The Cheakamus Community Forest conflict over resource management issues has been common in B.C. over the last 20 years and clearly the current activity in Whistler indicates that they are not going away any time soon.
Much of the conflict has arisen because of forest policy objectives aimed at maximizing timber harvest levels to maintain jobs and increase revenue for the province. This single-minded focus has been at the expense of the many other resources and benefits that forests provide.
The RMOW is a perfect example of a location where the non-timber benefits of the forest have become an important driver for the whole economy and it stands to reason a different approach to managing the forests is required.
With the advent of a community forest tenure the province has provided a mechanism that allows local people to focus forest management on the issues and resources that matter most to the community. The RMOW and its partners, the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations, have recognized this opportunity and have been working hard for a number of years laying the groundwork for a very different management approach within the local forests. No other licensee on the south coast has voluntarily decided to adopt an Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) approach for their operations, a system that focuses on maintaining healthy, functioning ecosystems while providing for the cultural and social needs of communities.
The area of timber harvesting under the EBM system has been reduced considerably when compared to the previous licence because of the commitment to biodiversity, visual and recreational values. A priority goal of the plan is to maintain old growth forest and, where necessary, adopt recruitment strategies to develop old forest over the coming decades for ecosystems without adequate amounts at present.
The Cheakamus Community Forest managers have also commenced the task of getting the forest certified under the Forest Stewardship Council system, recognized worldwide as the highest standard of forest management because of its commitment to First Nation rights and stakeholder involvement. Only one other community forest in the whole of B.C. has FSC certification and yet the CCF recognizes the value of this for enabling it to maintain a mandate with the community to manage the forests.
Most importantly, the process of creating the community forest has enabled control of decision making to rest in the local community and not in a corporate boardroom, as it has up to this point. The result of this is close involvement with local stakeholder groups, access to management documents on the web and most of all a local desire to create a forest that provides for the many diverse needs of the communities. The CCF managers have taken the right steps to create a new and better approach to managing forests for communities, and given the chance to prove themselves it will be an example for others around the province to follow.