Community forest allows Squamish to make its own rules

Economic benefits and mountain bike trails the focus of open house

Local economic benefits and the importance of trails used by mountain bikers were two recurring themes that were brought up during the open house about Squamish's proposed community forest.

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The open house, which was on May 1 at the Sea to Sky Hotel, was a chance for officials to introduce the community forest to the public.

If it becomes a reality, the community forest will encompass a swath of land that both the Squamish Nation and the District of Squamish will be able to govern via their oversight company, the Squamish Community Forest Corporation.

This area is currently overseen by the provincial government.

"We can design our own rules," said Coun. Eric Andersen, speaking to the benefits of creating a community forest.

Traditionally, forests in the Squamish area fall under BC Timber Sales, a provincial organization.

Under its oversight, contracts for forestry-related work are generally given to the businesses with the best bid — not necessarily locals.

Should the community forest become a reality, the Nation and the District can give local corporations priority.

This would allow economic benefits to stay in Squamish.

"We are [a] local company, so the financial benefits of whatever goes on in the forest accrue to [a] Squamish company," said Jeff Fisher, the head of Sqomish Forestry, which is owned by the Nation.

Sqomish was chosen to manage the forest.

"You get local benefits. You get local control," Fisher said.

In addition to supporting local jobs and businesses, work done in the forest would also result in cash injections to both the Nation and the municipality, Fisher said. Both entities will receive a cut of the profits.

Under BC Timber Sales, local governments don't always get a share of the money.

"The goal of forestry is to manage for a whole suite of values," said Abe Litz, a silviculture planning forester with Hedberg Associates Natural Resource Management.

Hedberg was hired by the Nation and the District to help prepare the community forest application to the province.

"It's finding a balance between all of those, and we can't emphasize one over another," Litz said. "It's visuals. It's old growth, It's wildlife. It's water quality."

Among those who attended the open house, trails used by mountain bikers were an important resource to consider in the forest.

"We just want the management plan to reflect the high value of the recreation area," said Jeff Norman, president of SORCA.

He said he was hoping the forest's management plan would also offer protection for some of the best trails used by mountain bikers in the area.

Norman estimated about 50 per cent of the 200 kilometres of trails managed by SORCA reside in the proposed boundaries of the community forest.

There could also be opportunities for education in the forest.

Jorma Neuvonen, director of special projects at UBC's forestry department, said the school's students could benefit from the community forest.

If the Squamish community forest became a reality, it would be the closest one to the school, he said.

"This would be a great learning opportunity for our students," Neuvonen said.

They could go on educational programs to Squamish to learn how community forests are managed.

"If these kinds of community forestry agreements [get] more popular, I think this could be one of the employment possibilities for our students."

"What we are going into this partnership with is strong values around balancing the economy and forestry activity with recreation and access to natural spaces and conservation of that area," said Coun. Jenna Stoner, who sits on the board of the community forest.

The District and the Nation will be continuing to go through the application process for the community forest. Among other other things, they’ll have to show the province that there’s public support for the idea.

 

***Updated May 6, 12:14 p.m.

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