After a rocky start in 2010 with a conflicting recreational tenure and concerns about old growth logging, the Cheakamus Community Forest presented its timber harvesting plans for 2011 at the Whistler Public Library on Tuesday.
The goal this year, according to forester Tom Cole, is to work slowly and tentatively - do some harvesting in the fringes using existing roads and skidder trails, and in areas where there are minimal conflicts like power line corridors.
He's also working with Canadian Snowmobile Adventures and Blackcomb Snowmobiles to ensure that road building and harvesting plans in the Callaghan compliment their tour activities, while also addressing the needs of other stakeholders like the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association. It's been a learning process, said Cole, one that's been guided by the Forest and Wildlands Advisory Committee (FWAC).
"It's testing the waters," said Cole. "Right now FWAC is playing the monitoring role in the community. If we do something and don't hear back about it then we know we're on the right track."
It might seem like a backwards process - log an area and then see how people react - but with all the competing interests and plans in the area it's a challenge to do any timber harvesting without impacting recreational tenures, viewscapes, trails, First Nations interests, conservation interests and other factors. As well, most people don't make an effort to review local timber harvesting plans and can be caught by surprise when the harvesting begins.
That's why Cole's goal for 2011 is to work slowly and focus on harvesting second growth forest until the master plan for the area, in its second draft, is completed.
There are still some fundamental questions to consider. For example, some people want to see variable retention logging where more of the natural trees are left in a given area, but that ultimately means bigger cut areas. Others would prefer to see logging concentrated in smaller areas by harvesting more trees in small clearcuts.
"It's likely going to be a mix of approaches depending on the circumstances, and that's the kind of thing that we're working on," said Cole.
"Until the (Ecosystem Based Management Plan) is in place, we're really just logging around the edges."
There were more than a dozen people in the library to review the maps and plans for this season when the open house opened at 3 p.m., and interest was steady through the afternoon. Those maps will also be posted online for the public. Previously forestry information was posted at www.whistler2010.com, but it's in the process of being moved to a new site.
The Cheakamus Community Forest was awarded to Whistler and local First Nations for the 2010 timber harvesting season.
The prescription for the land base set by the Province calls for 20,000 cubic metres of wood harvesting per year, averaged out over five years. That's roughly equal to less than one per cent of the total harvesting land base each year, which gives forests 100 years to recover between logging operations.
With the conflict last year and an early start to winter, only 2,700 cubic metres were harvested in 2010. As well, the community forest processed around 300 cubic metres of wood that was collected during tree thinning operations to minimize the risk and damage of forest fires, although that isn't included in the total at this point.
While that puts Whistler behind this year, there are no plans to make up the difference all at once. Cole said that their current plans call for roughly 12,500 cubic metres of harvesting in the spring, and said that summer plans will depend on how that proceeds and the finalized plan.
The advantage of having a community forest tenure is that the community gets to decide where and how the timber harvesting takes place. It also allowed the community to reduce the annual cut from around 35,000 cubic metres per year for the area to 20,000 cu.m, while protecting areas that are of importance to the community.
If the municipality does not meet its obligations, the province could take away the Cheakamus Community Forest tenure and sell it to the highest bidder.
Some of the other priorities for the 2011-2012 season include receiving certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, old growth harvesting plans, providing waste wood to the municipal composter, a road management map to minimize new road construction, increasing recreational opportunities through harvesting and updating their inventory of trails.
As well as harvesting, the community forest has also been involved in reforestation, including tree planting and tree thinning to speed up the rate of second growth trees. One of the biggest projects last year was replanting in the large parking areas across the highway from the Callaghan Valley Road that were built for the Olympics.