The proposed City of Williams Lake and Williams Lake Indian Band community forest project will be the topic of discussion at a meeting this Sunday, Feb. 24 at the Big Lake Community Hall.
Community members from Big Lake, Miocene and Horsefly have said the proposal does not address the serious concerns repeatedly raised by the residents in their communities.
Big Lake-Horsefly-Miocene Community Forest Working Group members Ross McCoubrey, David Zirnhelt, Jack Darney, Sam Zirnhelt, Bee Hooker and Cecil Morhart note in a press release that 84 per cent of the proposed area and 94 per cent of the harvest proposed is derived from the forest area around Big Lake, Horsefly and Miocene.
“The opportunities the proponents have proposed through which our communities would participate in management decisions and receive economic benefits are unacceptable,” the release says.
“For example, they want the rural communities to accept a small percentage of net revenues that they would have to apply for through a grants program. They asked the CRD to approve their grant program proposal without the courtesy of discussing it with the communities first and they have refused to share the business plan which might give an indication of what revenues they intend to generate.”
Another point of contention is that decisions about board appointments and how profits from the community forests would be spent were made in-camera by the City of Williams Lake.
“That is no way to start a “community forest,” the working group said.
Last week the group invited representatives from the city, the band and the Ministry of Forests to attend the meeting.
Mayor Kerry Cook said she is interested in meeting with the communities, but had already made commitments for the weekend and won’t be able to attend.
Mike Pedersen, district manager with Cariboo-Chilcotin Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations will attend the meeting. However, since the proponent’s application may change dramatically to address community issues, he says his ministry remains neutral until the final application and management plan is submitted.
As part of the process to get a community forest, the proponents must demonstrate that there is a high level of community awareness and support for the application from a broad cross-section of the community, so the city and band were asked to gather letters of support.
The working group said the proponents know they don’t have the support of the rural communities.
“In a recent attempt to demonstrate that they do have some support they’ve sent a request to specific individuals and organizations asking them to write letters of support. Those folks need to be aware of our concerns and proposed solutions.”
In December the Tribune asked if the ministry would be meeting with the communities to hear their concerns and was told at that time “yes.”
On Wednesday, however, the ministry confirmed it had postponed a meeting scheduled prior to Christmas because it didn’t have a complete Community Forest Agreement application from the proponent.