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Old-growth logging at CCF deferred until end of year as board looks to diversify revenue

With little commercially viable old growth left, the Cheakamus Community Forest hones in on second-growth, carbon credits  
Wildfire fuel thinning carried out in the summer of 2019 in the Cheakamus Community Forest.

With old-growth harvesting on pause until at least the end of the year, the Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF) is looking ahead to other possible revenue generators—including a greater focus on its carbon sequestration program and logging mature and second-growth trees. 

The CCF board hosted a virtual open house Tuesday evening, Feb. 28, giving the public its first look at the proposed harvest plans for 2022. Co-managed by the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Lil’wat Nation, and the Squamish Nation, the CCF hasn’t seen much commercial logging in recent years. Last June, in the midst of rising local opposition following the high-profile blockades at Fairy Creek, the board decided to defer what few plans it had to log old-growth trees last year—the first old growth that would have been harvested since 2018. That will continue through at least the end of this year, as the board looks to diversify the CCF’s revenue streams. 

“At this point we do not know if the deferrals will be permanent or temporary,” explained CCF manager Simon Murray of the halt on old-growth logging. “That is still yet to be seen and I can’t really comment any more on that.” 

Even without the spotlight created by Fairy Creek, the CCF already had little commercially viable old growth—defined in B.C. as trees over 250 years old—remaining, given the long history of clear-cutting in the Whistler Valley and the steep cost it would take to build roads into the viable old growth that’s left. That has made it increasingly difficult for the CCF to meet its annual allowable cut of 21,000 cubic metres, as set out by the province. (It’s worth noting that, generally speaking, the amount of timber harvested on public lands regularly falls below the set annual cut, and at least one B.C. community forest—the Indigenous-led Xáxli’p Community Forest in Lillooet—continues to flout provincial harvest requirements.) 

According to the CCF, of the roughly 8,000 ha. available for harvest, 2,735 ha. are made up of old-growth stands. Taking that out of the equation leaves 5,321 ha., representing about 18 per cent of the forested area within the CCF, “a pretty high level of protection,” Murray said. Nearly half—46 per cent—of the CCF is legally protected from harvest. 

With a dearth of commercial old growth, the CCF board now intends to hone in on mature and second-growth trees, an approach that won’t be without its challenges. During its supply review last year, the CCF’s managers determined a reduced annual allowable cut of 13,090 m3 could be maintained over a planning horizon of 250 years—but it means foresters will have to go after younger and younger trees. 

Timber supply modelling indicates the optimum age for harvest of Douglas Fir stands, for example, is between 70 and 90 years, and “what we’ve really determined is at the moment we don’t have a whole lot of stands of that age group,” Murray noted, “so in order for us to maintain our annual allowable cut, we are going to have to go after stands far younger than that.” Ideally, the CCF would rely on trees between 100 and 249 years old until the younger stands have a chance to mature. 

Going after younger trees is a strategy that local conservationists have questioned both from a commercial and ecological standpoint. 

“I just think it’s a very short-sighted way of creating jobs to log forest that not only has very low [economic] value, but by any professional forester’s analysis in past years, it would have been way too early to cut [young trees] because it’s not when they’re putting out the most volume and the most valuable volume. So even from a timber perspective, it doesn’t make sense,” local ecologist Bob Brett told attendees to a forestry webinar last spring.  

“From an ecological perspective, the areas that would most likely be looked at to log are among the ones that need to be recruitment forest that would at least help us come closer to restoring the historic level of old growth in this valley over the next couple centuries.” 

Carbon credits look primed to become a bigger piece of the CCF’s financial pie as well. In 2015, the CCF became B.C.’s first community forest to ink a deal with the province to sell carbon offsets—essentially credits for greenhouse gas reductions achieved by one party that can be used to compensate, or offset, the emissions of another. An analysis last year found that the switch to harvesting second growth wouldn’t negatively impact the CCF’s carbon sequestration program. 

“During this period of very low log sales, the community forest has relied on carbon to generate sales,” explained Whistler Councillor and CCF board chair John Grills. 

Lil’wat Nation CAO Kerry Mehaffey said the CCF recently sold its second set of carbon offsets, representing “the first time that they’re actually in a pretty strong financial position.” 

Getting a handle on the economics of the CCF has proven somewhat of a challenge in recent years. At of last spring, there hadn’t been an annual report posted to the CCF website since the 2018 edition (although the 2020 report has since been added). Mehaffey said financial reporting would improve moving forward. 

“The CCF, for its first number of years, was actually in more of a start-up mode and sort of struggled to get some good financial reporting out there,” he said. 

The CCF is operated under an ecosystem-based management approach—which aims to sustain the forest ecosystem to meet both ecological and human needs—and the board has discussed a variety of ways to monetize the forest beyond commercial timber. 

“The CCF overlaps a valley where most low-elevation, easily accessible forest has been logged. This makes the remaining old growth even more valuable to preserve for non-timber values, which are inherently under- or un-monetized values relating to fire resilience, ecosystem services, biodiversity preservation, regenerative recreation, learning and education, and more,” said Claire Ruddy, president of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, in an email. “Many of these could be monetized in the future.” 

Harvest plans 

There are four projects proposed for the CCF this year, all for retention harvesting. 

One that has been on the books for several years now is a 6.6-ha. opening slated for Brandywine Creek. A mature forest type, foresters will give special attention to large-diameter and old veteran trees. 

“We’ve got low-to-moderate retention planned in there; retention meaning the numbers of trees that we’re going to leave behind, either scattered in openings or in clumps,” Murray said. 

Recent road upgrades by a mining tenure holder near the proposed site has “greatly reduced” the road development costs, Murray added, which may help explain why harvest plans are now moving forward. 

There are plans to harvest second-growth trees at 16 Mile Creek on Cougar Mountain, an area in the northern part of the forest that has not seen any logging since the ’90s. The board is proposing five openings, with low retention, along with some wildfire fuel thinning. Upgrades to the 16 Mile Forest Service Road are planned as well, improving access to the nearby Ancient Cedars recreational site. 

Also close by is the Superfly Zipline Basecamp, with Murray noting logging in the area would have “somewhat” of an impact on the operator. “So we’ve got to make sure that the timing of the operations are coordinated with the recreation tenure holder to minimize disruption to their operations.” 

Wedgemount Creek will see some harvesting this year as well, with four openings proposed, and moderate levels of retention. Tree retention will need to be designed to avoid impacts on the red-listed northern spotted owl, Canada’s rarest owl, as well as protecting the extensive nearby trail network. 

Still in the planning stages for this year is Brew Creek, where 16 small openings with low-to-moderate retention levels have been proposed. Located within the Brew Creek community watershed, additional buffers around sensitive riparian features and special consideration for water quality will be required. At this stage, the project’s mapping and harvest boundaries have not been finalized—but the CCF board is considering heli-logging at the tricky site.   

“Because it’s lots of small openings that are scattered in that particular area, it appears that we may need to use a helicopter for part of it, but we are still working on the economics of that at this time,” Murray said. 

The suggestion of heli-logging prompted a question from an attendee about whether the CCF should track the greenhouse gas emissions associated with that harvest method, which drew mixed responses from the board. In Ruddy’s view, it would be a worthwhile undertaking to better understand forestry’s footprint in the CCF.    

“As businesses and governments are building carbon calculations and accountability into much more complex operations, the case for the CCF to do a true cost accounting on GHG emissions from all logging operations is compelling, especially when part of their model is selling carbon credits,” she said. 

To view the full harvest plans proposed for this year, visit