try to mitigate the growth of more timber by cutting down your footprint.”

He adds the LNTCFS board and staff have a strong stewardship for the land “which is a large part of what a community forest is all about.”

The BC Community Forest Association (BCCFA) website offers an annual Indicators Report that the public can read online at: https://bccfa.ca/2021-community-forest-indicators-report/

“There area about 30 community forests that report to the BCCFA with the different aspects of what their investment back into the community is, and what their sustainability looks like,” explained Wright, “There are also about 18 questions asked that they reply to with stories, etcetera, about what they are doing. A lot of that information is very intuitive about what community forests are doing, but it is not actually out there in front of the general public unless they go to the website.

“However, as an association we have been able to canvas our provincial government to try and show that we are doing a better job than what is expected of us, and I think that cuts across the whole province. We try to look at that report on an annual basis and see where the improvements are made.

“What we see is that per capita we have employed more people per cubic meter than what the majors do, we create better enhancement and sustainability projects than the majors do, we create more revenue back to our communities than what the majors do. There are also many aspects on how we actually work on the land at a level far above what is being done in other areas.”

The difference between the major corporations and the community forests is that their land base is larger.

“Their cutting on a larger area that might go from Kamloops to Valemount,” said Wright, “Whereas we are on 8,000 hectares, and that’s all we are on. We can’t go anywhere else. If a fire took our community forest tomorrow, we’d have to log it and replant it, and then wait for 80 years to log it again.”

The major corporations are also based on volume.

“When Interfor bought Canfor they bought another 300,000 cubic meters,” said Wright, “So the Interfor mill at Adams Lake sits at about 985,000 cubic meters of timber that they are allowed to cut in a year, which spans an area that goes approximately from Kamloops to Valemount. Based on that volume they have to get it from wherever they can within that area, and then that volume is judged every five years to make sure it is in line with the provincial guidelines. As they take that timber out, they then replant so they can have that much timber in the future.”

One thing that the majors don’t necessarily do is wildfire mitigation to protect their assets. If timber burns in an area where there is a sawmill, which reduces the volume for the mill. The volume of timber taken off after the fire will be put through the sawmill, but then the land has to be replanted by the province. If that mill then does not have enough timber coming through they would have to shut down, which has already happened to some of the mills in B.C., not only from loss of timber to wildfires, but also due to the over-cut that was necessary because of the pine beetle.

“We will see a consolidation of timber between some of the mills, because their profitability level is at about a million cubic meters of wood a year in order to sustain their sawmills and make a profit,” said Wright, “Where as we’re sitting with 20,000 meters.”

British Columbia’s old growth forests are very much in the public eye right now. Does the LNTCFS have old growth to deal with in their community forest area?

“The old growth was set aside by the provincial government under the guidance of a plan that was consulted through the whole province by some First Nations and others involved. The plan was developed with about 14 recommendations. One of the recommendations was to look at what old growth we have left in the province, and then of that old growth we need to look at how we are managing it,” said Wright, “I think everybody agrees with that. Nobody disagrees with managing old growth.

“What happened was that the provincial government while trying to ascertain where the old growth is, started by surmising there was three per cent of the old growth still left in our province. Subsequently there was another study done by Forsite Forest Management that showed we had probably closer to 30 per cent old growth in our province.

“When the province sat down with a technical committee to look at what volume to set aside, they made certain conclusions based on the knowledge that they used, that there was a need to set aside another 260,000 hectares of land. The problem was that it was never ground proved by look to make sure the old growth was actually there. So now what we are finding across the province is that many of the areas that were set aside, under the guise of setting aside old growth, really isn’t old growth at all.

“We looked at some areas within our own community forest that had been set aside, just a small portion at this point. But of that area it’s not old growth. It’s actually set up in an area where there is no old growth, but there are large trees. The one area where it was set up is in a wildfire management area, and we have predicated that this area has a strong potential for a wildfire to take off and go through our community forest and burn our mature timber, which is of value for the next 250 years. What we wanted to do was to go into this area and log it out and replant, so that if there was a wildfire in that area it wouldn’t have a chance to get into our mature timber which is an asset.

“There was an argument at our board meeting about that, and fair enough, because people believe in not logging old growth. But the truth is when we got out there what was suggested as old growth is instead an area that really has tremendous wildfire potential instead. There was some old large trees, but they didn’t meet the criteria that the provincial government has set down for old growth. With the ladder fuel [live or dead vegetation on the forest floor that lets a fire climb up into the trees] that’s in there, if it caught fire because of it’s proximity to a road or something it would become a crown fire in no time at all through that area and take it out.”

The criteria for old growth is there need to be trees in the area that are 250 years old for that area. right said the trees found in the LNTCFS designated ‘old growth’ area are spruce about 60 years old, Douglas fir about 80 to 100 years old, and cedar that was 150 years old which had probably grown since the last wildfire had gone through that area. There is also a large amount of understory cedar stagnating that is four to six inches around that is 80 years old.

“From our perspective if trying to make that forest productive land, as you would if you were a farmer, we see that forest is stagnating and it doesn’t meet the criteria that the government has set down for old growth,” said Wright, “But they have drawn the line on a map that says it is designated old growth, so for the next two years we are not allowed to touch it for wildfire protection.

What would the LNTCFS like to do with that forest?

“As a sustainability objective, and as a community forest that wants to try and do the best thing for the timber, our questions are; do you log it? Do you not log it? If you leave it will you have a fire go through it?”

“We know that we are going to answer these questions, and we will have some more discussion where it will have to be answered and decided on at a board level. At least now we have a good understanding of what is there, which was a necessary first step.”

He notes whatever the LNTCFS decides they want to do with that area of their community forest, they will have to ask the province for approval before they can move ahead. They agree with preserving old growth forests that meet the criteria of the province, but what they would like to see is that the old growth is managed.

Wright explains that as the forest floor closes from the ladder fuel the bio-diversity of the forest diminishes.

“When there is a forest canopy that is partially closed off, and in some areas partially open, that promotes the bio-diversity and the animals need the bio-diversity. Old growth forests on the coast have a closed canopy, lots of moss on the forest floor, and something that people want to have and enjoy. That is their biodiversity.

“What we believe is to respect the old growth and treat it like you want it for 250 years, but at the same time because of climate change we need to have wildfire protection, greater bio-diversity by opening some designated and smaller areas up so that other plants can grow. You can still have old growth, bio-diversity, and a greater degree of wildlife living in it.

“For our forest we want to go in there and clean that ladder fuel out. You won’t have a forest fire, and you would have timber there for the next 150 to 200 years. That’s a responsibility,” said Wright, “But let’s not have old growth for the sake of not being able to do anything. Set down parameters that you have to keep the timber, set down parameters to respect old growth. But to put a carte blanche sentence on that area – no one agrees with that.”

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The view as seen from the Lower North Thompson Community Forest. (LNTCFS photo)

The view as seen from the Lower North Thompson Community Forest. (LNTCFS photo)