community forest 

By Bob Barnett Forestry and backcountry issues will be on Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly’s and Councillor Ken Melamed minds when they travel to the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention next week in Penticton. Specifically, they’re hoping to convince Forestry Minister David Zirnhelt that the forests within the municipal boundaries and the Callaghan Valley should be designated the province’s first Community Forest. "A Community Forest designation would give the municipality jurisdiction over everything that happens in the forest, including backcountry recreation, gravel extraction and logging," O’Reilly said this week. There are about 40 communities across the province which have requested designation as Community Forests. Although none have been given, the province is apparently prepared to designate two or three, and sources say Whistler is among the top candidates. A Community Forest designation would not mean that Whistler could arbitrarily ban all logging within its boundaries, but negotiations on timing and size of cutblocks would take place, with the municipality holding jurisdictional power. "In our case we’re trying to control the environment around us," O’Reilly said. "But right now we have to deal with different ministries for different issues, and they don’t talk to each other." The issues are not just access to the forests and backcountry and control of the resources, but also who pays for maintenance of access roads — generally logging roads — that may be used for commercial backcountry operations. The forest industry, which of course is facing hard times, has paid for maintenance in the past but there has been consideration for billing commercial operators for use of such roads. This is one of the areas where the jurisdictions of the different ministries may come in conflict with one another. Commercial backcountry tenures are granted by the Ministry of Environment but they may utilized forestry roads. A Community Forest designation would make the municipality the sole arbiter of such matters. O’Reilly has a meeting scheduled with Zirnhelt at the Sept. 23-25 UBCM, but Environment Minister Cathy McGregor can’t meet with the Whistler contingent. A deputy minister from McGregor’s office will listen to O’Reilly and Melamed. One of the forestry issues that Whistler hopes to be able to deal with through the Community Forest designation is Western Forest Products proposed cutblock above Alpine Meadows. Logging in the area, which would not be visible from the valley, is still a few years away and WFP is negotiating details with the municipality’s Forest and Wildland Advisory Committee, but the committee has no legal jurisdiction over the matter. "If they do a pilot (Community Forest) they want it to be successful," O’Reilly said. "Twelve years ago Whistler asked for a Community Forest designation and we probably weren’t ready for it. "Now, Whistler is one of the few communities with a full-time forester on staff." He added that as a Resort Municipality Whistler works under an amended Municipal Act, which may make it easier for the province to use Whistler as a trial case for Community Forest legislation.

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