Council unanimously gave municipal staff the thumbs up to sign the Community Forest Agreement with the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations on Monday night, but not before voicing concerns about the forest group’s annual allowable cut.
The provincial government is letting Cheakamus Community Forest log 20,000 cubic metres of trees a year. But both Councillor Eckhard Zeidler and Councillor Ralph Forsyth are worried this may lead to the corporation chopping down trees in undesirable areas, like near Highway 99.
“Are we going to find ourselves in a position where we are hammering some stuff fairly close to our visuals on the highway because there is no other place we can land that cut?” asked Zeidler, pointing out that when the allowable cut was set, 9,000 hectares was harvestable.
Now, that number has been reduced to 6,000 hectares.
But Heather Beresford, environmental stewardship manager for the municipality, said it is highly unlikely the forest group would clear cut trees at viewpoints.
“We have criteria that we are developing, and also the Ministry of Forests and Range has criteria, so we are not going to be forced to suddenly cut a huge clear cut.” Beresford said.
“Also, our silviculture plan calls for small, one-to-two hectare sized openings using variable retention, where you don’t take down all the trees. We have a lot of tools at our disposal to minimize the visual and environmental impacts of any cut blocks we undertake in the community forest.”
Beresford added that while the forest group has an obligation to cut down 20,000 cubic metres a year, the province may sway that number for “extraordinary issues.” For example, the current economic climate would fall in that category.
In August this year, Whistler council asked the province if they could be exempt from the annual allowable cut. The Ministry of Forests since said that is against the province’s Forest Act and would be a “show stopper.”
Now that the municipality plans to signed the partnership agreement, the province will likely hand over the five-year tenure by early 2009.
Richmond Plywood — the company that will be contracted to log for the community forest — has also agreed to carry forward any losses if profits are down.
Community forests are intended to stimulate long-term employment, forest-related education and skills training, as well as other social, environmental and economic benefits.
Whistler has been working to get a community forest tenure for almost 10 years.