If local control falls in a community forest, is it still a sound idea?
Islands loggers, sawmill owners, and community leaders debated that question last week while discussing the latest plan for a Haida Gwaii Community Forest.
It’s not formal yet, but as early as April or May, the B.C. Ministry of Forests could offer Haida Gwaii villages an area-based forestry tenure of 80,000 cubic metres per year.
Spread over six units that include the Drizzle/Watt/Loon Lakes area and smaller areas near Tlell, Queen Charlotte, Skidegate Lake, Peel Inlet, and Tasu, it could generate roughly $200,000 to $500,000 a year for community benefits.
Islanders would help create a forest management plan for the community forest, but it would have to run on one unique condition — co-management by BC Timber Sales (BCTS).
A provincial agency, BCTS is tasked with overseeing at least 20 per cent of B.C.’s annual timber harvest so it can gather pricing data for stumpage rates and U.S. trade negotiations.
BCTS currently has 19.2 per cent of the annual cut on Haida Gwaii, and all the harvest for the community forest would be part of that share.
“This is a model that’s very different,” said Janine North, executive director for the Misty Isles Economic Development Society (MIEDS). Supported by the Council of the Haida Nation, MIEDS is pushing for a community forest on behalf of Masset, Port Clements, Queen Charlotte, plus the Moresby and Graham Island communities represented by the regional district.
“It doesn’t give the communities access to logs,” said North.
“It gives the communities access to a revenue stream.”
Across B.C., there are nearly 60 community forests, all managed for community benefit by a neighbouring municipality, First Nation, or community-held corporation. So far, the closest thing to a BCTS-model community forest is a recent, formal offer to start one for the Pacheedaht First Nation and Cowichan Lake.
Unlike a standard community forest, the BCTS model proposed for Haida Gwaii would not allow it to enter a long-term agreement to supply logs to a local sawmill. Due to its market-pricing mandate, BCTS has to put logging contracts up for open bid.
However, with a publicly reviewed forest management plan, islanders would have more control over operations in the community forest, with a say on issues such as what areas are logged when, the size of cut blocks, and what forestry roads are left open for public access.
When Forests Minister Steve Thomson first spoke about the new BCTS-type community forest in the legislature last April, he said it would only be used in rare scenarios where there are so many competing needs in the timber area that there is no way to offer an exclusive tenure for a community forest and keep the local BCTS cut at 20 per cent.
“It’s sharing,” he said.
“It’s really about trying to meet the two objectives with, in a sense, the same cubic metre.”
But the BCTS model is not the sort of community forest that local forestry workers like Tim Fennell had in mind.
“I’m all in favour of a community forest — administered locally, engineered and laid out by local foresters and engineers, scaled by local scalers, and sales small enough so that you can actually have a ‘Little League’ in the logging business,” said Fennell, speaking at a public meeting in the Port Clements council chambers.
At an earlier meeting in Masset, Randy Friesen said the BCTS model would do little for the sawmill in Port Clements.
“Right now the mill is basically shut down, and we’re bundling logs for Infinity West,” he said, noting that they struggle to get a steady log supply even after going into a 50/50 joint partnership with Old Massett Village Council four years ago.
“It’s really gross, what’s happening here,” he said.
“With the amount of resources that are on this island — you look at the economic state of some of the communities — I don’t understand.”
Sawmill owner Dan Abbott agreed.
“We’re pretty much going to give up, I think, trying to fight this,” he said.
“This is just another way of getting logs off the island as fast as you can. And that’s probably what we’re going to be doing, too.”
Janine North said that with just 8.5 per cent of the harvesting land base, the proposed Haida Gwaii community forest is neither big enough, nor designed to solve a sawmill supply problem — something larger forest licensees such as Husby or Taan are better placed to do.
But even under the BCTS model, a Haida Gwaii community forest could designate a small percentage of timber sales for local manufacturing, she said, and also negotiate to keep its related forestry-planning jobs on island.
Also, while the current model calls for BCTS and the Haida Gwaii Community Forest to split their net revenues 50/50, North said MIEDS wants a higher share.
“That’s something we’re pushing against,” she said.
“In a normal community forest, it’s everything, net.”
Daryl Sherban, area forester for BCTS, said that although BCTS does have to put logging contracts out for open bid — meaning an off-island company could win contracts to log parts of the Haida Gwaii Community Forest — it’s not likely to happen often.
“If you look at the last 10 years of BC Timber Sales, many of the licensees are in this room,” he said in Port Clements.
“They’ve been O’Brien, Infinity West, Abfam, Husby, Cameron Gamble. Local operators have the distinct advantage of being here, mobilized here, and that’s where they’ve gone.”
Asked about timelines, North said it’s important to remember there is no formal offer for a community forest yet, nor have MIEDS or the CHN approved any of the six areas where it might go.
“We have to decide, as people who live here, whether we want to push government to make it happen,” she said.
If elected leaders in the Haida Gwaii communities agree to ask the province for a formal offer, North said the province could come back with one shortly, giving islanders the summer to hold public meetings and come up with a forest management plan.
So long as everything goes smoothly, the first timber sales for the community forest could start by next winter, with revenues flowing in early to mid-2018.
“For six years, there’s been nothing,” said North, adding that that is how long the province’s tentative offer has been on the table.
“It’s a lot of work, do we want to take it on as a people?”
Nick Reynolds, a forester with the CHN, said so long as the offer isn’t finalized, it’s also not a take-it-or-leave-it scenario.
“I think that’s the thing that paints us into a corner, and it gets people upset,” he said. “You lose hope after a while, because this has been something that’s been talked about for so long.”
“This isn’t the only thing that’s possible for Haida Gwaii, in a community forest. I think that’s an important piece to remember.”