The Cheakamus Community Forest could soon be earning money for its own protection through sales of carbon credits.
The CCF board is now in discussions with the B.C. government to be allowed to mix current logging of the forest with selling the credits, a scheme of making carbon producers pay money to support ecological projects that remove it from the atmosphere.
"The province has agreed to let us go ahead but we still need to agree on percentages (of land used in each case)," CCF chair Peter Ackhurst said.
"We're trying to change the forest, to grow more forest and that produces carbon credits that we can sell."
The news comes as forestry students from the University of British Columbia are due to present a major study on the CCF at an upcoming open house on April 4 at the Spruce Grove Field House in Whistler.
"The UBC students looked at what the harvest level would be under three different scenarios: an industrial logging model, how much could they log; and a tourism model, how much would you harvest if the most important thing was tourism, which it is, and a carbon credit option, how much money could you raise under a carbon credit model," Ackhurst said.
The results of the study would tie in with the CCF's Ecosystem-based Management Plan handbook, which is due to be available in August after several years' work.
Once it is determined how many tons of carbon is being sequestered by the forest, Ackhurst added, the numbers would be verified by an independent auditor, which would certify the carbon credits. Once they are certified, they are allowed to be sold to organizations like the Pacific Carbon Trust, on the international market, or even to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).
"The reason we're doing this is that the RMOW has made a commitment to become carbon neutral and they write a cheque every year for about $50,000 to balance off their carbon footprint," Ackhurst and. "We said 'why don't you give the $50,000 to the community forest rather than sending it to Indonesia or (like they did) last year, they gave it to a greenhouse in Abbotsford."
Ackhurst said creating a carbon credit component to the community forest would be a positive and permanent policy.
"It would be ongoing, forever. There is a world market for them. As long as we kept growing more trees, then we can sell those credits," he said.
Ackhurst said the UBC students have been studying the community forest as part of their forestry program. This will be the first opportunity for the CCF board to see the students' recommendations.
"We're all interested to see what will come out of it. Everyone is working until midnight on the last day before they submit it," he said.
UBC forestry professor Gary Bull agreed that his students were working late hours in preparation for their presentation at the open house. The group includes six graduating students, along with two postgraduate students from France and Mexico who are specializing in community forestry.
Along with the students' presentation, the open house explores proposed 2012 harvesting plans and other information, including the Ecosystem-based Management Plan.
Set on more than 33,000 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, rather than have the tenure granted to a private company.
The three are partners in the management and operation of the forest under the auspices of the CCF, an independent not-for-profit organization. Of the 33,067 hectares allocated to it, 15,000 hectares are protected through a variety of legal mechanisms from being commercially harvested.