If local control falls in a community forest, is itstill a sound idea?

Islands loggers, sawmill owners, andcommunity leaders debated that question lastweek while discussing the latest plan for aHaida Gwaii Community Forest.

It’s not formal yet, but as early as April or May,the B.C. Ministry of Forests could offer HaidaGwaii villages an area-based forestry tenure of80,000 cubic metres per year.

Spread over six units that include theDrizzle/Watt/Loon Lakes area and smaller areasnear Tlell, Queen Charlotte, Skidegate Lake,Peel Inlet, and Tasu, it could generate roughly$200,000 to $500,000 a year for communitybenefits.

Islanders would help create a forestmanagement plan for the community forest,but it would have to run on one uniquecondition — co-management by BC TimberSales (BCTS).

A provincial agency, BCTS is tasked with overseeing at least 20 per cent of B.C.’s annual timberharvest 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 thecommunity forest would be part of that share.

“This is a model that’s very different,” said Janine North, executive director for the Misty IslesEconomic Development Society (MIEDS). Supported by the Council of the Haida Nation, MIEDS ispushing for a community forest on behalf of Masset, Port Clements, Queen Charlotte, plus theMoresby 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 communitybenefit 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 offerto 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 toenter 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 overoperations in the community forest, with a say on issues such as what areas are logged when, thesize 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 thelegislature last April, he said it would only be used in rare scenarios where there are so manycompeting needs in the timber area that there is no way to offer an exclusive tenure for a communityforest 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 Fennellhad in mind.

“I’m all in favour of a community forest — administered locally, engineered and laid out by localforesters and engineers, scaled by local scalers, and sales small enough so that you can actuallyhave a ‘Little League’ in the logging business,” said Fennell, speaking at a public meeting in the PortClements council chambers.

At an earlier meeting in Masset, Randy Friesen said the BCTS model would do little for the sawmill inPort Clements.

“Right now the mill is basically shut down, and we’re bundling logs for Infinity West,” he said, notingthat they struggle to get a steady log supply even after going into a 50/50 joint partnership with OldMassett 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 ofthe 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 whatwe’re going to be doing, too.”

Janine North said that with just 8.5 per cent of the harvesting land base, the proposed Haida Gwaiicommunity 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 smallpercentage of timber sales for local manufacturing, she said, and also negotiate to keep its relatedforestry-planning jobs on island.

Also, while the current model calls for BCTS and the Haida Gwaii Community Forest to split their netrevenues 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 contractsout for open bid — meaning an off-island company could win contracts to log parts of the HaidaGwaii 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 inPort Clements.

“They’ve been O’Brien, Infinity West, Abfam, Husby, Cameron Gamble. Local operators have thedistinct 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 acommunity 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 ithappen,” she said.

If elected leaders in the Haida Gwaii communities agree to ask the province for a formal offer, Northsaid the province could come back with one shortly, giving islanders the summer to hold publicmeetings and come up with a forest management plan.

So long as everything goes smoothly, the first timber sales for the community forest could start bynext 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 tentativeoffer 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 hopeafter 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 animportant piece to remember.”