(Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. photo)
(Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. photo)

(Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. photo) (Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. photo)

COLUMN: How local British Columbians are driving change in B.C.’s forests

FESBC executive director Steve Kozuki pens a column for National Forest Week

People who live, work, and play in B.C.’s forests are terrific. They have enthusiastically stepped forward with great ideas to enhance our forests and then collaborated to deliver on those innovative projects. Since the inception of the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC) in 2016, about $260 million has been put in the hands of local people to do fantastic work in our forests.

The diversity of organizations with a passion for forestry in B.C. is a tremendous strength and an incredible source of innovation. The types of organizations collaborating to deliver forest enhancement projects now range from Indigenous peoples, community forests, grassroots community associations, municipalities, regional districts, woodlots, the Ministry of Forests, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, contractors, and forest consultants, in addition to commercial forest companies big and small. In many cases, FESBC forest enhancement projects have brought different groups to work together for the first time. The spirit of collaboration and the resulting positive relationships is now a platform for deeper partnerships.

FESBC receives funding from the Province of British Columbia, which in turn is granted to local organizations. The FESBC granting process is proponent-driven, which means local people propose what kind of projects they want to do, not FESBC. Funded projects have successfully contributed to the transformation of forests, wildlife habitats, and communities in several ways beyond reducing wildfire risk to communities. From increasing Indigenous peoples’ participation and leadership in the forest economy to creating jobs in forest-dependent communities, and from driving climate action using forestry to accelerating ecological recovery in areas devasted by insect epidemics, disease, and wildfire, these projects have fostered long-lasting and permanent changes.

One substantial change we’ve seen in the past five years has been the increased utilization of low-quality wood fibre. In years past, much of this waste wood was piled and burned roadside after harvesting operations. To instead use that waste wood from the forest (also known as harvest residuals, slash, residual fibre etc.), several barriers needed to be overcome. Partnerships in the forest sector needed to be forged, and contractors had to have business certainty to justify investments in equipment and workers. This is where FESBC funding entered into the equation to help make this happen.

Funding from FESBC helped with the economics and overcoming the barriers to make grinding, chipping, and hauling the wood waste attainable. When the volume of waste wood recovered was significantly increased, the operations were carefully planned in advance, the right equipment was available and used, and when the workers gained the experience to create efficiencies, the low-quality fibre then became more economic to utilize to produce biomass, pulp, pellets, and paper. This kind of transformation benefits communities, workers, the bioeconomy, and the environment.

Communities have also started recognizing that some forests have become unnaturally overgrown with trees too close together, or perhaps much older than they naturally would live to, both due to the suppression of fire. With more innovation and awareness, communities are now taking action to reduce their wildfire risks and restore a more naturally functioning ecosystem, which results in healthier forests that are more ecologically resilient to disease, insects, wildfires, and further climate changes.

Another profound transformative impact of these FESBC-funded projects is that Indigenous peoples have become project leaders and, by extension, are becoming forest management leaders. We’ve also seen other non-Indigenous forest managers who have gained an appreciation for the long-term Indigenous perspectives and worldview of the interconnectedness of everything. For example, in one of FESBC’s funded projects with the Williams Lake Community Forest, the commercial objective was to increase timber supply by thinning and fertilizing trees to make them grow faster. However, a primary goal of the Williams Lake First Nation was to increase berry production for food. In this project, both objectives were achieved.

When FESBC was created, it wasn’t fully appreciated just how many tangential, durable and profound co-benefits were possible to achieve with forest enhancement projects. Now we know.

On innovation, FESBC walks the talk. Doing something new, experimenting with new methods, and allowing new organizations to deliver projects is never a sure thing. Innovation inherently entails taking risks because the outcomes are not guaranteed. Not every project will succeed, and new organizations won’t get it perfect on the first try. That’s okay because that’s how humans have always learned how to do things better. For FESBC, taking calculated risks to achieve significant environmental, economic, and social benefits is part of its DNA. One such example of an innovative project that has the potential to transform forests all over the province is a drone seeding project led by Central Chilcotin Rehabilitation Ltd. Through this project, an innovative approach to direct seed areas devastated by wildfire was undertaken. If successful, using drones and technology to re-establish forests could be transformational if the technology proves to be safer, faster, and more cost-effective.

FESBC has been a catalyst for creating permanent shifts that have contributed to the acceleration and solidification of the transition of British Columbia to a new modern era for forestry. Forests are much more than just trees – they are also critical for wildlife, people, communities, and the well-being of our broader environment. The FESBC projects have demonstrated that it is not only possible but desirable that forest enhancement projects achieve multiple objectives at the same time with the same funding. Well-designed projects will synergistically achieve social, environmental, and economic benefits.

And today, more and more people are realizing that the forests of British Columbia can be a powerful tool to achieve many of our collective needs. More people with diverse interests are collaborating than ever before, communities are actively reducing their risk of catastrophic wildfires, and Indigenous peoples are much more involved and leading in forestry.

We seek to keep this momentum going and enable British Columbians to generate transformative benefits from collaboration, innovation, and sound forest management.

Visit fesbc.ca to learn more and to see what funded projects are near you.

Steven F. Kozuki, Registered Professional Forester is the executive director of FESBC

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