Since beginning operations in 2006, Wells Gray Community Forest has contributed about $550,000 to local schools, organizations and other worthy causes.
That money is essentially stumpage, according to WGCF corporation president Dave Meehan.
Under a community forest, nearly all of the stumpage that normally would be paid into the provincial government’s general revenues instead is invested in the community that the forest is situated in.
About 20 local residents took advantage of tours organized by the community forest last Saturday and Sunday.
Both tours followed the “life cycle of forestry,” starting with planning a log-block to harvesting, planting and finally silviculture treatments.
The tours started on the ridge above East Blackpool, moved into the District of Clearwater’s watershed, and finished up at five km on Road 2 west of Clearwater.
Careful planning is necessary for all community forest activities, and it is getting more so, according to manager George Brcko.
Much of the community forest is located close to town, in people’s watersheds and in highly visible locations.
“We really are logging next to people’s backyards,” he said.
Most people realize the money raised will go to the high school and other good causes, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be conflicts.
The most effective way of reducing conflicts is simply getting out and talking with people.
Before starting logging near Sunshine Valley and Blackpool recently, Brcko went and knocked on every door in the area.
He told people what was planned and got their feedback.
The forest companies formerly held open houses each year to show off their Forest Development Plans. WGCF is looking at reviving that approach, possibly as part of its annual general meeting. Maps would be available showing what areas were to be logged or otherwise treated over the next few years, and people could comment.
All forest planning begins with road layout. Many of the roads the community forest inherited needed to be straightened to accommodate the new, longer logging trucks and trailers.
New bridges needed to be built. An especially important one is located near the gun range in Sunshine Valley and gives much improved access to the forests west of there.
Wells Gray Community Forest consists of about 13,000 hectares in three large blocks. The first is located south of Clearwater and includes the municipal watershed plus the ridge above East Blackpool. The second block consists of the slopes of Raft Mountain between Spahats Creek and Candle Creek. Block number three is west of Sunshine Valley and Blackpool.
About 3,000 ha are set aside for other values, such as old growth, said Dave Meehan. This leaves about 10,000 ha available for growing wood.
The community forest harvests about 100 ha per year on a 100 year cycle. Forests in this area produce about 3.3 cubic meters of wood per year per hectare, giving the community forest’s annual allowable cut of 33,000 cubic meters/yr.
WGCF is hoping to expand its AAC, said Meehan. Other business possibilities include a joint venture with Simpcw First Nation and a proposed community forest for Blue River.
Something unique about Wells Gray Community Forest is that it plans 15 years ahead.
“I’ve never done one before,” said Wes Bieber, a local forester who helped develop the plan. “It really is a beautiful thing to have. It’s not a typical strategy.”
Planning so far ahead allows greater flexibility in adapting to the business cycle.
Wells Gray Community Forest started out salvaging dead pine. Despite poor markets and a low value product, they still were able to make money.
Now, with the markets much healthier, they are looking at doing cable logging on steep slopes. This costs twice as much as conventional logging, but now is the time to do it, they feel.
WGCF has done some trials using small “tea-bags” of fertilizer next to each seedling as they are planted.
The results have been so noticeable that they likely will make it standard practice.
Most larger forest companies don’t bother, as the pay-off is 80 to 100 years in the future.
There are other opportunities for research within the community forest and they look forward to collaborating with the new research and education center being developed by Thompson Rivers University next to Wells Gray Park.
Planning for climate change is a dilemma, as no one can predict with certainty what the climate will be like in 50 or 100 years. The best they can do is plant a variety of species in each site.
One innovation they are doing is planting larch, which normally only grows naturally in the Kootenays. Larch wood is similar to Douglas fir for strength.
Non-timber forest products are a major interest of the community forest. A symposium was held several years ago and they would like to host another.
A graduate student from Simon Fraser University did research on the subject.
Major obstacles include unresolved First Nations claims plus stumpage.
Richard Christenson, a member of the community forest’s board of trustees, recalled an incident in which the Ministry of Forests scaled 1,400 cedar boughs brought into a local processor, resulting in $8 in revenue for the government.
PHOTOS: A tree that had a “tea-bag” full of fertilizer placed beside it (above) is noticeably greener and more robust than a tree that was planted with no tea-bag (below). Fertilizing at an early age can help a tree overcome crowding by other species, reducing silviculture costs later in life. Photos by Keith McNeill