With the establishment of a new community forest in the Quesnel forest district, the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) will soon decide how it wants to be involved.
Josh Pressey, the district manager with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD), provided an update on the process for a new community forest in the Quesnel Timber Supply Area (TSA) at the Sept. 11 CRD board meeting.
In November 2019, FLNRORD announced a new sharing agreement, called apportionment, for the Quesnel TSA, and that included 75,000 cubic metres set aside for a new community forest.
“It was probably one of the most engaging apportionment processes I’ve ever been through, which is good — it means the community actually wants to be involved in the forest sector and sees the importance of the forest sector in the area, so we were very happy with that,” Pressey told the CRD board. “As we were going through the process, one of the things that came up was more involvement of the community through a community forest. We heard from the City of Quesnel, from some of the Regional District folks and from First Nations.”
Pressey says when Forests Minister Doug Donaldson determined the apportionment, he was looking for the Quesnel area to come together as a collective for a community forest, instead of that 75,000 cubic metres just being divvied up among different groups. With that in mind, FLNRORD began having conversations with the CRD, the City of Quesnel and the First Nations communities that live inside the Quesnel TSA, which are Lhtako Dené, Nazko, Lhoosk’uz and ?Esdilagh.
There is already a community forest just north of Wells, and Pressey says they are in discussions to add to the volume of the Wells-Barkerville Community Forest through this process. Pressey says after adding volume to the Wells-Barkerville Community Forest, there will be about 70,000 cubic metres for the new forest.
In January, FLNRORD sent out an expression of interest to all the parties, and the ministry has received interest back from the Regional District, the City of Quesnel and the four First Nations, and as well, has been in conversations with the Wells-Barkerville Community Forest group.
“From that, there should be a formal invitation coming out from the minister to the collective, inviting them to the community forest process,” explained Pressey. “There are a number of steps in the community forest process. Right now, where we are in the steps in the process is the invitation to apply to the group and the very first step to the group of determining what is that governance structure.”
Pressey says when it comes to the governance structure, they are looking at different levels of participation for the group, and it will be up to the individual groups how much or how little they want to participate.
Pressey told the CRD directors this is still the very beginning of this process.
“Generally, it takes two to three years for a fairly simple process,” he said. “You add in some additional membership and it’s a bit of a longer process, but I think in the long run, a community forest is very beneficial for the area and for the membership of the people, especially when you are dealing with harvesting operations that might be closer to your constituents. You want to make sure that’s done right, and we want to make sure that we’re supporting you to make sure it’s done right.”
Area E Director Angie Delaney told fellow directors the Williams Lake Community Forest in her area is “excellent” and includes the West Side Trail Network, a walking trail and interpretive signs.
“I think these types of projects are excellent,” she said. “They do bring it right down to the community base, and there’s more connection to community and what’s happening in your community, and I think more and more people want that; they want ownership and they want to be involved, and they don’t want to be dictated to, so this is awesome.”
CRD Vice-Chair John Massier, director for Area C, also noted a community forest like this promotes diversity of tenures on the landscape.
“You don’t have just one giant landowner out there; you’ve got a mix of small, medium and large, and it’s probably healthy for any industry not to be concentrated in the hands of any one board or something,” he said.
CRD CAO John MacLean told directors there are legislative and statutory challenges related to the CRD participating in a community forest agreement, and he had hoped to bring a legal opinion to the board for this meeting to outline the CRD’s options, but they don’t have that information yet.
“Being a service-based organization and having to have service establishment bylaws for everything, it’s a challenge for regional districts, so we will have that information coming to you very quickly and then the board will have the opportunity to take a look at how we participate in this process, what’s in the best interest of the North Cariboo and the community as a whole in terms of how we participate in the management and governance of a community forest such as is being proposed,” he said. “There are a lot of decisions to be made, there’s a lot of discussion to be held. This is not easy. This is not quick. We’re talking about steps and procedures that we’ve never done before.”
At this time, the CRD will continue being part of the process as it has been, and staff will present more information when it comes forward so the board can make a more firm decision about its participation.