Course:FRST370/Burns Lake Community Forest, British Columbia, Canada: how sustainable management can benefit local stakeholders

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The Burns Lake Community Forest (BLCF) is located within Northern British Columbia, Canada near the community of Burns Lake. Burns Lake Community Forest was established in the year 2000 as part of the Community Forest pilot project in BC. The community forest’s area of management is more than 92,000 hectares and has an AAC (annual allowable cut) of 23,677 cubic meters.

As of 2004, BLCF became the first community forest in BC to be offered a 25-year new renewable forest tenure[1]. This tenure agreement ensures that BLCF could manage the land for the next 25 years, and be offered a renewal afterward.

To manage BLCF, they are operated by a six-member board that works together to manage the community forest and ensure the community members can benefit from it. The board aims to benefit other community members by practicing sustainable management, creating opportunities for renewable forest tenure, advancing the socio-economic status, and improving the overall livelihood for community members. Not to mention, BLCF also aims to manage the forest and incorporate different strategies regarding climate change, forest health, reforestation, First Nation Stewardship principles, wildlife protection, and fire-resistance, to provide a sustainable forest industry to last generations.


Burns Lake's welcome sign

In 2000, as part of the Community Forest Pilot project in BC, the Burns Lake Community Forest was established. The rural communities closest major municipality is Prince George, BC, which is around a 2.5-hour drive eastwards of Burns Lake (or 11.5 hour drive North from Vancouver, BC).

Burns Lake Community Forest resides on several traditional territories of First Nations, including the Wet’suwet’en Peoples, Tsayu Tatl’at Bin, Gilseyhu Honeagh Bin, and Laksilyu Tselh K’iz Bin Clan and Houses[2].  

Burns Lake Community Forest is managed by a six-member board. The board consists of community representatives along with first nations representatives. The board members are also part of the CMSL (Comfor Management Services) board of directors, who have three reserved seats respectively for the Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation, Wet’suwet’en First Nation, and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary chiefs. The remaining three seats are reserved for members chosen by the community of Burns Lake and appointed into the position[3]. CMSL aims to provide accounting and administrative support to the community.

For population statistics in the Burns Lake Community, table 1 illustrates the population growth trends from 1996 to 2001. The results show that the overall population is increasing, and experiencing a positive growth rate of 8.3%; this growth rate is twice as much as the rest of British Columbia. Meanwhile, according to the age distribution, table 2 shows the median age of the population in Burns Lake is 31.8 years , while British Columbia’s is 38.4 years. Moreover, the Burns lake community has a higher percentage of the population under the age of 15. This young population distribution indicates that the community has the potential for future growth and future generations could benefit from how the community forest is currently being managed.

[Table 1, Burns Lake Population data between 1996 and 2001, B.C. government, 2020[4]]
Population and Dwelling Count Burns Lake, Village British Columbia
Population in 2001 1,942 3,907,738
Population in 1996 1,793 3,724,500
1996 to 2001 population change (%) 8.3 4.9
Total private dwellings 788 1,643,969
Population density per square kilometre 273.0 4.2
Land area (square km) 7.11 926,492.48
[Table 2, Burns Lake Population data age distribution in 2001, B.C. government, 2020[5]]
Age Characteristics of the Population Burns Lake, Village British Columbia
Total Male Female Total Male Female
Total - All persons 1,945 970 970 3,907,740 1,919,100 1,988,635
Age 0-4 140 85 55 205,650 105,370 100,285
Age 5-14 330 160 170 500,415 256,560 243,855
Age 15-19 170 90 75 270,275 139,195 131,085
Age 20-24 130 60 70 244,065 121,945 122,120
Age 25-44 585 290 295 1,174,775 573,415 601,365
Age 45-54 235 130 110 599,705 297,030 302,680
Age 55-64 135 70 65 379,750 188,910 190,840
Age 65-74 90 45 50 286,710 139,535 147,175
Age 75-84 80 30 50 186,345 77,325 109,020
Age 85 and over 40 15 25 60,030 19,815 40,220
Median age of the population 31.8 31.7 32.0 38.4 37.8 39.0
% of the population ages 15 and over 75.8 75.3 76.4 81.9 81.1 82.7

Tenure arrangements

As of 2004, Burns Lake Community Forest (BLCF) was offered a 25-year new renewable forest tenure[1]. This tenure agreement ensures that BLCF would be allowed to manage the land for the next 25 years, and be offered a renewal at the end of the agreement duration. Currently, BLCF holds a 25-year renewable forest tenure. This allows for management of the land starting from April 12th, 2015. Under this tenure, BLCF’s current land area for management is more than 92,000 hectares[6] and holds an AAC of 23,677[7] cubic meters. BLCF holds the right to manage, harvest, and charge for botanical forest products derived from the land. However, BLCF does not have the right to restrict the Crown’s access to the classified Crown lands[8][9].

After assessing the major stakeholders and who holds ownership of the land, BLCF has a combination of leasehold agreement and communal agreement tenures. The BLCF would be considered under leasehold tenure because it is on a 25-year lease with the option of being renewed. Comparatively, it could also be considered under communal property as many First Nations are involved with the ownership and stewardship of the land.

Administrative arrangements

Burns Lake Community Forest is managed by a six member board composed of representatives from the involved First Nations along with community chosen representatives. The current members of the board (2020) are Crystal Fisher (Member of the Public at Large), Tara William (Wet’suwet’en First Nation), Johnny Janzen (Member of the Public at large), Lloyd Adams (Burns Lake Band), Jeff Brown (Office of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs), and Paul Davidson (Member of the Public at Large)[10]. The board is in charge of providing policy and direction which is then further approved by the general manager who oversees the community forest operations. The current general manager of Burns Lake Community Forest is Frank Varga[11].

Within the six members on the BLCF Board of Directors, two equipment operators carry out the majority of the forest-management procedures within BLCF[10]. There are benefits of having ‘in house’ management crews as they can lower the operating costs for the community forest and there also tends to be more communication and trust of the work being done knowing that an external contractor is not involved.

Affected Stakeholders

Burns Lake Community Forest has worked tirelessly to create opportunities for members of the community to get involved and support the sustainable management that the board of BLCM is working towards. The community forest is an entity that the board of directors must work to manage the balance between creating a profit off the timber, practicing sustainable forest management practices, and also continuing to provide recreation opportunities for community members. Although the community members are dependent on the land and the variety of benefits they receive from it, unfortunately, they do not hold much power and influence over the management of the land. Some of the recreation activities that occur on the land of BLCF are mountain biking, hiking, ATVing, as well as snowmobiling in the winter months.[12] People from the Burns Lake region who recreate on the land outlined in the 25-year tenure agreement would be extremely impacted if management strategies changed within BLCF and recreation resources were no longer accessible.  Furthermore, outdoor enthusiasts would be forced to travel outside of the Burns Lake Community to access other recreation sites

The First Nations peoples in the Region surrounding Burns Lake are also heavily involved in the community, but also hold an aspect of power in the management of BLCF.  Within the Indigenous community, there is a complex structure between hereditary chiefs and elected band councils; colonization history in Canada is to blame for these separate structures. The position of hereditary chiefs has existed for generations and “represent different houses that make up the First Nation as a whole”[13]. The title of the hereditary chief is passed down through generations and seeks to protect the ancestral lands from which they reside. In contrast, elected band councils are an outcome of the Indian Act which was established in 1876. During this time, the Canadian government worked to impose a structure among all Indigenous communities so that it could align with the governance structure that the Canadian government used. To this day, the Canadian government has failed to acknowledge hereditary chiefs in the eyes of the law and primarily works with the elected band council members. This is a sophisticated dilemma as all two parties have struggled to work together efficiently by recognizing the land rights of the Wet’suwet’en and Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nations.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

The sawmills located around Burns Lake are also a vital component of the function of the community forest. BLCF predominantly supplies timber to Babine Forest Products and Decker Lake Forest Products as they are the two closest mills to the community forest. Although both of these mills benefit from the harvests that take place within BLCF, Hampton Lumber, the overarching company of both of these sawmills manages approximately 120,000 hectares of public timberland in British Columbia which provides timber to run both mills.[14] In comparison, BLCF holds the rights to 92,000 hectares which makes up less than half of where timber is sourced from, thus Babine forest products and Decker Lake Forest products primarily sourced timber from the forests managed by Hampton Lumber, rather than by the BLCF.  Lumber processed in both of these mills in northern British Columbia has the potential to be shipped abroad through Hampton Lumber and its subsidiary, Trans-Pacific Trading Ltd. (TARPA). TARPA is based out of Richmond, British Columbia and primarily works towards exporting lumber to countries including Japan, China, and Taiwan [15]. Although it is not certain, the lumber produced at BLCF has the potential to be shipped overseas and benefit Canadian and international economies.

Aside from the stakeholders who use the land and benefit from the sustainable management of the land, there are also various stakeholders who are involved in the management of the land. These stakeholders include the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development, and also the six-member board who primarily operate the BLCF. The BC Ministry of Forests and Natural Resource Management set the AAC for all regulated community forests in BC under British Columbia Community Forest Association (BCCFA), BLCF follows guidance from BCCFA. Furthermore, upon the completion of the 25-year tenure, they have the right to reevaluate the conditions and terms, then choose whether to terminate or re-grant the agreement. The board of BLCF plays a key role in negotiating the contract of the 25-year tenure to ensure that both parties' needs are achieved.


The main goal of BLCF aims to accomplish is creating and maintaining a healthy and harmonious developing path for the residents of Burns Lake inside the community forest. An achievement by BLCF is the creation of Burns Lake Native Development Corporation (BLNDC), which is operated by the six First Nations: Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation (Burns Lake Band), Lake Babine Nation, Skin Tyee Band, Cheslatta Carrier Nation, Nee Thai Buhn Band, and Wet’suwet’en First Nation. The BLNDC works to create a wide spectrum of economic development services such as employment search, loan provision, counseling, and much more. Through this, BLNDC aims to close the social and economic gaps between the non-indigenous community members and the aboriginal groups involved.

They aim to do this by collaborating with local forestry companies. At the time when the institution was built, the Babine Forest Products company (BFP) also initiated business in the Burns Lake area, of which BLNDC took over around 10% managing areas at that time[5]. BLNDC has participated in many business opportunities such as business lending, logging,  construction, fish cultivation, machine manufacturing, silviculture, remanufacturing, and many other practices. Among them, small business and logging companies emerged at the beginning of 1974 who were managed by Burns Lake Native Logging Ltd. (BLNLL). BLNLL is a forestry company that runs on a small scale operation and only employs a few people. However, the company does generate a large profit in sales reaching $3.90 million (USD) in total. This shows a business strategy that BLNDC has encouraged to build since the establishment of it. Through this, more job opportunities can be provided while they also earn great potential for profits and interests. Moreover, BLCF also receives financial support from the provincial government. To remedy the potential impact that logging and scientific research may have on Burns Lake Band’s Aboriginal Interest, as well as the respect of First nation territory title, the Burns Lake Revenue Sharing agreement is set to diminish the socio-economic gaps between the members of Burns Lake Band and non-Aboriginal people in British Columbia. Table 3 shows the financial gap difference between the Burns Lake community and British Columbia.

[Table 3, Revenue difference between Burns Lake Community and British Columbia, B.C. government, 2020[4]]
Earnings in 2000 Burns Lake, Village British Columbia
Total Male Female Total Male Female
All persons with earnings (counts) 1,045 530 515 2,128,545 1,114,860 1,013,690
Average earnings (all persons with earnings ($)) 28,611 36,691 20,419 31,544 38,039 24,401
Worked full year, full time (counts) 465 265 200 1,024,240 602,705 421,535
Average earnings (worked full year, full time ($)) 42,227 48,497 34,024 44,307 50,191 35,895
Burns Lake morning forest

Meanwhile, BLNLL was also incorporated under the British Columbia Company Act on January 8, 1975, and has kept a scheme of conservative growth and secure development. In other words,  “safety regulations'' and “sustainable development” are the two main objectives of the Burns Lake community development. For safety regulations, all members inside the company will participate in regular meetings to discuss specific guidelines. For sustainable development, logging activities will follow the rules for conservative growing, no excessive deforestation will happen on this land[5]. Besides that, sustainability also exists outside the company scale. Some third parties  (CSTC-Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and CSFNs-The union of other first nation groups and Ts'il Kaz Koh First Nation (Burns Lake Indian band) are also willing to allow a provincial environmental accessing team like “Stewardship Working Group” (SWG) to do the cumulative effects assessment (CEA) in this area[16]. One important task of this team is to access and evaluate valued ecosystem components (VECs) inside the area. These VECs include nature resource components as well as the timber supply reviews and environmental assessment. Specificly, the parties agree to set a defined “study area” to assist the provincial team to practice and collect data from this area. For example, the VECs of moose, freshwater, and anadromous fishes, and forest biodiversity will be assessed as a priority. Following that, the caribou, fur bearers, and other additional values will also be covered in this project. Environment diversity and sustainable resource management can be shown via this project.

Another project that covers both economic and environmental factors is the Nation recreational and medical cannabis cultivation project. The BLNDC has a relationship with Nations (A First Nations controlled Cannabis production company focused on improving the lives of Indigenous Peoples). Working together, they have managed to build a medical cannabis nursery within the Burns Lake Community and the first cannabis crop will be ready to harvest by 2021[17]. This project will create around 60 needed job opportunities for the local community. Besides this, part of the investment of the nursery will be  used to increase the indigenous people’s living conditions, as well as using the grown medical plants to aid with First Nation health problems as a priority.

Apart from the economic and environmental aspects, the BLNDC also does some work in organizing social and indigenous events. In respect and interest of the aboriginal people of the Burns Lake area and the community forest, BLNDC works to spread aboriginal culture and educate others. They do this by giving the First Nations opportunities to hold showcases and holding indigenous artists’ creation markets. These actions aim to add weight to the social capital of the community and create financial benefits.

In summary, sustainable development is the main aim of BLCF. This intention is accomplished through three specific parts-social, environmental and economic factors. Then, all these beneficial outcomes can contribute to a higher socioeconomic background for the residents in the Burns Lake area, hence, leads to a higher health level for the whole community.


The first nations and bands associated and working with BLCF are stakeholders and social actors of the community forest. Each one has their own unique goals and projects that have been established or are working towards.

The Ts'il Kaz Koh First Nation in BLC earns legal title to the land. They have forest operations that is managed through Agreements with the Provincial Government. They also have engaged in Agreements regarding the Pacific Trails and Coastal GasLink Pipeline projects[18].

The Wet'suwet'en completed an Economic and Community Development agreement with the Province of British Columbia in 2014[19]. They also conduct and practice sustainable forestry operations within their traditional territory.

In addition to its involvement with the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation (BLNDC), Cheslatta Carrier Nation has maintained active business operations in forestry, operates a successful canoe paddle manufacturing establishment, and has recently negotiated a partnership with the nearby Huckleberry Mine that is operated by Imperial Metals[20].

Nee Tahi Buhn has signed an Economic and Community Development agreement with the Province of BC (2014[19]). It also operates a forestry business, and has engaged with natural gas proponents operating within their traditional territory.

The Skin Tyee First Nation has signed an Economic and Community Development agreement with the Province of BC (2014[19]). It runs its own forestry operations, and has engaged with Natural Gas proponents involved with projects on their traditional territory. This includes the Coastal GasLink and the Pacific Trails Pipeline.

Lake Babine Nation (3rd largest aboriginal band in BC) boasts 5 beautiful and resource rich communities. The Nation has three gas bars, a thriving fishery, shared timber areas, and lakeshore land available for business development and investment opportunities. Investment in cultural tourism opportunities, retail and service areas, alternative energy and various equipment and construction and maintenance projects are of interest to the Lake Babine Nation[21].

The Economic Development department within BLCF can assist with exploring employment and training desires, business opportunities, building business skills, and assist with direction to financing and grants with the membership, and to the bands involved.

The six bands associated with BLCF earn access, withdrawal/use, exclusion, management, duration, bequeathed and extinguish ability rights to this land. Meanwhile, apart from Cheslatta Carrier Nation, all the other five first nations groups all have gas pipeline agreements with the government. Nee Tahi Buhn, Wet'suwet'en and The Skin Tyee First Nation all joined the Economic and Community Development agreement with the Province of BC in 2014[19]. As for BLNDC, it’s acting like an intermediary agent role between the government and indigenous group unions. When the state government needs to change laws or has new establishments, BLNDC will help to negotiate and provide counselling services for the First Nation groups.


Increase social capital and social cohesion

Burns Lake Community Forest has proven to be successful for the past 16 years, it has created jobs in the community, strengthened the local economy, valued sustainable management, supported local recreationists, and many more fantastic outcomes. Although there have been overwhelming benefits produced by BLCF, there will always be areas of improvement; our group has generated the following recommendations to better BLCF. Our first suggestion is to increase social cohesion and social capital by organizing more Indigenous festivals open to the community as a whole. Implementing more programs as such could also lessen the divide between settlers of the region and Indigenous peoples who have occupied the land since time immemorial. Creating a more unified community will also create opportunities for integrative approaches to solving any pre-existing racial segregation; working the community as a whole can help combat disparities that exist among the community.

Ensuring transparency

Maintaining transparency within BLCF is vital towards continuing a program that is backed by the community and supported by the government for future generations. For example, continuing to provide documents outlining financial statements and budgets would allow donors to make informed decisions if they choose to donate money to BLCF. Ensuring that the operation of BLCF is functioning well, board members shall continue to organize finances, as well as posting documents about BLCF to assure that community members and stakeholders are informed about the operation status. Preserving the fluid communication and operation between stakeholders will also ensure that BLCF will continue to function effectively and provide benefits for generations to come.

Creating awareness

Considering that the concept of community forestry has emerged within the past 20 years, creating more awareness and publicity for the concept would help build a greater appreciation for the concept and the benefits that it can offer at a variety of scales. Educating people on community forests in the region could allow for increased support of the concept and hopefully encourage others to launch a similar program within their community. Furthermore, circulating the concept of community forestry outside of Burns Lake would have the potential to educate people on how small towns in the interior and northern British Columbia can be self-sufficient without the support of larger city centers such as Vancouver. Moreover, city-goers with capital-centric values could begin to appreciate how smaller communities such as Burns Lake can operate self-dependently. A simple, yet effective way that could create awareness of BLCF in other parts of the country or even globally would be to inform consumers about where the timber products are sourced from. Either stamping or burning a logo that indicates “Burns Lake Community Forestry” would be a successful initiative to educate consumers on where their products are sourced from.


  1. 1.0 1.1 BLCOMFOR (2011). Long-Term Community Forest License Agreement K1A: Management Plan #2 2010-2015. Burns Lake Community Forest [Burns lake, B.C.]. Referenced from:
  2. BLCF Ltd. "Burns Lake Community Forest Ltd. : First Nations". BLCOMFOR.
  3. BLCF Ltd. "Burns Lake Community Forest : Team". BLCOMFOR.
  4. 4.0 4.1 BC, Government (2020). "Aboriginal Population Profile". Statistic Canada.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Burns Lake, Community (2019). "Burns Lake Native Development Corporation". BLNDC Profile.
  6. BLCF Ltd. "Burns Lake Community Forest: Forest Management". BLCOMFOR.
  7. Stirling, Jim. "Logging & Sawmilling Journal". Burns Lake business base.
  8. Gorden E. Lester, Kerry Martin (2016). Management Plan #3, Burns Lake Community Forest, Community Forest Agreement K1A. Burns Lake Community Forest [Burns lake, B.C.]. Burns Lake Community Forest Ltd. Referenced from:
  9. Vernon, C. (2007). A political ecology of British Columbia's Community Forests. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 18(4), 54-74. Referenced from:
  10. 10.0 10.1 Comfor Management Services Ltd. (2019). Annual Report November 1st, 2018 to October 31st 2019. Retrieved from:
  11. BLCF Ltd. "Community Forest Board announces appointment of new General Manager". Burns Lake Community Forest.
  12. "Outdoor recreation". Burns Lake Community Forest. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  13. Cousins, Ben (13 February 2020). "Wet'suwet'en: What's the difference between the elected band council and hereditary chiefs?". CTV News. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  14. "Decker Lake, British Columbia". Hampton Lumber. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  15. "Export". Hampton Lumber. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  16. CSFN Omineca Demonstration Project Renewal Agreement, BC Province-CSFNs-CSTC, May 24th, 2018, agreement retrieved from:
  17. NATIONS, Ltd. (2020). "Growing for good". Nationwellness.
  18. Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. "Ts'il Kaz Koh First Nation (Burns Lake Band)". Province of British Columbia.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Burns Lake Forest Consultation and Revenue Sharing Agreement, BC Province-The Burns Lake Band, April 23th, 2014, agreement Referenced from:
  20. Cheslatta Carrier Nation. (2020). Retrieved December 15, 2020. Referenced from:
  21. Economic Development Department. (2019, October 16). Retrieved December 15, 2020. Referenced from:

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