Managers of Whistler's Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF) will find out shortly if the B.C. government will allow them to earn money by selling carbon credits.
Peter Ackhurst, chairman of the CCF, said the forest could partly earn its keep as a carbon sink, a natural reservoir that collects and neutralizes carbons released by human activity and industry, as soon as September.
"We're optimistic," he said.
Countries and businesses that are large carbon pollutant emitters buy credits from sources that take the carbons out of the atmosphere, with the aim of lessening greenhouse gas emissions. Ackhurst is expecting a response from the province about the forest, which is leased Crown land, in the next few weeks.
"The provincial government said in an email that we can proceed with our carbon applications. The one thing that isn't done yet is they want a share of the carbon credit money, the revenue, because they own the land," he said.
He believed the potential precedence set, since CCF is the first forest to seek this in British Columbia, could have implications for other community forests.
"We have people (from other community forests) phoning us asking about what we are doing," he said. "(The ministry) would prefer to make separate deals with everybody, but everybody talks to everybody and it's 'you gave them 100 per cent, we want 100 per cent...' like that."
A statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said it has accepted in principle the proposal "to establish a carbon project in the CCF agreement area." The statement went on to say that details were still being worked out to give the CCF permission to "pursue opportunities in the carbon offset market, based on the carbon values in the Crown timber," but added they did not see this as a template for other community forests in B.C.
Set on 33,067 hectares surrounding Whistler, the Cheakamus Community Forest was established in April 2009, when the Lil'wat and Squamish First Nations and the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) jointly signed a 25-year tenure with the provincial Ministry of Forests and Range and run as an independent not-for-profit organization.
The carbon sink option would by part of a larger management strategy, including logging.
The necessary studies and audits to get carbon credit accreditation, which is strictly monitored, could cost up to $100,000; Ackhurst said he found a company called Living Carbon Investments in Victoria that would carry out the tests once the CCF carbon credit program was under way.
"We don't have $100,000, this is a community forest," he said. "Living Carbon Investments said they would bankroll us the money to do it. I'm using $100,000 as a round number, and if we are able to sell carbon credits we would pay the money back when we sold the carbon credits."
Other carbon-offset companies would not do this, Ackhurst said. Living Carbon showed confidence in them, he added.
"They said if we never sell the carbon credits we don't have to pay them back, and that's in the agreement," said Ackhurst.
There has been no clear indication as yet how much could be earned by selling carbon credits, but Ackhurst noted that the Resort Municipality of Whistler spent $50,000 on carbon credits for the 2,000 tons of carbon it emits per year.
At a CCF open house on April 4, 25 members of the public listened to students from the forestry program at the University of British Columbia present their ideas for managing the CCF.
The students presented various scenarios for thinning out sections of the forest through selective logging rather than clearcuts, and said the carbon credit option had potential.
UBC forestry professor Gary Bull said the students would be finalizing a management plan that will be sent to Ackhurst.
"It is an analysis to give the community a range of scenarios that try to deal with the balance of values, between timber, tourism, carbon, aesthetics, wildlife and so on," Bull said.
"We do the analytical work, spatial analysis to show what happens through time so that the community forest can make decisions for moving forward."