Community forests offer local control

B.C.’s forest based communities are facing dramatic changes due to a range of ecological and economic factors.

B.C.’s forest based communities are facing dramatic changes due to a range of ecological and economic factors.

Rural communities and First Nations are looking for alternatives that will help stabilize their local economies and provide long-term employment opportunities. An increasing number of these see community forests as way to meet many of the challenges they face.

At its core, community forestry is about local control over, and enjoyment of, the benefits offered by local forest resources on crown land. Community Forest Agreements are managed by local governments, First Nations, not-for-profit societies and cooperative organizations interested in the environmental, social and economic health of their community.

A Community Forest Agreement allows communities to determine the values and objectives for management of the land surrounding their communities, the methods to achieve those objectives and the benefits that derive from management. The forest tenure in turn leverages unique opportunities for community economic development and diversification.

The benefits of community forestry vary from community to community as they each identify their own values and priorities. For example, one rural mountain community has identified water protection as their highest priority, while a First Nation community forest sees education and long term employment of band members as their key priorities. With community forests typically located in the land surrounding a community, interface planning and fuel management to reduce risk of wildfires is often a management priority.

Province-wide, there are 47 operating Community Forest Agreements and an additional eleven communities and First Nations in the application process. While the program has grown significantly, the combined annual harvest represents only 1.5 per cent of the provincial total.

To put this in perspective, one company holds licenses for an annual harvest of 2.7 million cubic metres in the Prince George area alone.

This is almost double the total amount allocated to the Community Forest Program.

The Legislative Assembly of BC’s Special Committee on Timber Supply is considering ways to address the pine beetle epidemic related loss of timber supply in the Central Interior. These recommendations are to be examined with due regard to maintaining high environmental standards, protection of critical habitat and key environmental values for the optimal health of communities in an orderly a transition as possible.

The committee has asked some fundamental questions including: “How do we support communities with a falling timber supply?  How do we do more with less?  Can area based tenures help mitigate this issue?”

Despite their small footprint, community forests have shown they can provide a range of benefits to communities, First Nations, and the province as whole.

They are a valuable tool to help communities to become more resilient and self-reliant. By increasing the size of existing community forests and making more of these tenures available to additional communities, the contributions of community forests can be much greater.

The British Columbia Community Forest Association (BCCFA) is a network of community-based organizations in BC that manage community forests or are striving to establish community forests. For more information, please visit: www.bccfa.ca.

Alex Atamanenko

MP
BC Southern Interior