B.C. government aiming to aid community forests

Columbia Valley's community forest, which is still in the application process, stands to benefit.

A proposed community forest in the Columbia Valley stands to benefit from a new piece of provincial legislation if the concept ever takes root with local and provincial government.

Since 2009, the Columbia Headwaters Community Forest (CHCF) steering committee has been aiming to establish a community forest in the Columbia Valley. Community forests give local government control and stewardship over local forest resources, with the aim of being able to manage these resources as a community sees fit. As of January 2012, there are currently 47 active community forests in the province managing approximately 1.28 million hectares.

“The whole devolution that’s taking place, not only in forestry but in many other areas, is the communities want to manage their capital on a local basis,” CHCF steering committee chairman Rick Hoar said.

The latest legislation, released on October 10, deals with the introduction of a single-cut permit procedure to make it easier for community forest steward organizations to harvest timber. Currently, organizations that manage community forests have to apply for a permit for each cutting site in their area where they want to harvest trees. As each permit costs money, the process can become quite costly for communities. The new legislation ensures that only one permit will be required for an entire community forest, allowing forestry operations to become more responsive to community and market needs.

“That’s a big win for community forests,” Hoar said. “It was quite hampering every time you wanted to go out and cut some wood, even though you had the plan all laid out you had to have a cutting permit for each site, which was very costly.”

The area the CHCF has been studying stretches from Radium Hot Springs to just south of Canal Flats. Hoar said in this area there are at least 10 community watersheds, close to two dozen scenic viewpoints, and large stretches of land that is susceptible to wildfire.

By local government assuming control over these resources via a community forest, decisions on how to best take advantage of these resources, as well as how to protect them, will result in benefits — financial and otherwise — for the local communities.

Hoar said that, when approached, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources seemed supportive of the CHCF and that the steering committee would likely be able to broach the subject once again once current timber supply reviews are completed. Currently, the CHCF is presenting to municipal councils and garnering as much support as they can.

Community forests play a part in the provincial governments’ Forestry Revitalization Plan, which aims to help restore the vitality of B.C.’s forest industry.

Any community group or organization that is interested in learning more or becoming involved is urged to visit the CHCF website at www.chwcf.org.