Community Forest Boards

Article excerpt

"People across BC. have found that establishing local control over forest use is an empowering, dignifying process that brings communities together," writes forester Herb Hammond in his recently published book, Seeing The Forest Among The Trees. "The people who must live in the ecosystem they manage are the people best equipped to design and direct the use of that ecosystem," he continues. "In the same way, the people who must live with the economy they create are the people best equipped to desing and direct economic activities.

This approach is being explored in several BC. communities, from the Bulkley Valley to Cortes Island, and in out-of-the-way places like the West Chilcotin, as residents attempt to establish some form of Community Forest Board.

Methods of choosing who sits on these boards vary, but all aim to assemble a group that represents the diverse forest interests in the area. Such a group might include Native people, fish and wildlife organizations, logging contractors and mill-workers, wilderness and tourism business, water users, trappers, ranchers, ecosystem protection groups and local governments. The particpation of industry and government ministries is a sensitive issue as part of the switch to local control involves a reversal of roles in regard to who tells whom what will, or will not, happen in the local forest.

In recent years, an array of" public involvement" process has inundated citizens with opportunities for input, recommendations, and reviews, but rarely with opportunities to participate in real planning and decision-making. In hindsight, many have felt that these endeavors have sapped their energy and have been only token gestures with no impact on the course of events.

The responsibilities that Community Forest Boards are attempting to take on extend beyond the advisory role to real planning and decision-making with, according to Hammond, the two-fold objectives of ecological responsibility and balanced use of the forest.

A Community Forest Board must have an adequate information base form which to work: a comprehensive field-based inventory of natural, economic and social factors which can then be used to prepare a land-use or forest plan. This plan can establish forest "zones", such as those used in Hammond's holistic forestry which identifies ecologically sensitive areas and designates zones for cultural protection, fish and wildlife, recreation-tourism, and timber management.

The board can then make zoning decisions, according to Hammond's model"...in an ongoing participatory process with the community. Plans for each forest use or zone contain detailed specifications for the type of activities which are appropriate and the standards which the activities must meet." As they are implemented, these plans would be monitored, evaluated, and revised by the board.

Paying for the process

Who would do all this work and would pay for it? Again these are sensitive issues. Information available to the public from present government ministries is often insufficient and timber-biased. Hammond suggests that information gathering and analysis be done by staff hired by the Community Forest Board; this would likely include, but not be limited to, ministry personnel.

The money to pay for this work would come from the same source that present forest planning and management money comes from: fees charged for the allocation of forest uses and resources to various individuals, groups, and companies. To assure that the community gets a fair return for its forest resources, Hammond and others suggest a competitive bidding process such as that used in the US. for timber sales on public lands. This process could give preference to local bidders or small operators.

A related issue involves the flow of money resulting from these allocations. A look at the public infrastructure in many of BC's logging towns makes it apparent that the wealth generated by the forests is not staying in these communities. …