The village of Fraser Lake in northern British Columbia says its innovative approach to logging in the community forest is helping the town grow in a sustainable way.
Community forests are area-based forest tenures that begin with a 25-year lease. They are run by local governments who decide where the revenue goes.
Fraser Lake Mayor Sarrah Storey said the village decided to do things its own way in the community forest and the result was a bank.
“We could have taken a different deal, and we chose to do that ourselves and reaped the benefits.”
Village chief executive Rodney Holland said revenue from a more sustainable approach to logging had helped bring the community back from the brink after the local mine closed in 2015.
“We have lost 275 well-paying jobs. What it allows us to do is put our own values into it, so in the case of Fraser Lake, we said local employment is very important,” Holland said.
“During the summer months, around 45 local loggers were working, then in the winter it increased to around 70, so that’s a huge benefit for the community. Per cubic meter, we create many more jobs than conventional logging.
Holland said that for years communities have criticized big industries for the way they connect and argued that there is a better way. Community forests allow them to practice their own approach.
“The village cares about generating revenue to pay for infrastructure replacements, but if people can’t afford to stay here, we lose residents,” Holland said.
“We are also very concerned about wildlife habitat and clean water. We therefore asked our loggers to learn how to keep a large part of the young trees… We trained loggers for the logging of tomorrow.
He said the municipality doesn’t allow “moonscaping” in its forest area and wants to end the practice of “just going out and flattening everything” because there’s no point in cutting down trees that might still have 30 years of growth.
“Why would you just flatten that?” Keep this tree. It provides cover for the animals and thermal breaks… It eventually allows you to get back on the land and re-crop the crop,” Holland said.
“We always talk about innovation and improving usability.”
Holland said the community “lights up with conversation” when the skyline turns red in the fall because piles of forest waste are burned.
“Some of the fires are the size of the school, they are so big. We said this was not happening in the community forest.
Instead, the village chose to transport the biomass itself – in some cases at a loss. This led to a local entrepreneur setting up a business by grinding up piles of treetops and hauling the product to a pulp mill in West Fraser.
Holland said the village was able to salvage logs that would have been “considered garbage” by the industry. Instead of being discarded, this wood is now used to create dimension wood.
“Our community forest has operated almost entirely in areas that the industry has long deemed uneconomical, but we have succeeded by being innovative.”
Storey said communities need to “go back to basics” and think long-term as natural resources dwindle. She said the village was looking to expand its management area but they did not yet know what that would look like.
“Imagine if there were only municipalities or communities that managed forestry. The amount of money that would have stayed in the communities would have been enormous. These communities would look like Vegas.
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