Whistler’s proposal for a community forest is one of only 27 applications the Ministry of Forests received by the Jan. 15 deadline.
As many as 80 communities and First Nations were expected to submit proposals for managing local forests under the community forest pilot project. The Ministry of Forests is only expected to recommend three or four be approved.
Early indications, several months ago, were that Whistler was one of the front-runners. However, Whistler submitted a proposal which takes a holistic approach to forest and ecosystem management asks for greater control of all forest resources than ministry has indicated it may be willing to give up.
The Whistler plan has the support of the Lil’wat Nation and Western Forest Products, the company with the largest annual timber harvest in the area. But the District of Squamish has indicated it doesn’t support Whistler’s community forest plan, which calls for a reduction in the annual harvest rate from its present 62,000 cubic metres to approximately 30,000 cubic metres, or 60 hectares, per year.
The Whistler community forest business plan proposes that the municipality establish a Community Forest Corporation to manage the forest resources surrounding Whistler. A Community Resources Board would provide direction to the corporation.
The business plan shows a break-even budget over the first five years, providing a number of assumptions are valid. The business plan integrates the management of all forest resources — including timber, campgrounds, commercial recreation operators, gravel, firewood and botanical products. The plan is dependant on all revenue sources being available to and managed by the corporation.
Whistler was attracted to the community forest proposal because it originally seemed to present an opportunity to manage the local forest and all its competing activities, including logging, commercial backcountry operations, tourism and gravel extraction. Currently these areas are managed by different ministries or different departments within ministries.
The revised guidelines for community forest proposals was not as broad in scope.
Whistler’s application makes frequent reference to the community’s history in managing the surrounding forests, including a previous unsuccessful bid for a tree farm licence and more than 11 years of involvement with the Local Resource Use Plan. The 2010 Olympic bid and the importance of preserving forests and ecosystems to the resort business are also outlined.
A community forest advisory committee was established by Forests Minister David Zirnhelt to provide recommendations on pilot sites. A short list of proposals that best meet criteria established by the committee will be released by the end of February.
Zirnhelt will hear the committee’s final recommendations and weigh other government objectives, including the state of the local economy, in deciding which communities will be offered a community forest pilot agreement. Zirnhelt hopes to announce his selection in March.