The City of Quesnel is taking the next steps to move the process for a new Quesnel-area community forest along.
Quesnel council had indicated a willingness to proceed with a Community Forest Agreement (CFA), and resolutions passed at the Nov. 3 council meeting will help move the initiative forward, explained City manager Byron Johnson.
At this time, the confirmed partners in the CFA include Lhtako Dené Nation, Nazko First Nation, ?Esdilagh First Nation and the City of Quesnel. Johnson says the Lhoosk’uz First Nation and the Cariboo Regional District are still deciding if they will partner.
Johnson told council the actual invitation from the provincial government to apply for a CFA has not been issued, but staff consider it to be imminent.
Johnson says a significant challenge to proceeding with a CFA is the upfront expense required, which is estimated at $500,000 to $600,000, spread over two years of development.
The Province is considering creating a Non-Replaceable Forest Licence (NRFL), the net proceeds of which would be used to fund the upfront costs, explained Johnson.
“That’s a pretty groundbreaking step by the Province, even to suggest that,” says Johnson. “I don’t know of another one where they went through this step. Typically, communities have to raise their funding for this, so that’s potentially huge but not locked in place.”
If this NRFL does not materialize, the partners will need to fund the CFA development through a combination of their own funds and grants, he added.
For either of the funding arrangements, the group has requested the City of Quesnel hold and administer the funding derived from the NRFL, grants or supplied by the partners, by issuing cheques when needed. Johnson told council that Kari Bolton, the City’s director of corporate and financial services, sees no issues with this arrangement for this initial phase of development, as it is not perceived to be a huge workload at this point in time.
Two groups have been set up to manage the development of the CFA.
The partner group is comprised of the elected leaders of the various community partners, including the mayor and the First Nation chiefs. This group will help to develop the vision and partnership goals for the CFA.
The technical working group includes key staff of member organizations and will help to develop the technical, legal and policy framework for the CFA.
Johnson told council the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) is engaged in the process, and the Community Forests Association has been assisting.
“It’s important to note that community forests are not cookie-cutter arrangements where every one is the same, and you just pull something off the shelf and here’s a community forest,” says Johnson. “Every one is different — they have a different policy structure, a different ownership structure, a different management structure. Because of that, there are a ton of issues that need to be worked through and shaped before the final proposal is developed.”
At its Nov. 3 meeting, council authorized the City to enter into a Participation Agreement for the CFA.
Council authorized Mayor Bob Simpson to be the City representative on the partner group, with the appropriate decision-making authority; authorized the City manager or delegated staff member to the City representative on the technical working group, with the appropriate decision-making authority; and authorized the City’s finance department to provide assistance to the development of the community forest.
Mayor Bob Simpson says similar resolutions are going forward in participating First Nations governments as well.
“Lhtako has signed off, and the nominal contribution we asked for, they’ve already cut a cheque for that,” he said. “Nazko is dealing with the same situation with their council. We know that we’re moving together, we know the first phase will be the NRFL, the management of the NRFL, and the second phase will be the evolution of the agreement that leads us to a community forest licence.”
The current participating partners are being asked to contribute $2,000 each for the initial costs, such as creating the legal structure to be able to get the community forest licence. If a NRFL is issued, the process should be self-funded, as they could use the revenue from that licence, explained Simpson, noting at this time, it looks like only the City, Lhtako and Nazko are committing those funds.
Simpson says the technical team, which includes representatives from the City, Nazko and Lhtako Dené, will meet with ?Esdilagh, Lhoosk’uz and the CRD to determine whether they want to be included in the NRFL process and give them the information so they can make a decision.
“What’s important for council to understand is that for those who have not at this juncture been able to commit the resources or commit the time, what we’ve said to FLNRORD is we need to be able to map out a process that makes it clear to those who are not engaged in the initial partnership agreement, who are not engaged in the initial NRFL process, that we have expectations of them that they’re going to be able to make decisions when it comes time for the community forest licence to be issued,” he said. “What we’ve said to FLNRORD is we are not going to keep trying to make it palatable for groups to come in. At some point, there has to be a go/no-go decision, so that’s why we’re trying to outline it ahead of time.”