When asked to define community in a community forest agreement, Williams Lake Mayor Kerry Cook said the city and the Williams Lake Indian Band are at the centre of a regional hub of business and social communities.
“The partners recognize the importance of the forest to the people who live close to it, and are working to incorporate their values and interests in addition to the values and interests of those living directly within the partner communities.”
A north block in the proposed CFA is located north and east of Williams Lake. Spanning 22,912 hectares, the block is in an area between the Likely and Horsefly Roads from Potato Mountain eastward and to Beaver Valley in the north.
Concerns have been repeatedly raised by the communities in Big Lake, Horsefly and Miocene, who for months have been saying they do not feel that the proponents of the CFA are including them as part of that community.
Cook, however, argued the partners have already frequently communicated directly with residents and representatives of the rural communities and will continue to do so.
The partners have committed to creating a community council to ensure that the communication is ongoing, she said.
As to why the city and WLIB pursue involving those communities as proponents, Cook said choosing partners is challenging and depends on trusting and respectful relationships.
“In addition, partners need to be able to accept the business risk of the community forest.”
There was a direct invitation from the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to the WLIB and the city to apply for the CFA, she said, adding the rural communities did not have standing as proponents.
“The application is within the WLIB’s traditional territory and the band welcomed the city as a partner.”
The Big Lake-Horsefly-Miocene Community Forest Working Group has criticized the proponents for having in-camera meetings to appoint directors to a community forest limited partnership and determine how any revenues from the forest will be distributed to the community, either through grants or the establishment of a community foundation.
Cook justified the in-camera meetings because the partners were selecting directors to govern the business of the limited partnership.
“As such it is up to each partner to appoint individuals who collectively have the skills and the wisdom to guide the development of this new business. Discussions of appointments are necessarily confidential and are therefore routinely conducted in-camera,” Cook said.
Last week Minister Steve Thomson’s office confirmed the proponents were invited to submit their application and management plan.
Ministry staff provided some initial feedback and the proponents are currently updating and preparing to submit formally.
After the final application is submitted, the ministry consults with area First Nations, and after consultation is completed, a final information package is submitted to the regional executive director for approval.
“Only if the regional executive director determines the application fully meets the established criteria will a CFA be issued. A key part of the application is demonstrating a high level of support from a broad section of the community.”
Big Lake, Miocene and Horsefly are included in the definition of community, and will be included as part of the process, the ministry said in an emailed response.
“The application from the city and the Williams Lake Indian Band needs to demonstrate that is it reflecting the values of all of these communities in the management of the CFA area.”