McBride Community Forest: Why a Community Forest Society?

Submitted by Elizabeth Abbs - Public Advisory member/ForestCertification

Statutory Oversight and Community Forests 

Appropriate oversight of every public forest licenses is paramount. The Community Forest program and legislation was set up to provide the means for direct award of an area-based tenure of public forest to communities of residents within the broadest footprint of a specified forested operating area. These areas that were formerly managed through the checks and balances inherent in the Ministry as a licensee, and other industry licensees, were granted through a Community Forest License Agreement which specified an expectation of the same adherence to all provincial and federal forest legislation as all forest licensees. 

What distinguishes a CF License from other Licenses?

The Community Forest Association provides explanation of the fundamental difference between a community forest license and other licenses as being, “the degree of widespread participation that is expected and the onus on the community for ensuring adequate and appropriate oversight of its community forest organization, no matter what form of legal structure a community is put in place to hold the license.” Expectations for management of a community forest license are outlined in the community LICENSE AGREEMENT and its FOREST MANAGEMENT PLAN. Communities are expected to approve the Plan, and to ensure access to financial, operational and legal information needed to hold its organization to account.  Organizations are expected to consult and engage the community on all aspects of the organization including such things as utilization of the local wood supply, value-added potential and future sustainability.  

Why a Society is better suited to hold a Community Forest License 

  1. All provincial license holders must ensure there is adherence to forest provincial and federal legislation - Forest Act, Forest and Range Practices Act, Environmental Act, Fish and Wildlife Act, Provincial Orders for Ungulate and Old Growth, Species at Risk, and Protected Areas. They must also respect the agencies that oversee and enforce forestry law. The community forest program was designed to engage widespread support and participation, and in so doing ensure accountability to government. It is far more prudent for the Province to manage the timber supply for an area as complex as the Robson Valley area, through BC Timber Sales, with its overarching checks and balances and multiple qualified foresters, than to have an inadequate degree of local oversight.  
  2. Societies are, by their nature, co-operative organizations open for membership to all within a defined area. Societies are better adapted to serve as legal entities for ventures that serve a broader population, since they require only an election of directors from the membership.
  3. Community forests are business ventures, not regulated through taxation or electoral boundaries. A society is therefore more readily able to operate at arm’s length from local government and officials, allowing locally elected officials to deal with the municipal and regional taxation services while the society maintains a focus solely on the oversight of the community forest license.  
  4. Most societies operate as non-profits. Tax exemption is more readily approved by CRA. 

The Time is Right

  1. A society set up solely for the purpose of the community forest business would: provide a more appropriate level of oversight for this local large community forest license;  
  2. permit a unified population, rather than one divided by electoral boundaries, to have input into all aspects of the community forest; 
  3. allow the kind of participation expected by provincial CF legislation, in managing for the multiple uses and sustainability of this community resource.  
  4. lead to greater assurance the community can meet its greater public obligations, namely to  a) industry commitments in marketing certified wood sourced from sustainable licensees ; b) the provincial commitment under the Softwood Lumber Agreement (currently under renegotiation), and ultimately  c) to the public at large who own this large public resource. 

While the current mayor and council elected to represent the village of McBride in the last election need to be thanked both for hiring consultants who were left to deal with the massive overcut situation, outstanding litigation, and compromised integrity of forestry practices, the time is now right for the entire community of residents to exercise their right to oversee their community forest, through a change of organization more suited to the widespread community of shareholders. Citizens within the area of influence need to be able to nominate and elect their Directors of their organization, and most importantly, need to participate in determining the principles and bylaws which will ensure necessary adequate information is provided to the public to maintain public oversight of this large community forest license.

The most significant question posed recently during an open question period following the Community Forest Shareholder meeting was: “How it is possible we are faced with a greater than 90,000m³ OVERCUT?”

The answer to this question should have been that there is no justification for an overcut of this size on a 50,000m³ cut. The fact that it happened is indicative of a system failure and also demonstrates the potential for mismanagement in placing oversight of a major area-based forest license in too few hands. When a community forest organization operates in a closed corporate environment, wherein a few individuals have sole authority to grant control of decision-making management to a single manager; sole authority to appoint Board members under threat to sign confidentiality agreements or face dismissal, and an environment of limiting public participation and access to information, appropriate oversight of a community forest license is compromised and mismanagement can occur.  The deliberate overcut, in other words, resulted from failure of the license holder to have in place an appropriate level of oversight by the community expected under its License Agreement.

If this community is going to market logs and products into the Certified market of buyers such as Carrier Lumber Inc., and regain its credibility as a reputable forest licensee, the community must recognize the need for a more appropriate structure which will recognize and embrace the community population, not only for their rights to in holding their community forest organization to account, but also for their right to participate in the development of planning of future harvest and value-added businesses.