A project proposed by a local timber company for a forest near Nelson would combine food-growing, wildfire prevention, and timber harvesting.
The Selous in Bloom project envisions an agroforestry initiative on two hectares of Kalesnikoff Lumber Ltd.’s timber tenure on forested land just south of Nelson. Agroforestry is the practice of growing trees in conjunction with food crops.
“In 45 years of working with the forest industry either as a leader or as a politician, I don’t think I have seen a company come forward with such a brave attempt at progressive community work,” said former MLA and cabinet minister Corky Evans at a Jan. 21 online meeting about the proposal.
The two-hectare project would be situated adjacent to and above the Great Northern Rail Trail near the Nelson cemetery.
It would comprise a small part of a much larger timber harvesting and wildfire mitigation program planned for the mountainside visible from Nelson by Kalesnikoff and the Regional District of Central Kootenay.
The Selous in Bloom idea was originated by Gerald Cordeiro, a forest development manager at Kalesnikoff Lumber.
He says this experiment could improve on conventional methods of mitigating wildfire danger, which mostly involve thinning the forest and cleaning up the forest floor.
Cordeiro said that method has some drawbacks because it is not a natural ecological process. It can reduce soil fertility and make sparse standing trees vulnerable to windstorms. It can also reduce both biodiversity and long-term timber supply, and it is expensive because it has to be done every few years.
Multi-level, diverse, and fire resistant
Agroforesty, he said, would create a multi-level, diverse, fire resistant forest and garden that would also improve local food security and provide employment.
He said it could also promote reconciliation with Indigenous people through use of traditional ecological knowledge, and provide opportunities for education, research and collaboration.
Kalesnikoff would sacrifice some timber at the site.
“We can intentionally set these things up so that we can maintain some timber supply out of them,” Cordeiro said, “probably on a smaller scale, and on a slower removal. But there is room for timber within these systems. And so we would then try to focus a little bit more on value instead of volume.”
Evans praised this idea.
“If you grow less trees per acre, you grow better trees, higher value trees, and this could set an example for the industry provincially,” he said.
Evans, a resident of the Slocan Valley, was a B.C. cabinet minister in the late 1990s and early 2000s, who headed, at different times, the ministries of agriculture, transportation, and health.
Cordeiro said he would like to see a mix of native conifers and additional tree species including walnut, “with the lower part of the canopy that is made up of non-flammable, valuable species from an agricultural perspective.
Cordeiro says the company is looking for a non-profit organization that might want to take the project over and run it.
“Ultimately, it’s not a project that Kalesnikoff is looking to take on and run long term,” he said. “My intention is to try and give it a real good shove in the right direction and get it into the hands of people who can run it long term day-to-day.”
A new kind of forest tenure?
But Cordeiro’s vision is larger than two hectares. He thinks the province should set up a new kind of forest tenure that would encourage agroforestry.
“My vision is that this is a major tool that gets used throughout the urban interface in B.C., and throughout the world, to be honest. It’s being done in some places. It’s not like I’ve invented this idea.”
He said agroforestry could address wildfire and food security threats at once.
“We think we can tackle both and get some other great benefits. And I think that the provincial government should take a deep dive into figuring out how to do this so it becomes the norm in our urban interface areas.”
This would require changes to forest tenure legislation.
“So far, local government people that I’ve spoken with support the idea. But you can’t go around willy nilly on public lands starting to grow stuff. So I think we need to improve the legislative framework to expand this into Crown land.”
Asked at the meeting if agroforestry could replace clearcutting, Cordeiro said such a project would probably only happen in forests adjacent to communities.
“We’re trying to improve our practices, and partial cut where it’s suitable to partially cut. We can’t partial cut every single place we go. So I can’t say that there’s not going to be clear cutting elsewhere.”
Cordeiro admits the agroforestry idea is experimental.
“Maybe it’s not the be-all end-all, but I think we’d be really remiss in not trying it. There’s a lot of scrutiny on the forest industry, a lot of public interest at this time, and how do we push forward in new and innovative ways? I think this is one of them.”
Gregoire Lamoureux, a restoration ecologist and permaculture designer who runs Kootenay Permaculture, says the project is progressive and innovative.
“I appreciate this pilot project, which will be starting small, and with careful observation and adaptive management, it can fine-tune the specific plants and spacing for the site and create a successful project that could be implemented in other regions of the province and possibly across Canada,” Lamoureux told the Nelson Star.
Local forest consultant Herb Hammond is more skeptical. He calls it “the tail wagging the dog” because it does not deal with the real problem of what he calls privatized public forests.
“Where is the government leadership here?” he asks. “The proposal speaks to management of public forest land, but is made through a corporate timber extraction lens. This problem will not be fixed until the management and control of public forests are returned to a public agency that is responsible for protection and restoration of the ecological integrity of forests.”
Nelson city councillor Keith Page, who attended the Jan. 21 meeting, told the Nelson Star the novelty of the project means it will have to overcome a lot of hurdles, and would benefit from a trial and error approach.
“Projects of this kind are in many ways a very old way of thinking rediscovered for the problems of the 21st century,” he said. “It’s an integrated multi-stakeholder co-benefit model that has tremendous potential to revolutionize how the Kootenays can take advantage of our interior rainforest climate and lead the province towards a sustainable resource management model.”
Kalesnikoff Lumber is inviting public input into the proposal on its website.
The larger wildfire mitigation project on the visible mountain-side landscape south of Nelson, which includes logging, will begin later in the spring.