Visual quality concerns are important in the many magnificent landscapes of the Eniyud Community Forests near Tatla Lake. Jim Hilton photo

Managing a community forest is not just about dividends

Columnist Jim Hilton explores managing community forests

While community forests provide the opportunity for residents to use dividends from timber harvest profits to pay for some important local projects there are also many other concerns associated with the annual harvest plans.

On May 23 of this year, I attended the Tatla Resource Association (TRA) annual general meeting (AGM) in the Tatla Lake community hall.

As a summer resident of the area for more than three decades, I am allowed membership and voting rights in the TRA.

One of the main functions of the TRA is to jointly manage the Eniyud Community Forest (ECF) along with the Alexis Creek First Nation.

Based on a 2008 inventory and analysis the 115,000-hectare community forest had a timber harvest land base of 44,048 ha and annual allowable cut (AAC) of 40,000 cubic meters.

Like other areas in the Chilcotin the ECF was hard hit by the mountain pine beetle (MPB).

According to the original inventory, pine made up approximately 80 percent of the harvestable timber volume and if the majority of pine was not usable the AAC would only be 13,000 cubic meters.

In 2016 an updated analysis was done using an estimate of the pine mortality which showed the cut should be around 33.3 thousand cubic meters from a timber harvest land base of 41,234 hectares.

Unfortunately some recent timber sales show the volume recovered was considerably less than the new analysis had predicted.

Even more concerning is the increase in the fir bark beetle (FBB) which is threatening the forests that were to replace the MPB losses.

With the uncertainty of the pine volume and increase in FBB, the directors and general manager Gord Chipman have decided to focus on the harvest of FBB stands and reduce the AAC to 20 thousand cubic meters until they are more comfortable with the original AAC.

The only way to accurately determine the AAC is to do a new inventory and analysis but that is costly and not prudent considering the uncertainty of controlling the FBB.

One of the discussions on the agenda was the funding and location of fire guards for the protection from wildfires that threatened some of the communities last year.

Of particular concern was the Kleena Kleene wildfire which was upwind from communities like Tatla Lake.

The potential locations of fire guards generated considerable discussion over concerns about recreation, trap lines, cattle grazing and types of guards to be constructed.

Using the traditional approach to remove trees and vegetation along existing roads and trails was discussed but it was pointed out that a new approach of also incorporating shaded fire guards.

The experience gained from fighting the 2017 wildfires showed aggressive wildfires crossed major highways, hydro and gas line right of ways and even the Fraser River where as shaded fire guards seemed to slow the fires so they could be controlled easier.

Many of the residents use firewood as the main heating source so it has been has always been a concern of how to use any residual harvesting material rather than burning it in cull piles.

The three-plus hours of travel to the main timber processing facilities has always been a challenge for marketing the timber but the location in the coast mountains provides many other opportunities in recreation, tourism, ranching and trapping.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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