There is growing sentiment that people should have more control over the resources in the place where they live.
Last week, a local group working to establish a community forest in the Salmo watershed met with stakeholders and panelists schooled in the evolving branch of forestry that gives the community a voice in forest management and land-use decisions.
The Salmo Watershed Community Forest Initiative (SWCFI) gathered more than 30 people under one village roof and landed a governance model meant to guide the group through the community forest licencing process.
The goal is to form a non-profit society that will ultimately gain influence over the rugged forest area from Whitewater Ski Resort south to the Nelway border crossing, and east of Erie to Kootenay Lake and the Arrow boundary region.
Provincially, a community forest is described as any forestry operation managed by local government, community group or First Nation for the benefit of the entire community.
“The values that are expressed through community forestry are much greater than traditional forestry methods,” explained Salmo’s Gerry Nellestijn, a spearhead of the initiative.
“It’s not just about timber harvest,” he said. “The values are much more diverse in our structure. For instance, community education, kids participating, non timber forest projects and recreational users will all take a role in looking after our forest.”
Since the BC Ministry of Forests developed a foundation for community forest agreements in 1998, almost 60 areas across B.C. including Kaslo, Harrop-Procter, Nakusp and Creston, are governed under this form of tenure, which is intended to provide new opportunities for community management of Crown forest land.
Supporting new options in recreation, wildlife and watershed management are one facet to community forestry, developing local economy is another.
Harvesting operations can provide a source of revenue under the watchful eye of community-based decision making, and timber rates and exact locations within the tenure can be set to meet locally determined objectives and interests.
“Small businesses used to be in the smaller areas,” said Rollie Read, a Salmo resident and 40-year logger. “You didn’t have to be a millionaire to be involved in the bidding process,” he continued. “Now it costs huge amounts of money so it’s not really small business anymore but big forest companies backing the logging contracts.”
In the last decade, only one local logging contractor was awarded a bidding contract in the area, according to Read. “The bidding is not fair right now,” he added. “The people who are doing the logging in this watershed aren’t even from this valley.”
The Salmo community forest idea is meeting with mixed reviews from two local wood product companies that currently log in the West Kootenay.
ATCO Wood Products has limited information about Salmo’s forest initiative, according to the company’ chief executive officer (CEO).
“But I can offer this general comment based on our experience in the forest industry in BC,” said CEO Scott Weatherford.
“The success of a community forest is strongly dependent on the right circumstances, forest location, and management principles coming together to create value for all of the involved stakeholders.”
However, another local sawmill, planer and re-manufacturing plant has a mutual location with Salmo, and that company is against a community forest plan.
Porcupine Wood Products, a family owned business, has been operating from its location between the village and Ymir on Highway 6 for 21 years, with 110 employees from Salmo, Fruitvale, Nelson, Trail and Castlegar, according to Craig Upper, the company’s general manager.
“I am aware of a group of citizens from the Salmo area desiring to have a community forest licence agreement,” said Upper. “I do not support this endeavour.”
Upper cites specific reasons why Porcupine is anti-community forest, including timber harvest constraints on Crown land with no un-allocated areas; and areas identified by the SWCFI are currently governed under B.C. Timber Sales with 20 per cent of annual timber harvest sold through an open auction method.
Additionally, he said existing community forest license holders face significant challenges in management and forestry operations, resulting in an inability to harvest annual cuts and non-unanimous mandates on what it achievable with its licence cut.
“One last point,” said Upper. “There have been cases where the desire of the community board was to decrease harvest level within their operating area,” he explained. “This is the most troubling issue for any sawmill operator.”
Historically, the province’s lumber industry has been a hot button issue, but so far, “no one has gone broke,” said Nellestijn.
“There is a lot of sensitivities when we break with tradition,” explained the longtime Salmo volunteer and environmentalist.
“If you look at the shape of our environment I think everybody can recognize that there are declines,” he continued. “We need to start dealing with that at every level of our economy. We need that now, this is the time.”
Probationary community forest agreements have been in place since 2004, and carry a five-year initial term.
If successful, the agreement can be extended to carry a 25-99 year term and is replaceable every 10 years.