Annoyed SCCA members and others have been calling and writing to express their irritation with the recent advertising blitz from Sechelt Community Projects Incorporated (SCPI — holder of a probationary community forest licence). This flood of promotional materials includes a major spread in Just Business People Magazine, a 4-page glossy insert in the Coast Reporter, a video production and a telephone “survey” that poses leading questions. It is obvious that the SCPI board of directors is baffled about why the public does not get onside with them and are wondering what should be done about it. We would like to offer the SCPI board of directors (and the public) a few simple steps that could be taken to significantly improve how the public views the community forest.


1. Approach Local Governments and the Public With Respect
2. Clarify The Vision
3. Constitute a Genuine Community Forest Advisory Committee
4. Develop an Open and Transparent Administration
5. Become a Leader in Modern Forestry
6. Make Common Cause With the Public on Watershed Management

1. Approach Local Governments and the Public With Respect

Regarding the community forest’s assertions that they are the “wardens of the watersheds” and more credible public representatives than the Sunshine Coast Regional District, please consider the following information as a way to forge a better relationship with the public.

Elected people govern First Nations, regional districts and municipalities; they have earned the permission of their respective communities to represent them. They are not appointees of appointees. They are vastly more accountable than SCPI directors and their jobs are much more difficult and complex than running a small logging operation. Over the years, locally elected governments have invested tens of millions of dollars, all taxpayer’s money, in water treatment, water delivery systems and watershed protection. The Sunshine Coast Regional District, as the purveyor of water, must meet stringent federal and provincial guidelines for safe drinking water and comply with numerous statutory obligations. As well, the purveyor of water must comply with the Joint Watershed Management Agreement and work in cooperation with the Sechelt Indian Band, the Town of Gibsons, the District of Sechelt, not to mention the people in each rural area.

Elected people at the Regional District are committed to protecting the drinking watersheds because their constituencies consistently demand it. It’s not true to say, ”the public supports watershed logging”. It is essential that the community forest respects local governments and the people who elect them. Disrespect for our regional elected government has resulted in a lack of respect for the community forest. That attitude must change; this is one of the most cost-effective measures that can be instituted.


2. Clarify The Vision

What is the vision for the community forest? Is its purpose to defend forestry as practiced by the major logging companies twenty years ago? Is its purpose merely to keep highly contentious watersheds open for logging? Is its purpose to generate benefits for a few select individuals? No community forest board would ever admit to such goals but the actions and practices of the community forest are substantially different from its presentation rhetoric. A real vision would be true to the outcome of a genuine community consultation. This hasn’t happened yet but it’s not too late. There is a vast wealth of experience and highly varied, legitimate perspective within our community. To make the community forest work for all concerned, the vision should welcome and be respectful of this diversity that is in so many ways the strength of our community. A genuine, open and responsive consultation with the public on a vision for the community forest will help bring about the understanding needed and the respect that the community forest board desires.


Looking up into the trees.  Photo by Junco Jan
Photo by Junco Jan.

3. Constitute a Genuine Community Forest Advisory Committee

To date, serving on the Advisory Committee has been an unsatisfactory experience for many participants. It appears that the committee has very little real impact on how the organization actually functions. Word is circulating around the community that some cut-blocks are logged without committee input, that key policy decisions are not brought before the committee, that members’ input is frequently ignored and that there is no accounting back to the committee about how its input was used. It appears that the fact that there is a committee is much more important than what the committee actually has to say. A simple cost-effective way to fix the community forest would be to entirely restructure the relationship of the company to the Advisory Committee; such that there is an unimpeded two-way flow of information in an atmosphere of mutual respect, transparency and willingness to hear what the community has to say.


4. Develop an Open and Transparent Administration

The lack of openness on the part of the community forest administration is a limiting factor that precludes development of the public’s trust. What is the community forest up to that needs to be so rigorously hidden from the public? Inevitably, suspicion grows that the business is managed improperly, perhaps engages in unsavory practices or is providing unjustifiable benefits to friends and insiders. Openness in governance tends, in and of itself, to inhibit obviously questionable practices. An example; the community forest board has always quietly maintained the option of raw log export and has, in fact, engaged in this option. Given current log market conditions and indications in the board’s minutes, we felt that the community forest would try to export a large part of the year’s harvest. In our opinion, when it became apparent that Freedom of Information requests would make information about this public, raw log export was minimized to 10%. Even this amount of export  would never have been considered in open discussion because raw log exporting is so obviously in conflict with the stated purposes of the business.

The community forest is a public body. Virtually everything about SCPI will become public knowledge and there is no point in fighting it. Developing an open and transparent administration now will eliminate many public relations problems and create long-term stability.


5. Become a Leader in Modern Forestry

The community forest has spent a considerable amount of money praising itself for environmental responsibility. However, the community forest’s logging practices are almost identical with those of Interfor, Western Forest Products, and Island Timberlands, etc. The document that describes a logging company’s environmental commitments is the Forest Stewardship Plan (FSP). Again, the community forest FSP is virtually identical to that of the other Sunshine Coast licencees. It is entirely a status quo document that primarily assumes only the minimum legally required environmental obligations. If the community forest is to gain some respect from environmentally active citizens, it is reasonable to expect to see commitments, above those of the status quo, clearly stated in the FSP and supported by concrete actions, such as nomination of appropriate areas for Wildlife Habitat Area designation.


Trees

Photo by Ryan Logtenburg

Considering that the community forest land base is relatively depleted of mature timber compared to other Sunshine Coast licencees’ and that community forest logging focuses on very young, barely harvestable stands, it could be argued that community forest practices are not even as environmentally responsible as those of other licencees.

We note that SCPI profits are significantly less than the value of the stumpage subsidy it is receiving from the province. How long will this subsidy be available? Timber supply analysis clearly shows a timber shortage over the short-term. One could reasonably conclude that this current version of community forestry involves practices that are driven more by marginal economic viability than by environmental responsibility and the careful stewardship of community resources.

Rather than try to sell outdated logging practices as state of the art environmental protection, why not strive to achieve independently verifiable standards that offer the public some genuine assurances of environmental stewardship and also provide a financial benefit in the market place? We realize that independent certification, for example through the Forest Stewardship Council, is not possible without a major overhaul of the community forest’s secretive structure. However, independent certification is a reputable, proven approach and could help change the nature of the community forest from that of an old forest industry elite to a public-friendly genuine leader in the field of modern forestry.


6. Make Common Cause With the Public on Watershed Management

There is a forty-year history on the Sunshine Coast of persistent public, First Nation and local government efforts to protect the two principle source areas supplying potable water to residents; the Chapman and Gray Community Watersheds. The prevailing view that has emerged and remained predominant over these many years is that the taxpayer is the funder of the water system and bears financial liability for any activity or event that affects the water supply source areas. Furthermore, the right to manage the watersheds for the purpose of providing safe drinking water to everyone should belong directly to the community through its elected governments. And finally, the public interest in watershed management should be pursued without any obligation to logging companies or other vested interest. The Joint Watershed Management Agreement, signed on October 1, 2005 by the Chief and Councilors of the Sechelt Indian Band and each member of the Sunshine Coast Regional District, expresses the solidarity of all the communities of the Sunshine Coast on this issue.

From the day that the first letter of intent to apply for a community forest went to the provincial government (2003), one of the main purposes of the “community” forest has been to pursue logging in the Chapman/Gray watersheds. It has also been obvious that the intention has been to log in Gray Creek first, while deferring logging in the Chapman Creek watershed. It’s almost inconceivable that a “community” forest would be so determined to confront the community on such a basic value. However, this does appear to be the case and it has already had a severe impact on community forest operations and credibility. It should be obvious that any move to log in the Gray Creek watershed will be met with a passionate, coordinated and comprehensive community wide response.


The public voices its concern to the SCRD about logging in the watershed.
The public voices its concern to the SCRD about logging in the watershed.

A point of interest about the Joint Watershed Management Agreement: it does not actually prohibit logging or any other activity in the watersheds. The agreement states that the parties agree to assume the authority to allow or disallow any activity and a committee is struck to consider these decisions. The proper and community-friendly way for the community forest to proceed is to ask permission for any activity they might wish to undertake in the watersheds. What we want, and what the public has wanted for several generations, is to have watershed management decisions made by the accountable elected bodies that bear all the liability for watershed activities and have a mandate to consider, first and foremost, the broad public interest.

In the world of real-politics, elected people are not going to default to the perceived authority of a logging license held by an appointed board of directors. As well, community leaders and organizations are not about to stand down on watershed issues. The simplest way forward is for the community forest to stop trying to turn back the clock on watershed management.

The business case for the community forest making common cause with the public on watershed management is clear. More than half of the community forest land base is not available for logging because it is in the watersheds or under other environmental constraints. The remaining timberlands are in poor condition because of excessive logging in the past. Current harvesting opportunities involve under-age stands that have very little potential for value-added manufacturing. Jobs in the forest sector have always correlated more with log grades than with volume. In other words, grow a higher grade of log, get a higher number of jobs. Current logging practices actually preempt the future potential for value added manufacturing. As mentioned earlier, the financial stability of the community forest rests entirely on a reduction of the stumpage paid to the province. This won’t go on forever. As things stand now, if the stumpage subsidy is stopped, the community forest is insolvent.

The community forest needs a much larger land base and this land base needs to have higher value opportunities. Getting new lands for the community forest is not an easy proposition. Why would government take land away from BC Timber Sales when they generate revenues upward of $60 per harvested cubic meter, and give it to a community forest business that returns $5 per cubic meter? Obviously, to survive over time, the community forest needs to be able make money and pay the going stumpage rate. This is not possible with the current land base.

Further to the world of real-politic, every elected person knows that success in politics depends on having a mutually supportive relationship with his or her community. If the community forest wants to succeed it will need a strong business case that is related to value-added manufacturing and it will need the support of every part of the Sunshine Coast and all its communities. The community forest board can either fight over the dribs and drabs to be had from watershed logging or do the easy thing, which is also the best thing to do. They can make common-cause with the public on watershed management such that the underlying unsustainable situation of the community forest can be addressed.