Non-Timber Forest Resources may be wave of the future for community forests

The majority of British Columbia's commercial forests are managed by private corporations for short-term timber supply.

The majority of British Columbia’s commercial forests are managed by private corporations for short-term timber supply. There are several problems with this:  (1) Licenses are for timber only and ignore the other values of the forest. (2) There are no direct rewards for sustainable practices. (3) Job creation is decreasing.   (4) Only a small group of companies have access to the large and long-term licenses.  (5) When environmental degradation is accounted for as a cost, the timber industry overstates its contribution to government revenues and to the province’s economic well-being.

One alternative that displays potential is Community Forests, which are managed by and for communities. The community forest program, piloted in 1998 with seven forests, now consists of 46 community forests (CF’s) responsible for only about two per cent of the provinces annual harvest in total.

The CF tenure is the first tenure in British Columbia that can also convey the rights to harvest Non-Timber Forest Resources (NTFRs).  These can be considered in the management plans of Community Forests for their potential economic benefits.

Non-Timber Forest Resources are any goods that come from the forest aside from timber, such as berries, mushrooms, floral greenery, medicinal plants and artists’ materials.  Despite potential non-monetary and monetary gains from NTFRs, the sector is under-utilized.  Internationally recognized non-economic gains from NTFR harvest and management include increased pride and self-sufficiency, re-connection with the land and community, revitalization of traditions, and skills development in both First Nations and non-First nations communities. However, the use and management of NTFRs is a very contentious issue.


The Canadian Constitution Act recognizes the aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, which includes the right to gather NTFRs for traditional use.  Despite this, there are problems with access to these resources due to: development, changing land ownership, logging and reforestation practices, ranching, mining, wildfires, climate change, landscape changes and herbicide use.

First Nations also desire compensation for intellectual property rights and there are few examples where compensation for the contributions of traditional knowledge has occurred.

I am a master’s student currently studying resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University (SFU) and working with both the Wells Gray Community Forest (WGCF) and the Simpcw First Nation to explore barriers and opportunities around NTFRs. I’m hoping to discover if there is a possibility of moving forward collaboratively in this realm. Through my research I’ve spent time in the communities of Clearwater, Chu Chua and Barriere interviewing individuals about Community Forests and Non-Timber Forest Resources.

Fred Fortier, band councilor for the Simpcw First Nation and board member of Dunster, Valemount, and Wells Gray Community Forests, notes that the WGCF has a relatively small area-based tenure on 13,145 hectares with a 20,000 cubic metre cut (with an uplift of 13,500 cubic metres to address the dead pine beetle wood), and is managing to derive a profit from this small tenure.

This is quite impressive, as it is especially challenging for community forests to derive any profit due to high administrative costs relative to their size.  From my interviews in Clearwater, it is clear that profit derived from the Community Forest flows to the district of Clearwater and surrounding communities in the form of jobs and investment into community infrastructure.

The WGCF has also set up a non-profit society that accepts applications from community organizations and individuals for grants for social and economic development activities, one of which could be small-scale cottage industries related to NTFRs. The WGCF is a special case as they have a board member with interest and experience in NTFRs, Sharon Neufeld. This allowed them to put on a symposium in 2010 dedicated to this theme as well as engaging in dialogue since that time with the Simpcw about their views on NTFR use and management.

Most CF’s would like to expand their area in order to maintain profitable operations on a small land base and must have the support of First Nations in order to do so.

According to Fortier, the Simpcw support the expansion of CF’s in general, as they are a much more sustainable model than corporately managed tenures.  However, with a limited regional timber supply, the current priority of the Simpcw First Nation is securing a Simpcw CF in order to create economic development opportunities for Simpcw people that are not available through other community forests.

Fred Fortier has participated in some of the background research and application for a First Nations Community Forest, a new tenure being piloted by the province.  According to Fortier, they’ve completed their timber analysis which identified 50,000 cubic metres of available volume in the Robson headwaters area, Robson valley and the Clearwater Forest District.  They are currently in the process of getting their community license.

The end goal of the Simpcw forestry department and other Simpcw economic ventures is to put money into research and also to train Simpcw people in conducting this research.  There is also a strong emphasis on youth, who are currently able to gain research experience through summer student work positions.

In Fortier’s words, “I think that building capacity for our people and doing what’s best for our people is something our people will enjoy for a long time. Our young people will enjoy that, the things they do on the land and learn about the land.  The young people, they like to come home.”

It remains to be seen how Community Forests, First Nations, and First Nations community forests can all work together.  There could be less timber available in future timber supply analyses due to a variety of ecological and economic factors.  As more area is taken out of the potential supply, it is possible that innovation and entrepreneurship in the non-timber forest resource sector can begin to fill this gap and contribute to all communities’ livelihoods and well being.


Ambus, L.M. 2008. The Evolution of Devolution: Evaluation of the Community Forest Agreement in British Columbia.  Msc The University of British Columbia.

BCCFA. 2010. Status of Community Forestry in BC. Accessed on March 14, 2012 from:


Constitution Act, 1982 being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.), 1982, c. 11.

Forest Practices Board. 2004. Integrating Non-Timber Forest Products into Forest Planning and Practices in British Columbia.

Green, Tom L. 2000. Confusing liquidation with income in BC’s forests: economic analysis and the BC forest industry. Ecological Economics 34 (1): 33-46.

Keefer et. al. 2010. What about the Berries? Managing for Understory Species. The Centre for Livelihoods and Ecology. Royal Roads University.

Lantz, T.C. 2001.  Examining the potential role of co-operatives in the ethical commercialization of medicinal plants: plant conservation, intellectual property rights, ethics and devil’s club (Oplopanax Horridus). Occasional Papers Number 3 British Columbia Institute for Co-operative Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria.


Powell, G. 2008. Regional Profile of Non-Timber Forest Products Being Harvested from the Cariboo-Chilcotin, British Columbia Area. Prepared for the Centre for Non-Timber Resources, Royal Roads University, Victoria B.C