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Village of Pemberton and Lil'wat Nation partner for community forest

Spelkúmtn Community Forest provides more control over logging in Pemberton area

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The Village of Pemberton (VOP) has taken a first important step in developing a community forest in partnership with the Lil'wat Nation.

According to VOP Mayor Mike Richman, being partners in a community forest will give the Village more say in how the forests surrounding Pemberton are harvested and could result in revenue for Village coffers as well.

"We definitely hope to make a decent revenue off of it," said Richman, adding that the ability to steward development is important.

"But do I think we are going to get rich off it? No. This holds a whole bunch of other values for us."

According to a July 30 VOP release, the Village recently signed "incorporation documents" for the formation of the Spelkúmtn Community Forest Corporation. The 17,407 hectare area is located around Pemberton and Mount Currie.

There are currently 57 community forests across the province, including Whistler's Cheakamus Community Forest. Established in 2009, it spans a 33,000-hectare area and is managed by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), the Squamish Nation, and Lil'wat Nation.

Much of the area is off-limits to commercial harvest. On average, only 40 hectares of it is harvested a year.

Richman acknowledged that there is a long way to go before a community forest in Pemberton comes to fruition.

"There are a whole bunch of steps to be done. We've cleared some big hurdles, but we still have to go to the province," he said.

In September, VOP and Lil'wat Nation will apply to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development for a "community forest tenure" for the proposed area.

If granted, oversight of the forest would be provided by a board of directors made up of the mayor of Pemberton and the chief of the Lil'wat Nation, as well as two members of the Lil'wat Nation and two residents of Pemberton.

The Lil'wat Nation has long sought greater control and benefit from its traditional territory.

The nation claims a 797,131-hectare area that extends to Rubble Creek, north to Gates Lake, east to the Upper Stein Valley and west to the coastal inlets of the Pacific Ocean.

The area includes Whistler.

In recent years, Lil'wat Nation has signed development agreements with both Whistler Blackcomb and the RMOW. And just last month it signed onto a significant protocol agreement with Squamish Nation and the RMOW aimed at establishing stronger government-to-government relations.

According to Lil'wat Chief Dean Nelson, the Spelkúmtn Community Forest is an important "act of reconciliation and relationship building" between VOP and Lil'wat Nation.

"We are proud to partner with the Village of Pemberton on this initiative," he said.

"The project will allow us greater control and greater benefits over forestry activities surrounding our communities and plays a part in the Lil'wat Nation's objective to control forestry throughout the Lil'wat traditional territory.

"In addition to this, and our partnership in the Cheakamus Community Forest, Lil'wat is also seeking an area-based First Nations Woodland License of approximately 150,000 (hectares) in our territory."

Reflecting on the significance of the agreement, Richman also framed it as an important step in relationship building. VOP has a number of joint projects in development, including regional transit, the Lillooet River Early Warning System and fire and water service agreements.

"It feels like our relationship has evolved and grown. There's still lots of work to do, lots of learning to be had, but I feel like the relationship is so much stronger," said Richman.

"This is one project we're going to do together amongst what I hope is many others."

Speaking of the chances of the proposal getting provincial support, Richman is positive.

"I feel very optimistic that the province will help us through the process," he said.

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