The Cheakamus Community Forest is seeking the highest certification that exists for forests.
Officials with Ecotrust were in Whistler this past week to evaluate the Community Forest and its potential for certification under guidelines set down by the Forest Stewardship Council. After a day talking to people affiliated with the forest, Ecotrust like what they see and they're optimistic about its chances of being certified.
"We're quite impressed with the work that has gone on in the last year and a half," Orrin Quinn, the Forest Stewardship Council Program Manager attached to Ecotrust, said of the Cheakamus Community Forest.
"The only other FSC-certified community is the Harrop-Procter community, it's in the Kootenays. That's the only other community forest that's achieved FSC certification in the province. This will be the second if they manage through the certification."
The CCF, Quinn said, is voluntarily seeking to adhere to the "toughest world standards." To get the certification it has to satisfy standards categorized under social, economic, First Nation and environmental pillars.
Neil Hughes, director of forestry programs for Ecotrust Canada and Quinn's supervisor, said in an interview that community forests and even private forest companies are seeking FSC certification because it provides the "right branding image" for a forest-based product.
The first organization to get the certification was Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd., a First Nation-led company that operates out of Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island's west coast.
The Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation through Ma-Mook Natural Resources Limited own the company and it manages forests in what was once a region that was subject to dispute by the province and environmental activists worried about logging practices in old growth areas.
"There are lots of different certification schemes out there," Hughes said. "FSC, we believe, provides the highest standards across the whole operating sphere."
The CCF has actually been working with Ecotrust Canada over the last three to four years to help build an understanding of ecosystem management. Ecotrust officials helped the CCF develop an ecosystem-based management plan that would guide its forestry work while balancing it with needs focused around recreation and visual landscape management.
Quinn went on to say that the CCF has a long way to go before it can get the certification but it's "definitely likely" that the community forest can become certified.
"It's going to take some time and effort to work through the FSC principles and criteria," he said.
The community forest is a joint forest tenure between the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations to manage tree harvesting in the forests around Whistler. They have a mandate to harvest approximately 20,000 cubic metres of forest per year and have committed to cut areas of five hectares each, although legally they can cut clearings of up to 25 hectares.
The community forest came under scrutiny earlier this year after Allan Crawford, a partner in Canadian Snowmobile Adventures, expressed concern in local papers that the RMOW had plans to log in old growth forests - including in a recreational tenure he owns on Sproatt Mountain.
The CCF has since agreed that it will not log in Crawford's tenure this year while together they work out a way to manage the forest in the area.
Hughes said the CCF dealt with that issue in an "extremely professional manner," meeting with him and listening to his concerns before making a decision.
"Allan Crawford's come out swinging," he said. "The way he's gone about it is quite interesting, it's very aggressive, it's his choice, and I think the community forest has done a very good job of dealing with it in a responsible manner.
"No doubt Allan won't be the only person who's going to have objections. At the end of the day that's one of the reasons why the FSC program is something that could be really important for the community forest, because it sets out protocols for how to deal with those issues."