Residents of Big Lake, Horsefly and Miocene reaffirmed Sunday they do not support an application for a community forest agreement by the City of Williams Lake and the Williams Lake Indian Band.
“If we were engaged in a dialogue with the proponents, it wouldn’t be a concern, but the dialogue was shut down in May,” Sam Zirnhelt said at a community meeting hosted by the Big Lake-Horsefly-Miocene Community Forest Working Group in Big Lake.
If approved, the CFA will allow the city and the band as partners to jointly harvest 40,000m3 (or approximately 800 logging truck loads) of timber annually from two areas — a south block, measuring 5,927 hectares, located west of the city, north of Highway 20 between Esler subdivision, and a north block, east of Williams Lake.
Spanning 22,912 hectares, the north block is in an area between the Likely and Horsefly Roads from Potato Mountain eastward and to Beaver Valley in the north.
“We need to revisit the fundamental question that was raised here right from the start by many community members. Is it right for a city the size of Williams Lake to have a community forest, and if so, under what conditions?” Zirnhelt said.
More than 100 local residents, Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson, Cariboo Regional District Area F director Joan Sorley, and Mike Pedersen, district manager Cariboo-Chilcotin Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations attended the meeting.
Toward the end of the meeting residents unanimously passed a resolution stating they do not support the application in its present form, that they want the application delayed until a mutually beneficial agreement has been achieved, and they want the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to “get involved” and facilitate some meaningful meetings with the proponents and rural communities.
“The message is loud and clear for me and even clearer today,” Pedersen told the crowd. “I’ll take that message back to my boss, Gerry McDougall, and we’ll probably have further discussions with the assistant deputy minister around this particular piece.”
Pedersen promised he’d talk to Mayor Kerry Cook and Chief Anne Louie of the WLIB.
“I know what I’ve heard and I know what I need to say,” Pedersen said.
Outlining the chronology of events, working group member Jack Darney said the rural communities have expressed concerns in the management and what benefits are derived from the Big Lake Block.
“On Nov. 15, the proponent submitted a letter to Minister Steve Thomson stating the rural communities’ concerns are rooted in control and revenue and the city has been invited to apply for the CFA.”
The proponents’ letter also encouraged Thomson to invite the communities of Big Lake, Horsefly and Miocene to apply for a community forest of their own and if the volume was available then the ministry could negotiate an area trade, Darney added.
Zirnhelt said in the last few weeks the proponents have launched a renewed campaign to be able to document and add to their application demonstrating that they have community support for the application.
“The people being asked to write letters of support were not made aware of the working group’s concerns,” Zirnhelt said.
“The letter stated the community forest would derive multiple benefits, including high quality sustainable management of the forest, job creation and support for new and existing businesses in our communities and neighbouring communities.”
Consistently the group has said they would support the application if the communities have meaningful input and a share of the benefits.
Invitations to attend the meeting were sent Feb. 15 to the mayor and council, the band, CRD, the ministry, and local politicians, Zirnhelt said.
“We received an email of regret that mayor and council could not attend, due to previous commitments. They relayed their agreeing to attend a future meeting with more lead time to allow them to reschedule and plan to attend.”
Simpson wrote a letter on Jan. 30 to the WLIB stating he “wholeheartedly” supported the band pursuing a CFA.
He outlined the rural communities’ “justifiable” concerns about having the City of Williams Lake involved in managing Crown land that is well outside the City of Williams Lake’s municipal boundaries and which abuts their communities. “I believe these smaller communities are warranted in their concerns and that they ought to have a more direct say in the management of the Crown land in their region,” Simpson’s letter stated.
On Sunday he said the communities contingent to the Big Lake block must be involved in a meaningful manner.
“Otherwise you cannot call this a community forest,” Simpson said, adding, he has had a signal that the WLIB would like to meet with the community representatives as soon as possible.”
To be fair to the proponents, Simpson said they had an invitation from the minister to apply for the CFA that allowed them to work with ministry staff to look at the land base.
“The legal structure is that way. Nothing illegal is occurring here, they are following that process,” Simpson added.
Zirnhelt said one of the tests of the application is to demonstrate a high level of support from a broad cross section of the community.
“If you were to manage this forest or put your name forward to be on the board of directors you would want the majority of people in this room to be backing you up and giving you input and support so you could do your job,” he said. “If you’re starting out with zero support from these communities then that would be an awful situation to be in.”
See Thursday’s Tribune for a response from Mayor Kerry Cook.