Representatives from the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Cooperative and the Pacheedaht First Nation were celebrating Thursday, March 16.
Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson travelled to the BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan to announced that he is inviting the two groups, the proponents of the Qala-yit Community Forest, to apply for a unique community forest agreement.
This is the first community forest agreement that allows for a new form of partnership with BC Timber Sales through a reduced volume condition contained in the agreement, he said.
“I am pleased to invite the Qala-yit Community Forest to apply for a community forest agreement,” Thomson said. “I expect both Lake Cowichan and the Pacheedaht First Nation to benefit from an economic boost witnessed in other community forests.”
The invitation to apply is for approximately 8,018 hectares of Crown land to be managed as a community forest.
Once the allowable annual cut of the tenure is determined, BC Timber Sales will retain the rights of 7,296 cubic metres for disposition. BC Timber Sales contributed timber volume and operating area in order to make a larger tenure possible.
The tenure area is comprised of five parcels of Crown land between Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew: two near Gordon River, two near San Juan River and one near the Pacheedaht community.
The community forest would be the first agreement that includes a reduced volume condition under 2016 amendments to the Forest Act.
The legislation, expected to be used very sparingly and only in unique circumstances, provides the province flexibility for issuing licences in areas where there are significant competing pressures on the land base.
As part of the application, the Qala-yit Community Forest will need to demonstrate community awareness and support for the community forest, including building relationships and sharing information with neighbouring First Nations and area communities.
But, at the announcement, everyone from Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest to Forest Coop board member Tim McGonigle to Pacheedaht representatives Marvin McClurg and Tom Jones said they were delighted to see years of hard work coming to fruition with this opportunity.
The applicants will also need to submit a management plan for approval that will help determine the final allowable annual cut and timber volume.
Qala-yit Community Forest now has 120 days to complete the application process.
The invitation to apply for a community forest supports the province’s goals in the forest sector competitiveness agenda to support rural, resource-dependent communities and to build economic capacity, community opportunities and develop partnerships with First Nations in the forest sector.
Community forest agreements are long-term, area-based tenures designed to encourage community involvement in the management of local forests.
A community forest is managed by a local government, community group or First Nation for the benefit of the entire community.
Others, unable to attend the event, such as Pacheedaht Chief Jeff Jones were also happy with the news.
“We appreciate the province extending an invitation for Qala-yit Community Forest to apply for a tenure. We look forward to partnering with the Cowichan lake Co-op on this endeavour and working with BC Timber Sales, knowing that the benefits of the timber volume allocated for their disposition will still flow into our communities,” he said in a statement released the same day.
Lorne Scheffer, chair of the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative, later said, “We know first-hand how much a community forest can benefit the entire community. We look forward to completing our application and having a greater voice on local forest management with our Pacheedaht partners.”
Forrest thanked the minister and the province for the chance to move forward.
“You mentioned several times the word ‘partnership’ and having that great partnership with the forest co-op and the Pacheedaht First Nation will mean a great economic boost for our community. I’d like to thank all the members of the forest co-op who are here today: your work has been of tremendous value to our community, not just through your legacy fund but with local jobs provided and just bringing the community together. It’s very important.”
McGonigle expressed gratitude on behalf of the current forest co-op board to everyone who’s been involved in the years of hard work.
“Minister Thomson came to Lake Cowichan one year ago for the annual general meeting and stood in front of that crowd and guaranteed that this would be coming. I’d personally like to thank Minister Thomson for his hard work and diligence in getting this done,” McGonigle said.