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‘Logging Whistler’ to examine community forest

Whistler now holds forest tenure with Squamish, Lil’wat Nations

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Whistler taxpayers and Sea to Sky First Nations now have a stake in their surrounding forests, and the municipality wants to tell you how you can benefit.

The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) is hosting a talk entitled "Logging Whistler?" that will examine whether Whistler is going about it the right way and whether steps are being taken to protect the environment. It will take place at AWARE's public meeting at the Westin on July 8 at 6 p.m.

The talk will include presentations by Heather Beresford, environmental stewardship manager for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and Peter Ackhurst, a registered professional forester, and each will be on hand to answer questions.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler signed a historic agreement April 9 in concert with the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations to hold a 20-year tenure over 30,000 hectares of forest that surrounds Whistler on all sides. The tenure is to be governed by a board of directors that includes two representatives from each partner organization.

The partnership now has the right to harvest about 20,000 cubic metres of timber out of an area that encompasses the Callaghan and Brandywine Valleys, the Wedge, 16, 19 and 21 Mile Valleys and the Cheakamus Valley.

Beresford said in an interview that her talk will be a kind of progress update as to where the municipality and its partners stand with regard to plans for the community forest. She also expects to touch on the municipality's Ecosystem Based Management Plan, which will help manage use of the forest.

"The Ministry of Forests was making wood available to harvest in this area due to changes in the forestry act and Whistler really felt strongly that it would be a benefit to Whistler if we were involved in the decision-making and control of tenure to cut wood in that area," she said.

"On a secondary aspect, of course as the First Nations got involved as partners, I think this opens up huge opportunity for stronger relationships between our communities, better understanding, job opportunities, capacity building, and both the First Nations are quite in sync with us on doing things differently in the forest here."

Beresford went on to say that B.C. Timber Sales, which held tenure over the area until April 9, is just wrapping up its harvesting operations right around now. She added that Richmond Plywood Ltd. has been contracted as an operating partner in the agreement and that harvesting under the tenure won't start until 2010.

"People may notice some harvesting going on but that's B.C. Timber Sales doing that," she said. "They followed our silviculture strategy, how to cut, where to cut, and implemented that on the land."

Once harvesting begins, trees will be harvested out of the community forest and processed at a plywood plant in Richmond, B.C.

"(Richmond Plywood) has a plywood plant in Richmond," Beresford said. "Most will go to this mill and some will be available for local use."

Besides harvesting, she said the Community Forest partnership is still in the planning stage, trying to figure out the best uses of the area, whether it's recreational, cultural or otherwise. Those plans depend on the results of a survey that was circulated on the day the tenure was announced.

"We're looking at recreation opportunities," she said. "There's already forest service camping sites. We're just trying to get a feel for where people's priorities were with that survey."

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