back to index

There are two kinds of forest license in this province: volume-based and area-based. Volume-based is a license to log a given volume of timber from a Timber Supply Area, managed by the province. Area-based is a license to manage a specific area of forest - a Tree Farm License or woodlot - over the long term.

On Haida Gwaii people are debating the merits of these two types of tenure. But is that the issue? Or is the issue a question of what is being done to the forest and everything it contains, and who benefits from such activities, regardless of the type of license? If Island communities were benefiting economically, and if people were confident that forests were being managed in an ecologically responsible and sustainable way, would we be upset? Would we be spending so much time trying to change things?

If our communities are successful at obtaining either one of these forms of license, will we be able to manage it like we want to, or need to? Or will we be trapped in a system that requires and rewards clearcutting to meet predetermined cut levels and Victoria's revenue requirements? Do we just want the economic benefits associated with such a system, or do we want to change the system in order to sustain the forest that sustains us in so many ways?
Whew! That's a lot to think about. But there's more ...

Community Forestry

A third kind of tenure is now being discussed called Community Forests.
Dr. Julian Dunster, speaking at a Community Forestry Workshop in Maple Ridge in 1993 said: "There are many excellent opportunities to improve forest management in Canada, and communities wanting some control over their local forests should stand up and request a community forest tenure. The exact framework for such a tenure should be stringent enough to prevent abuse of the forested landscape (we have enough of that already), and yet, at the same time, the tenure must permit innovative and environmentally sound logging, and consideration of the whole landscape, and not just the timber components.

"Many communities across Canada have expressed interest in establishing a Community Forest, and Ontario has embarked on a pilot program to investigate several models of the tenure. We know the concept works well in other parts of the world, and we know that there are enough innovative people around, to make it work in British Columbia. What we lack, is the political will to innovate, and to set out on a course that truly affords some real community inputs and decision making. Hopefully, this workshop will contribute towards the political willpower needed to translate theory into practice."

Last month, Julian Dunster and representatives of the Ministry of Forests in Victoria were on Haida Gwaii speaking with many others at the Island Community Stability Initiative's (ICSI) Community Forests Symposium. Bob Friesen, speaking on behalf of the ministry, announced that they were developing policies that would allow for three community forest pilot projects. Gail Brewer, of the policy branch of the Ministry of Forests, was seeking direction from communities on how these tenures should be structured. So it seems the political will has arrived! Now is the time to push the agenda for Community Forestry.

But what do we mean by "Community" and what do we mean by "Forestry?" That was Julian Dunster's challenge to us at the ICSI symposium. Do we have a common understanding of what it is we want to accomplish, and how we intend to accomplish it? That gets us back to some of the questions raised at the beginning of this article. Until we grapple with those issues, we are no further ahead than where we are today.

Island Community Stability Initiative

ICSI has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Minister of Forests. It states: "The parties will focus discussions on designing community tenures with the long-term objectives of being accessible to and targeted towards island communities." The Ministry makes various commitments regarding "Community Tenures and Local Manufacturing" which seem to be open to broad interpretation and negotiation.
ICSI is currently negotiating with the Ministry of Forests local District Office to identify "chart areas" for a community-held, volume-based, 10 to 15 year, non-renewable Forest License. ICSI is telling the communities that it intends to manage it like an area-based license, and that the chart areas will be large enough to allow for longer rotation periods, i.e. 125 years instead of 80. ICSI has also said that when Community Tenures are established, it would want this license (presumably with the identified landbase) to be converted into a Community Forest License.

This might sound good to a lot of people, but others might be wondering about other things such as whether the volume-based license would permit innovative and environmentally sound logging, to consider the whole landscape and cultural implications, and not just timber components such as rotation ages and growth and yield analysis. A paradigm shift is needed in order for us to move beyond timber management to where timber production is just one output of a much more complex system of management that considers all forest values - cultural and spiritual values, biodiversity needs, ecosystem integrity, diverse economic activities such as tourism and local milling and manufacturing, to name a few - before logging is started. This form of management is often called ecosystem-based management and is a key to my vision of a sustainable Community Forest.

Another issue people may be wondering about is what kind of assurances can ICSI get in writing from the Minister regarding converting a temporary Forest License into a Community Forest pilot project. One minister cannot make commitments into the future that would bind another minister, but he can issue a "comfort letter." It seems that the pilot projects will be established in the near future, and in the meantime, can there be an explicit understanding and commitment that the communities will run a volume-based forest license like an innovative community forest license?

"Use it or lose it" has historically been the maxim of the Forest Service. It is called cut control and over a 5-year period a licensee is required to be within 10 percent of its cumulative Annual Allowable Cut. In the past, cut control requirements have sometimes been relaxed due to poor markets. This was called sympathetic administration. The question is: would there be the same sympathy shown to communities that want to undercut for different reasons? We may find out.
Through the ICSI Consensus Document and numerous public meetings, the dialogue so far indicates that the changes we (the Island Community) want go beyond area or volume; they go to the heart of the tenure issue and how forests are managed on Haida Gwaii. The question for ICSI is: how do we get from here to there? ICSI's thinking is to take the volume license now, secure the chart areas, and work out the details later. And many details still need to be worked out - some sooner rather than later. Some are practical, such as: what corporate entity will hold the license? How are benefits or losses divided? How are liabilities managed? Does each community get a portion of land to manage? Are partnerships developed with the local mills? How do we develop new value-added businesses? Is the work contracted out, or are people employed by separate communities or the corporation?
Beneath these questions lie philosophical issues like: Is the corporate entity an open co-operative model like a Co-op or a Credit Union, or something more closed or removed from direct participation? Are workers unionized or independent, or a combination, depending on if communities can separately control portions of the land base? Will there be overarching, island-wide ecological management principles regardless of which community is doing the logging? And fundamentally, like Julian Dunster asks: Have we defined "Community" and "Forestry"?

Whew! Again, that's a lot to think about. And I think that is where the debate needs to go. ICSI needs the support and active involvement of the public to move the Community Forest agenda forward and the public needs to see and understand the strategy ICSI is pursuing before it can effectively provide that support. One way to get the work done, and at the same time build the trust and support required, would be to form a steering committee composed of loggers, manufacturers, tourism operators, carvers, weavers, fishers, small business people, economic development people, artists, and so on.

Our strength has been in our understanding and support for each other's needs. To abandon that process now for short-term gain - as attractive and expedient as that would be - would ultimately be short-sighted, narrow-minded and unfortunate.
To quote Bob Friesen regarding the pilot projects from the October 9, 1997 Observer, "... it would be a decision made by the minister himself... Clearly we want to work with communities with a broad consensus of where they want to go. We don't want to proceed with something the community isn't interested in, at the same time we have this volume and we have to use it."

We all know that a designated area of land to manage is preferable to a volume of wood to harvest. We all want a log yard to market wood locally. We want sawlogs sawn here and we want to develop value-added products and markets. We want to build relationships with the major licensees based on their addendum to the Memorandum of Understanding. We also know that communities want increased control over the resources close to them.

And finally, we have accepted that we don't want to be part of the problem, but part of the solution. Yes, we have more work to do, and yes there will likely be many more discussions and disagreements. But if anything is clear, it is that we are all committed to the process of change that we have started. Is that a broad enough consensus for the Minister to keep his commitments in the Memorandum of Understanding? I'm sure ICSI will be asking him.

back to index