Eye over edge of water. That’s the translation of Qul:yit, the new project partnership between a local forest co-op and a First Nation in the Cowichan Valley.
Indeed, all eyes will be on Qul:yit and its creators, the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative (CLCFC) and Pacheedaht First Nation when the groups host the BC Community Forest Association (BCCFA) conference May 26-28 in Lake Cowichan.
The three-day event in Lake Cowichan includes policy sessions and bus tours into forest operations. The Pacheedaht will be preparing a traditional feast for delegates, and then Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson will speak.
More than 100 delegates are expected, representing over 50 community forests in the province. Whether they are run by co-operatives, municipalities (like North Cowichan) or in partnership with First Nations, Community Forest Agreements allow groups to steward their own resources locally. The provincial government has stated that since it started issuing these agreements in the late 1990s, the goal is the reallocate timber resources from the major licensees to better diversify the resource management.
CLCFC has been operating the province’s first forest co-operative for more than 20 years under a licence that is about to expire. The Qul:yit is negotiating a long term Community Forest Agreement. The area proposed for the community forest – and a new sawmill – is in Pacheedaht territory near Port Renfrew.
Nearby there are other good examples as well. North Cowichan has one of the oldest community forests in the province, one that takes up 25 per cent of the municipal land base. “Council had the foresight to create this,” said municipal forester, Darrell Frank. In 1980, then-mayor Graham Bruce brought in veteran foresters to form an advisory committee to make the logging practices more sustainable. “People were concerned that this type of logging was a form of highgrading where you take the best and leave the worst,” said Frank.
Community forests are creating 50 per cent more jobs per cubic metre than the industry average in their forestry operations, according to a recent survey from the association. Yet they still sell logs on the open market which seems counter-productive to the notion of bringing back local control. If they are ever to heal the economic wounds left when B.C. lifted the “appurtenance” demands that logging companies invest in local mills, groups need to make more significant efforts to provide a specialized wood supply to local businesses – or mill it themselves. Perhaps an event like this conference can plant a seedling of an idea.
There are social and small business benefits from community forests as well. North Cowichan holds a woodworking contest for students, donates truckloads of firewood for group fundraisers, and awards bursaries and scholarships to students pursuing science studies.
Not surprisingly, the community forest association will be lobbying hard for provincial support. B.C.’s forest tenure system is outdated and needs some major change, says BCCFA President Erik Leslie, forest manager of the Harrop-Procter Community Forest in the Kootenays. “The tenure system is an anachronism, from the time when the government’s objective was to secure private capital to develop the forests,” says Leslie. “We still need investment but it’s not just about getting the wood out to drive the economy. The tenure system isn’t built effectively to meet the broader interests of the public.” He believes long term tenures are critical for good management and more likely to be sustainable instead of volume-based or short-term licenses.
This year, climate change will be one of the major issues discussed, says Leslie, adding that at Harrop-Procter they are partial cutting instead of clear cutting and retaining the drought tolerant species such as Douglas fir, pine and larch instead of cedar and hemlock.
Leslie’s crew is working on creating fuel breaks around town to mitigate an anticipated higher fire risk. However, they recognize the value of controlled fires as forestry practices change. “We’ve excluded fire successfully for 60 years so there is a huge build up. We plan to start controlled fires next spring,” he said.
North Cowichan burns about 100-200 piles of wood debris every fall. “We try to log as clean as we can. We’ve tried chipping but until the price of hog fuel goes up significantly it is uneconomical,” said Frank, adding the pellet industry might change things.
Bringing the public onto the municipal forest by adding hiking trails can be a good thing but it comes with challenges. Increased road access means more dumped garbage and a phenomenon Frank calls a “carbeque,” a car fire started by a joy-riding car thief.
The benefits of local control far outweigh the challenges, say the members. “Community forests are a good way to localize the management of forests and counter the trend of centralizing in big companies,” said Leslie.