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Whistler applies for forestry business without partners

Province allotting community forests in the Sea to Sky corridor by the end of the year

Despite failing to partner with other communities, Whistler is forging ahead with plans to apply to the province for a community forest.

Attempts to entice the District of Squamish and Squamish First Nation into a partnership have yet to produce any tangible results, and the Village of Pemberton has already said they want to apply for their own community forest.

Whistler Administrator Jim Godfrey told council at Monday’s meeting that without support of other communities, Whistler’s business model is weakened.

"The business case is marginal at this point in time," said Godfrey.

Still, the outcome and the goals of having a community forest in Whistler are good enough to warrant pursuing an application.

The province will allot just 30,000 cubic metres of annual allowable cut for community forests in the Sea to Sky corridor by the end of the year. If that cut is divided among multiple stakeholders, not only will the size of Whistler’s community forest be reduced but the profit from the forest will also decrease.

A preliminary budget shows if Whistler gets 10,000 cubic metres of forest, the operating costs will be almost $880,000, with only $20,000 profit.

If however, Whistler is allowed to harvest the total allowable cut for the area, operating costs jump to more than $2.5 million, with more than $100,000 profit.

Whistler’s ultimate goal is not about making huge profits, but rather for the municipality to gain increased management over logging activities in its immediate vicinity.

Partnering is key to making Whistler’s community forest more successful, said Godfrey. Even without the partnership support, however, council agreed to send an expression of interest to Roger Harris, B.C.’s minister of state for forestry operations, indicating Whistler’s intentions to apply for a community forestry tenure.

The land they are looking to harvest is the area included in the Local Resource Use Plan, which stretches from Wedge Mountain in the north through the 16 Mile, 19 Mile and 21 Mile creek areas and as far south as Brandywine and the Callaghan, excluding the Callaghan Provincial Park.

The total area is roughly 54,000 hectares, although only about 20 per cent of this is a timber harvesting land base.

"It’s great to see this move along," said Councillor Ken Melamed, adding that Whistler is developing a reputation within the provincial government of finding new and innovative ways to do things.

"I think we can continue that history and that credibility with this community forest application."

If successful, Whistler will be getting into the forestry business. Most likely the municipality will not be involved in the daily logging operations, contracting that work out to smaller logging companies in the area.

The real bonus for the community forest is it will allow Whistler to control the overall direction of logging efforts. For example, instead of clear-cutting Whistler could practice selective removal or explore alternative logging methods. The resort could also combine forestry and recreation planning, and potentially make more wood available to local businesses.

"The goals that go along with this particular project are just excellent," said Godfrey.

Whistler’s proposed community forest will also support the community’s sustainability initiatives by ensuring Whistler’s viewsheds and watersheds are managed in an economical, ecological and socially sustainable manner. The municipality will also be able to reduce the forest fire hazard and address other forest health issues.

Councillor Gordon McKeever was not optimistic about Whistler’s chances of getting a community forest in light of the competition from other local government’s and First Nations in the area.

"I’m pessimistic about the outcome," he said. As such, he questioned how much money, time and resources, the municipality was spending on the process.

Municipal Stewardship Supervisor Heather Beresford explained the RMOW has invested staff time and contracted out the preliminary work to two forestry consultants, Peter Ackhurst and John Hammons.

At Monday’s meeting the mayor and councillors were asked to continue to lobby for partnerships` among neighbouring communities.