Two decades later, community forest could soon be a reality

A partnership between the District of Ucluelet and the Toquaht First Nation is inching closer to bringing employment and educational opportunities to the region. The neighbours have joined to form a community forest that will allow them to manage the sustainability of local forests while reaping economic benefits traditionally reserved for private companies. Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving said a community forest has been on Ucluelet’s docket since his first Mayoral tenure in the mid-1990s and he is excited to see the long slog finally reach a conclusion.

“It’s almost been 20 years later (and) we are within months of actually getting an approved application and having a community forest so it’s a tremendous testimony to the doggedness of the community,” he said.

He acknowledged optimism was also high in 2012, when representatives from both the district and the Nation told the Westerly News that a community forest was months away from being realized, but said the delay was caused by a reset in the process.

“The process in 2012 was the government seemed to be willing but the process was out of date so the last two years have been (spent) redoing the application, reconnecting with the First Nation, going through the referrals, and all that is a long slow process,” Irving said.

“Were within a hair’s-breadth of crossing the finish line here.”

Alberni Valley Times reporter Scott McKenzie recently reported that Port Alberni’s community forest, initiated in 2009, brought in about $500,000 this year.

“We’ve been applying for this longer than they have (but) there’s more hurdles out in this area,” Irving said. “We’ve gone through the (Clayouquot) Biosphere Reserve, we’ve gone through Clayoquot forest disputes, we’ve gone through the treaty settlement process, so we had to be patient. There were layers that Port Alberni just didn’t have to deal with.”

The forest, once achieved, will be overseen by the Barkley Community Forest Corporation, which will be run by a board of directors comprised of members from the Nation and the district.

The forest will encompass about 6,700 hectares and is expected to generate about 27,000 cubic metres of timber annually, according to the corporation’s forestry consultant Derek Drake.

“That’s what was calculated to be the sustainable level of harvest for this land base,” he said.

Drake noted that not all of the land is considered appropriate for harvesting and consideration will be given to both environmental and visual impacts. “Not only well designed from an environmental and ecosystem standpoint but also to make sure that it doesn’t look like there’s a severe impact happening,” he said. Irving said unharvested land will not sit dormant as opportunities in tourism and education will be pursued.

“There’s a whole lot of opportunity for very creative development in the community forest,” he said.

He was clear that while the tourism and educational possibilities are exciting, the corporation will keep their eyes on the economy’s prize.

“Their first priority is to begin logging as soon as we can,” he said. “The bottom line is the company has got to make money, we’re not subsidizing it, so forestry is important but there’s so many other interesting layers.”

Drake estimated the community forest’s harvesting will directly create about seven full-time equivalent jobs.

“This does not include indirect jobs supported by companies providing services to community forest operations, things like parts and fuel suppliers,” he said. “Neither does this include employment from any sawmilling and wood products manufacturing that could be established once there is a supply of logs.”

New employment would bring new cash into the community and fill the local economy with spinoff benefits, according to Drake. “Over time, hopefully a few more families will be encouraged to stay, providing more children for our schools and more people to enjoy our fine communities,” he said.

Drake has collected input from locals and expects to submit a management plan to the Province this week.

“Hopefully we have a community forest before the end of the year,” he said.

While it is late in the game for locals to provide comments for the application, Drake encourages anyone interested in the community forest to provide comments at any time.

“If someone has a concern or an interest they can feel free to express that to the corporation,” he said.

A copy of the forest management plan will be available for perusal at the district office until July 25 and comments can be directed to Drake at thedrakes@telus.net or the Ucluelet district office at info@ucluelet.ca.

reporter@westerlynews.ca

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