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Sea to Sky communities invited to apply for community forests

Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish eager to start on next round of process



For the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the goal of achieving more control over the area surrounding the municipality through the creation of a community forest has been on the books for seven years.

In fact, Whistler was the first town in all of B.C. to come up with the concept of a community forest in order to balance competing values of recreation, tourism, and resource extraction.

The province has since adopted the idea, clawing back forestry tenures surrounding communities from logging companies and giving those areas to municipalities, with the condition that annual allowable cuts be observed.

As of March 15, 11 Community Forest agreements have been finalized, three have been offered by the government, and 17 other communities have been invited to apply.

Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish were added to the invite list on Monday, with agreements worth up to 10,000 cubic metres of timber extraction per year.

"This is a part of our province that will be the focus of the world’s attention in just a few short years, and when the world looks, they’ll see three communities demonstrating how British Columbia’s forest practices lead the world," said West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling, who stood in for Forests Minister Michael de Jong in making the announcement.

Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, who originally pushed for the concept of a community forest for Whistler at the Union of B.C. Municipalities, greeted the invitation enthusiastically.

"Our community forest is an opportunity for us to show how forestry and tourism can co-exist," he said. "We depend on our forests not only for their spectacular impact on our world visitors, but also to help us achieve the vision for our resort community."

According to Heather Beresford, the RMOW’s stewardship supervisor, the invitation arrived in response to an expression of interest that was sent to the province last year. The details of what an agreement with the Ministry of Forests might look like are still up in the air.

"We’ve done a lot of research on this already, we’re well along the road, but we still have to put in a full package for the Minister," she said. "We haven’t actually received the paperwork yet, but we’re hearing there’s a 60-day turnaround time for getting the proposal in. We’re well on the way and we’ll be able to get a package together fairly quickly."

The RMOW still has to work out deals with B.C. Timber Sales and an agreements with the Mount Currie Band. "They’ve expressed an interest in talking with us further (about) a partnership," said Beresford.

Whistler originally hoped to partner with Squamish and Pemberton, but both communities had their own plans for community forests. A preliminary look at the finances suggests that 10,000 cubic metres of timber will require operating costs of $880,000 a year with an estimated profit of just $20,000 due to economies of scale.