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OPINION: Should We Support A Community Forest In Sicamous?

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Should We Support A Community Forest In Sicamous?
By Darlene Green, July 21, 2017

When it comes to any discussion regarding Community Forests our elected officials, like it or not, have to accept the fact that this program is not new in BC by any means, rather it has been around since 1945. As such, there are many residents who are aware of the program and who do have knowledge and experience within the forest industry, past and present.

The concept of Community Forests has gone through many changes over the past 72 years and between 1945 and the late 1990s, only a handful of community forests had been established in the province.

In July 1998, the then Ministry of Forests, through amendments to the Forest Act, created the Community Forest Agreement (CFA) program. The basis and intent of the development of these changes was to offer opportunities for greater participation by communities / First Nations in management of local forests, within their community boundaries.

By September 1998, the Ministry of Forests issued a Request for Proposals (RFP), inviting 88 communities throughout BC to apply to this program. Was the Sicamous area one of those invited to submit a proposal? If the answer is yes, then were they possibly one of the 27 proposals submitted?

Out of the 27 submissions received only 7 communities were offered CF Pilot Agreements. By October 2000 three additional communities were added to the program. In 2002 the formation of the BC Community Forest Association took place, with a membership of 12 operating community forests. Was the District of Sicamous present at the Community Forestry Conference held in Victoria, March 2002? What about participation in any conference since 2002?

In 2004 more changes occurred within the Forest Act and regulations which saw the replacement of the pilot program with a 5-year probationary term. This change allowed for direct awarding of Community Forest Agreements and saw 8 more communities being added to the roster.

Moving forward to 2005 yet another 33 communities receive invitations to apply for a CFA. Was Sicamous one of the recipients of an invitation? Was an application made?

By October 2006 the interest and involvement of BC communities expanded to 43 communities either in the application process or actually operating under a CFA. Was Sicamous one of the communities with an application in process? Were they even aware of the opportunities being presented?

In 2008 yet more changes and new government goals are adopted. The program is evolving and growing and by June there are 52 community forest involved in the CFA Program within the province.

At a BC Roundtable on Forestry, held in 2010, a recommendation is put forward for more Community Forests. Invitations continue to be sent out. By 2015 involvement within the Community Forest Agreement program has expanded to include 57 organizations representing nearly 90 BC communities! Two short years later (2017) the involvement number has expanded even further to 60 community organizations representing 100 individual communities! Yet, Sicamous does not appear to be interested or involved. Why?

It is now mid way through 2017 and with all the opportunities and expansions over the years one has to ask the questions, and these must be answered by the elected community officials, before any taxpayer is asked to blindly support any current or future application, formation of an independent corporation or entering into of any partnerships with outlying communities and First Nations governments or development corporations:

  • Was Sicamous involved or aware of all the previous opportunities and invitations, throughout the years, to become involved in a community managed forest?
  • If the answer is yes, did they make applications?
  • If the answer is yes, then what was the outcome of these applications?
  • If the initial questions answer is no, then why?
  • Why did the Council of the day and taxpayers objection(s) to the creation of a local community forest?

According to BC Forests Lands and Natural Resource Ministry website there are currently 56 Community Forest Agreements in place in BC issued (or invited) by the Provincial government. The Ministry completed a project review of the CF Program in 2006, approximately eight years after the programs original inception in July 1998.

It is probably time for another in-depth Ministry pier review before any small community jumps on the band wagon to become involved in the program. This is suggested as there have been documented issues within the small rural community based forest initiatives in BC and deciding if this is what best suits our community needs to have more public input.

Exaggerations and comparisons between our small community and an out-of-province operation, made to bolster one elected officials personal opinion, are deemed null and void (smoke and mirrors!) when compared with the actual history of the Community Forest Program in BC. Research that has and continues to be in place, in BC, governed by the laws, policies and procedures set out for BC Community Forest Agreements, and enhanced by the work of the recognized BC Community Forest Association. This is what community members need to focus on when informing themselves about the program in BC. Not the rules for such operations in Manitoba, Ontario or other areas in Canada which have no bearing on our small rural BC community.

Forestry and logging is not cheap! Small tax based communities have to consider and balance the return on tax dollar investment and actual documented local economic benefits when considering establishing any partnerships, or entering into any agreements. Elected officials who publicly throw out perceived, unsubstantiated and “off the cuff” amounts of revenue without inclusion of operating costs, whilst trying to engage taxpayers in a debate within local liquor establishments, is not considered appropriate nor professional behavior.

Back in 2015 the BCCFA (the “Association”), in collaboration with the Southern Interior Beetle Action Coalition (“SIBAC”), published a report providing the findings of an economic analysis of community forests in BC. This report contains an analysis of 23 community forests which were asked to submit copies of all of their annual Financial Statements and participate in a survey that was collated, summarized and analyzed for the report.

While the results appear, on the surface, to be encouraging it must be kept in mind that these are collated results, not individual analysis of any specific organization, group or area. Further, the report contains questions regarding employment within the BC forest sector, sustainability and continuity of local employment, as well as revenue and expenditures, start-costs and the ability to build-up the necessary operating reserves required to meet future obligations and the inevitable difficult market years.

In an article published in the Logging & Sawmilling Journal (2016) Wayne Lintott, the General Manager of the Interior Logging Association (ILA) in Vernon, B.C., an organization with 385 members as far north as Prince George and as far south as the American border, states that logging rates in the B.C. Interior dropped about 11% during the downturn in 2008. He further states that although the rates have gone back up, they are not yet to the point where they reflect current operational costs and where contractors are satisfied.

While there might be some benefit to increasing employment in depressed areas there simply is no guarantee that creation of a Community Forest will accomplish much of a dent in the lack of sustainable local employment or have any significant increase in local economic development at this time. This is not to say that it will have no impact, just that the impact may not outweigh the costs involved to be involved in the industry at this time.

The owner of a north-central Alberta operation also speaks plainly about how current logging rates are having a direct impact on how operators manage their companies. As Alberta and BC operators regularly work in each others territories the views can be considered relevant when discussing the overall health of the BC forest industry. “The rates are not set up for you to be training people,” Herman Derksen, owner of Northwest Harvesting in north-central Alberta said in an interview with the Logging and Sawmilling Journal. Based on how much operators are paid compared to the cost to run their businesses, they can not afford to keep individuals employed if they can’t ramp up quickly to meet daily production targets.

In other words, currently operators across the province would also be faced with the issues surrounding how they can afford to operate at less than peak productivity—all the time—just to pay the bills. This only adds to an environment which makes training opportunities few and far between for new entrants into the industry. Individual private operator or partnered Community Forest based operations; it makes no difference, as this is an industry related fact.

In the end it all comes back to the reality that forestry in BC is currently an extremely volatile employment and political environment. This being the case it does not scream “sustainable” local employment opportunity. Rather it raises more questions on whether, as a taxpayer, and member of a small, mainly senior based retirement demographic area, entering into and financially supporting a Community Forest is in our best economic interest in the long run.

  • Are there other ways to create above minimum wage, year round, job opportunities centered on the demographic needs in our community? Absolutely!
  • Should there be open pubic discussion and forums set up to allow for the development of alternate ideas, on a needs basis and engagement of those ideas, some of which might even be “thinking outside of the box”? No question, absolutely!
  • Should there be community discussion, involvement and possibly a vote before committing tax dollars and community resources to major capital project, such as a Community Forest? Absolutely!

The Ministry expects the local governments will actively engage the community in “any” decision respecting entering into a Community Forest Agreement. Even the BCCFA in their Guiding Principles supports Informed public participation in community forest decision-making.

So the question of whether we, as taxpayers, should support a Community Forest is not that simple, but rather complicated. Currently, we here in Sicamous have not been given the respect and opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process by our elected officials. This creates an environment wherein, even if the elected officials submit an application, enter into partnerships or create outside corporations, they simply do not meet the basic expectations of both the Ministry and the Association, for community buy-in.

Until such time as the community is brought into the process by taxpayers being included and given a voice – a chance to decide on what direction they wish to go (opt out, stand alone, or enter into partnerships) – there is little hope of this being accepted by the majority of ratepayers. It also bodes the question of why now? What has been going on for the last 17 ½ years?

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