Small rural communities in the Cariboo have contested a proposed Community Forest Agreement application made by the city of Williams Lake and the Williams Lake Indian Band.
Residents from the communities of Big Lake, Miocene and Horsefly said the application goes against the spirit and intent of the law around community forests.
While supporting the concept of a community forest in principle, and the Williams Lake Indian Band’s seeking to acquire an area-based tenure, the rural communities said the fact the proposed boundary of one of the proposed blocks for the CFA surrounds Big Lake right up to the school playground is a concern.
“Our communities could support a proposal that includes the city of Williams Lake if the area they were proposing was nearer to their community or included the rural communities as partners in the proposal,” David Zirnhelt, representative for Big Lake and a former Minister of Forests said in an interview.
The north block, Potato Mountain Block, is east of Williams Lake. Spanning 22,912 hectare, the block covers an area between the Likely and Horsefly roads, from Potato Mountain eastward and to Beaver Valley in the north.
When Zirnhelt was the forest minister and brought in the legislation for community forests, the government did not define what a community was in the act because it was thought it was best for communities to define that for themselves.
“It was never contemplated that you would have a community like Williams Lake defining their community overtop of something like Big Lake, Miocene, and Horsefly,” Zirnhelt said.
On Nov. 13, the rural communities emailed a letter to Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson, protesting the application. Their letter also included a petition with 80 signatures.
The letter suggested a collaborative application, that includes the three rural communities, Williams Lake and the Williams Lake Indian Band.
“We could submit a modified proposal which either brings our communities in as full partners or creates space for area-based tenure applications submitted separately by our communities,” the letter noted.
In 2006, the community of Big Lake requested a community forest and heard then there was no available cut, Zirnhelt said.
“The proponents are fully aware that we have an interest in acquiring our own much smaller Community Forest and continue to support the placement of more Woodlots in rural areas. However, the proponents have been unwilling to include the rural communities as partners or adjust their boundaries to ensure they don’t preclude area-based forest tenure opportunities for our communities.”
Zirnhelt said they haven’t calculated how large the cuts would be in those relative areas of interest, but said the communities could go it alone or go at it together.
The experience with people who have woodlots is that they can keep their administrative costs down and still make a good dollar and respond to other values on the land base.
For a community forest to succeed, the proponents need a social license from the surrounding communities and people in those communities, and at this point that does not exist, Zirhnhelt said.
“They don’t have that. They have not sought it and they resisted it. When they came out to Big Lake hall with their show and tell a year ago, they didn’t even want to meet with the community and explain it, they just wanted one on one. Well, when you have 70 people in the room and four consultants, how much time does anybody get? What’s wrong with a community discussion? There was a unanimous resolution at the time that one of the conditions of any support would be some ownership of the license, meaning in a legal sense that we have some stake and some definite say.”
In a press release issued on Oct. 26 about the CFA application,the city and the band noted they understand that people living near the community forest are interested in the management of the forest and the benefits derived from it.
The two parties noted the application includes several ways of sharing those benefits: the creation of a community council will provide opportunities to gather input on the goals and activities of management for the community forest area, work will be available to local individuals and companies through a contract tendering process, the community forest will purchase goods and services (e.g. search and rescue, firefighting, community hall rental) from communities and the creation of a community fund to support grants to community groups and projects.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said Nov. 14 there is not an opportunity to make the area for the community forest larger.
“The area was chosen since it was close to Williams Lake, could support an annual allowable cut of 40,000 cubic metres and was not otherwise encumbered. I also understand that the City and Williams Lake Indian Band have offered to put revenue from the community forest into a fund that would be available for any community in the regional district to apply to, and that the city and Williams Lake Indian Band have created a community council that would provide direct input into the management of the community forest,” Minister Thomson’s office noted in an emailed response.
His office also confirmed Thomson is in the process of responding to the letter, but because of the volume of correspondence he receives, it takes two to three weeks to respond