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Pemberton willing to trade Community Forest for hillside trees

Whistler investigates opportunities for a local Community Forest



Pemberton’s plans to apply for a Community Forest may fall by the wayside as council instead fights to save the trees on the hill behind the local elementary school.

"If we were given the choice of saving the hillside or having the Community Forest, we would save the hillside," said Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner.

"That’s how important it is."

No one knows more than Warner how difficult that decision is for Pemberton council, which simply doesn’t have the resources to both fight the proposed logging and develop a Community Forest.

Before Weyerhaeuser recently announced plans to log the hillside, Pemberton council was very keen to apply to the province for a Community Forest license.

A Community Forest would allow the local government to run a forestry operation, and this in turn could help the shrinking forestry industry in Pemberton.

"We can actually see a standstill of logging," said Warner.

Big forestry companies like Canfor and Western Forest Products are pulling out of the area altogether, she explained, and Interfor is cutting back significantly.

Roughly 75,000 cubic metres in the Pemberton Valley will be reallocated elsewhere she said resulting in more than 75 job cuts both directly and indirectly.

"It’s huge for Pemberton," said Warner.

"We’re probably one of the hardest hit communities in the province."

In addition to reviving the lagging forestry industry in the area, a Community Forest could be another revenue source for the village.

But, with the threat of logging behind the Signal Hill Elementary School, council is having second thoughts about applying for a Community Forest.

At the last council meeting on Tuesday July 20, a proposal from a forestry consultant to deal with Pemberton’s Community Forest application came before council.

Council deferred making a decision on the proposal at that time.

"Logging part of that hill is so contentious that maybe we have to trade our Community Forest to keep it," explained Warner.

"It’s a bad time for us."

The hillside is both visible from the village and lies within Pemberton’s watershed.

At the same time the Resort Municipality of Whistler is also investigating opportunities for a Community Forest.

At the last council meeting on Monday, July 19 council approved a $50,000 budget for research into the provincial Community Forest program.

Two local registered professional foresters are now delving into the issue and bringing the information back to council in time to apply to the Ministry of Forests.

"The reason that the municipality is interested as always is that it would give us more say in what happens on the land around Whistler," said Heather Beresford, stewardship supervisor with the municipality.

"This would give us more control over what happens in the area."

Rather than get involved in the daily operations of logging, the municipality would most likely contract the work out to smaller logging companies in the area.

Beresford said the opportunity to be involved in the logging industry would allow the resort to look at more sustainable ways of doing things.

For example, instead of clear-cutting Whistler could practice selective removal, which is something that is done in the forestry industry currently.

"The thought is if Whistler was in control we could do more of that," said Beresford.

Warner was unaware of Whistler’s plan to apply for a Community Forest. It was her understanding that the provincial program was put in place to help communities like Pemberton, which are affected by job losses in the logging industry.

"The community forests are a really great idea but it is meant for communities who are affected by job losses," said Warner.

The provincial government launched the program six years ago and at that time received 27 applications. Among those was an application from Whistler, which was rejected.

Only eight communities were given a green light to proceed with logging operations. Some of those projects range in size from 400 hectares to more than 60,000 hectares.

Under the Forestry Revitalization Plan the province withdrew 20 per cent of the wood available to the large forestry companies and reallocated it to Community Forests.

The application process for the next round of Community Forest tenures is expected to begin in the Squamish Forest District in August. The province is expected to make final decisions by the end of the year.

In the meantime Pemberton council will consider the Community Forest consultants proposal at their next regular council meeting on Tuesday August 3.

"If we don’t move forward (with the Community Forest) we may be cutting off our nose too," said Warner.

"We’re going to make that decision at council next Tuesday."