Officials are crossing their fingers in the hopes of harvesting less than half of their allowable cut from the Cheakamus Community Forest this spring.

In April of 2009, the Lil’wat and Squamish First Nations and the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) signed a joint 25-year tenure with the B.C. Ministry of Forests and Range to manage approximately 30,000 hectares of land surrounding Whistler. The three parties formed the not-for-profit Cheakamus Community Forest Society that oversees the forest.

The organization is allowed to harvest 20,000 cubic metres of wood per year, however previous weak lumber markets and hot weather leading to the threat of wildfires have prevented the society from reaching that number, Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said.

“Last year because we had such a long, hot, dry summer, we didn’t harvest very much,” she said. “There has only been a couple of years where we have harvested 20,000 cubic metres.”

The community forest society aims to cut 6,000 cubic metres of wood from Cheakamus 16 block — a swath of land southwest of Cheakamus

Crossing approximately 2.7 kilometres from the turnoff to the Jane Lakes Forest Service Road. Harvesting of the Cheakamus Community Forest will take place this spring following the construction of a one-kilometre access road.

“We’ve got a relatively ambitious amount that the community forest society wants to harvest this year, but again whether that actually occurs or not will depend on a number of factors, not the least is the fire season,” Wilhelm-Morden said.

In the Sea to Sky Natural Resource District, logging has increased slightly over the last few years due to improved market conditions, B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations media spokesperson Greig Bethel wrote in an email to The Question. But the rate of harvest is still less than 75 per cent of the total allowable annual cut that is permitted in the district as sustainable, he noted.

Over the next few years, the Sea to Sky district will see a shift toward more area-based licences for First Nations and communities, such as the Cheakamus Community Forest, Bethel said.

“This shift may result in greater investment by licensees in stand productivity and quality over the long term, as they will have greater stake in the timber management of a defined area,” he noted.

Having control over the harvest is one of the main benefits to a community forest, Wilhelm-Morden said. Money from the harvest goes back into the forest, she noted, adding it can also be put toward community interests such as recreational trails.

“We are able to say what areas should be logged, how big the areas would be, what retention has to occur, so in other words, not all clear cut, but if it is moderate retention some of the trees are left,” Wilhelm-Morden said.

The forestry district is also currently updating its visual quality inventory, which examines logging in regards to the visual impacts on the corridor’s tourist’s attractions, such as the Sea to Sky Gondola, Bethel said.

“As more visitors come to the Sea to Sky region each year, there will be increased focus on the positive integration of logging with recreation and other values,” he said.

Cheakamus Community Forest’s subcontractor, Lil’wat Forestry Ventures LP, started construction on the road to block 16 yesterday, March 4.

Once logging gets underway, officials anticipate five trucks will make two trips per weekday to the site for up to 15 days. Five cuts will be taken, ranging in size from 1.7 to 6.5 hectares.

The logging will also provide job training in forestry, the municipality’s press release stated. Lil’wat Forestry Ventures LP received $250,000 from the BC-Canada Jobs Grant to run the program.