Course:FRST370/The Williams Lake Community Forest, British Columbia, Canada: history, governance and lessons learned

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The Williams Lake Community Forest (WLCF) is an equal (50/50) partnership between the T'exelcemc (Williams Lake Indian Band) and the City of Williams Lake, finalized in 2015. Through the partnership, the community forest is allowed to remove 40,000 m3 of timber / year, this allowance is known as their Annual Allowable Cut (AAC).

Description

Map of the Williams Lake area, showing the location of the two parcels (Green) under the management of the Williams Lake Community Forest.
Route of the Cariboo Road (Red), from modern-day Victoria to Barkerville. Steamboat travel (Blue)

The community forest is comprised of two separate land parcels; the ‘Flat Rock’ / ‘Ne Sextine’ Parcel, and the ‘Big Lake’ / ‘Potato Mountain’ / ‘Peskwenkwinem’ Parcel. Although these parcels are geographically separated, they share the same partnership, and AAC.  

Although younger than coastal forestry within British Columbia (B.C.), the Cariboo region, where the Community Forest is located, has a rich forestry history itself. Development of the Cariboo region began in the 1860's, as the creation of the ‘Cariboo Wagon Road’, and simultaneous gold-rushes brought people north, from southern areas along the coast[1]. The gold-rushes brought many hopefuls to find riches, and while some succeeded, plenty did not. Of the unsuccessful, some continued on north to the Yukon, other returned to their homes, but some stayed in the Cariboo and created new communities[1]. The new inhabitants of the Cariboo found an area teaming with natural resources and began reaping the rewards. In regard to forestry and timber operations, the local ‘industry’ initially consisted of many small, independently owned mills. The industry today is considerably different.

To many in the community, the forest industry in the area has changed significantly in their lifetime. Williams Lake now has just two primary mills, both operated by multi-billion-dollar companies.  The trend of fewer, but larger mills, continued to the point we have reached today. Having such large companies in town can be seen as a good thing as they provide some stability to an industry that has seen some drastic economic fluctuation over the years.  However, a drawback of having such large companies in charge of the local industry is the lack of a ‘social contract’, a commitment to the community from the business. In the days of many small mills, there was a strong connection between the businesses and their communities, because they were a part of the town.  The lack of community participation contributed to the desire for the people of Williams Lake and the T'exelcemc to create a community forest. Not to displace the large, industrial operators, but to reclaim some of the commitment to local communities that may have been lost in recent years.

Tenure arrangements

Unceded land

In British Columbia, 95 percent of the land is considered to be crown land. This is a property designation which means crown land belongs to the government, in our case, the provincial government. The provincial government is elected by the common people of British Columbia in a democratic process. Crown land is synonymous with public land. Unfortunately, 95 percent of British Columbia is also on unceded First Nation land. B.C. is unceded because westerners who colonized British Columbia never legally signed agreements with the First Nation people who have been present since time immemorial. This is important to note because British Columbia’s infrastructure, government and title system occurs on unceded, ancestral and traditional territories of countless First Nations.

There is a provincial ministry devoted to demarcating boundaries and property rights in BC to various forestry companies and other resource extraction operations. The property distribution is determined with minimal inclusion of Indigenous people and often leaves them with less access to BC’s resources.

How does tenure work in BC?

In 1998, the province of British Columbia launched the Community Forest program. Between 1998 and 2005 the province offered temporary licensees for communities to manage and operate small-scale local forestry operations[2]. After 2005, the province began formalizing tenure agreements which were coined Community Forestry Agreements, or CFA’s. CFA’s are invaluable to rural communities offering a vast range of ecological, social and economic benefits. Yet, Communities Forests account for a very small proportion of the total annual timber harvest in BC averaging around 2.4% or 1.9 million cubic meters [2]. Community Forest applications must include crown land but may also incorporate municipal land, Indian Reserve land, or private land [3]. Freehold land included in applications must receive approval by the sole proprietor of that land, acknowledging that their land will be managed under the CFA forest management plan.

Williams Lake Community Forest tenure

In 2013, the final application for the Williams Lake Community Forest was delivered for review. It was a joint partnership between the City of Williams Lake and the T'exelcemc (Williams Lake Indian Band). The application manifested from the invitation to apply in 2011. The invitation was received from Minister Thomson and Acting Regional Executive Director, Madeline Maley. The application boundary for this community forest is located within the traditional territory of the Williams Lake Indian Band [4]. The indigenous people of the Williams Lake Indian band have welcomed the city of Williams Lake to be a partner in this joint agreement. This relationship has resulted in a Limited Partnership Agreement which allows both parties to hold and administer decisions of the outlined boundary. This agreement is known as the WL Community Forest LP. Their agreement is bounded by a 25-year term[5]. It is an area-based tenure that allows the bounded parties to operate within a specified area. This is a fixed area that will not change unless an application is completed following the provincial mandate for expansion. The WL joint tenure operates 40,000 cubic meters of annual allowable cut.

Limited Partnership Agreement

The WLCF is run by a Limited Partnership Agreement (LPA). An LPA will have at least one general partner but potentially more, as well as at least one limited partner [6]. Limited partners typically offer investment capital but are not involved in many decision-making or hold a high degree of liability [7]. The general partner on the other hand holds much more liability. They are seen as the manager and main stronghold for management, furthermore, they retain utmost liability for the community forest [7].

Administrative arrangements

As mentioned previously, the WLCF operates under two main players (T’exelcemc - Williams Lake Indian Band and the City of Williams Lake) in the form of a limited partnership which holds the Community Forest Agreement in tandem. In addition, the limited partnership has formed a designated group responsible for the execution of business decisions which is called the “WLCF General Partnership”. The structure of the WLCF General Partnership contains a Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is made up of a total of six members. Each main player has the opportunity to choose three members to make up the Board of Directors. The purpose of the Board of Directors is to make recommendations to the current active manager of the WLCF. Also, the WLCF General Partnership has elected an additional 11 members to the Standing Committee which has been put in place to make recommendations to the Board of Directors. The standing committee is composed of community members. Having community members making recommendations to the Board of Directors ensures that the “interests of adjacent or neighbouring communities and licensed resource users”, will be taken into consideration[1]. Other responsibilities of the standing committee are providing opinions on “strategic and operational planning and implementation” to the Board of Directors [8]. The standing committee is also responsible for providing reflection on how management strategies impact the land base, as well as making sure there is a fair distribution of revenue into programs such as grant funds. Lastly, a community forest manager is appointed by the Board of Directors to make detailed decisions for the forest management. The community forest manager is responsible for the ‘day to day’ decisions and operational planning. They are the ones who are intimately connected to the activities happening in the WLCF and know the fine details. Currently, there are two active managers in the WLCF.

An understanding on management goals was agreed upon by the limited partnership in the form of an Letter of Understanding (LOU) that was signed back on January 13, 2009 [1]. The limited partnership meets social, economic, and ecological values through management plans and Forest Stewardship Plans (FSPs) that are required by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development, also known as MoFLNRORD. These management plans and FSPs must be reviewed by “First Nations, resource tenure holders, community members and local governments, soliciting comments”, before the documents are given to the District Manager of MoFLNRORD for final approval [1]. The WLCF must also adhere to the Cariboo Chilcotin Land Use Plan [1].

The WLCF is obligated to share annual statistics on their financial state and timber harvest volumes to ensure a level of transparency to the community is met. These statistics come in the form of an ‘Annual Report’ and also includes the “activities and accomplishments” throughout the year [8].  The WLCF also holds an ‘in person’ community forest day to showcase and give tours to the local peoples to help them understand what is happening in their community forest. Having a transparent reporting system is a crucial component of running an equitable community forest. This eliminates any unknown aspects to the community of Williams Lake. Net income is divided equally to the two members of the limited partnership. Each partner in the limited partnership then decides on how they will use the net revenue to benefit their communities. Often, the money is directed into program funding and grants. According to the annual report for 2019 released by the WLCF, there is "$45,000 [...] available for local projects" in 2020 through the grant application program and "$5,000 is available for local graduates" in 2020 through the bursary application program [9] .

Affected Stakeholders

The two key affected stakeholders are the two parties that comprise the Williams Lake community forest agreement. First is the T’exelcemc (Williams Lake Indian Band), the other is the City of Williams Lake. Both parties have equal power through the structure of the Board of Directors. A power analysis would place both groups under high influence and high importance as they share equal power and retain equal property rights to the legal title of the Community Forest.

The document which outlines the agreement of both parties is called the Williams Lake Community Forest Limited partnership[10]. In this agreement, there is a general partner and a limited partner. The limited partner company was formed by the partners to act as the managing general partner for the partnership. To maintain structure and due process only one director can not be present from each party. When it comes to decision making, a quorum is 4 directors, 2 directors representing each partner. The general party has the full power and authority to manage the business affairs of the partnership. Financials are incurred in the name of the partnership, meaning both parties are tied to each other regardless of the financial outcomes the community forest bestows on the shareholders.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

There are many interested stakeholders in this case study as the community forest provides a bountiful range of benefits to its shareholders. Many of these stakeholders are offered various outlets to voice their opinions. For example, before the establishment of the Community Forest, many community meetings were held. Additionally, ongoing platforms are available for the public, neighbouring first nations and other communities to join and share their opinions. In this situation though, we are focussed on the interested stakeholders who also hold a significant portion of power. This is Tolko Industries and West Fraser Mills. Both of these stakeholders are necessary for this community forest to operate as much of the fiber is sold to their mills in Williams Lake. In a power analysis, these groups would be placed in low importance and high influence. In our case study, 98% of wood harvested went to the open market in the Cariboo [11]. This means that the community forest is a price taker as they will receive payment based on the going market price for lumber. Timber from the community forest is harvested by local contractors and log haulers and the CFA attempts to hire local workers within the community.

Discussion

Aims and Intentions

The WLCF has a clear 6 point general goal objective as well as a 5 point strategic planning regime. The 6 point general goal objectives are the following: “to reflect community values and respect the land; to sustainably manage for all forest resources; to enhance local partnerships that support forest education and an increased public understanding of forestry; to operate the community forest as a viable forestry enterprise; to realize socio-economic benefits such as local employment and economic activity associated with milling and manufacturing; to generate revenue for economic development and community stability” [12]. The 5 point strategic planning regime utilizes the following criteria: “strong positive partnership; sustainable forest management; respect for culture and heritage resources; community engagement and education; and long term financial sustainability” [12]. It is crucial to have clear objectives and goals set out to have a successful and sustainable community forestry. These goals all reflect aspects of social, economic, and ecological ideas.

The WLCF has been agreed on to be a ‘working forest’, meaning that it will be managed to generate economic activity from primarily timber but also other sources. A good definition of a working forest that aligns with the ideas of the WLCF is given by Peter Schleifenbaum, who states: "A working forest is a forest where the sustainable production of timber is balanced with other consumptive and non-consumptive uses while contributing to the non-quantifiable benefits received by society" [13].

In recent years, the WLCF has set their aims and intentions to address issues on the land base around the community of Williams Lake. These issues include the recent wildfires of 2018, Douglas-fir bark beetle infestations, and decreasing mule deer winter range habitat. The management of Douglas-fir bark beetle is done through logging the infested Douglas-fir trees, which is known as sanitation logging. The Douglas-fir bark beetle has been a problem for the WLCF because it kills and degrades the value of Douglas-fir trees, which are one of the main merchantable species for timber harvest. This issue has been increasingly important due to rising populations of the bark beetle because of recent warm, dry winters and severe wildfire seasons in 2017 and 2018 [14]. The WLCF is making progress with the sanitation logging of infected Douglas-fir and state that the Fall 2020 sanitation harvest will be much lower than past years due to a decreasing bark beetle attack [14]. In order to mitigate wildfire risk, the WLCF has been working towards hand fuel treatments which are a type of forest thinning that decreases the risk of high severity wildfire. Additionally, the WLCF has established fire breaks near the community, which act as impassible barriers for wildfire. These barriers are created by removing organic materials that will burn in a fire. Lastly, the concern over mule deer winter range habitat has been addressed through forest thinning treatments which creates mores suitable habitat for mule deer in the winter months [15].

The WLCF has done an excellent job at displaying transparent goals that are easily accessible for the public to obtain and understand. Establishing goals gives the community forest in Williams Lake a sense of direction. Updates on these goals are often presented in the annual reports given by the WLCF.

Hand fuel treatment in the Williams Lake Community Forest. This type of treatment lowers the risk of high severity wildfire and improves mule deer winter range habitat.

Governance

The governance structure of the WLCF operates through the limited partnership which holds the Community Forest Agreement in tandem. Governance is also conducted through the WLCF General Partnership and the Standing committee. Under the Community Forest Agreement, the members of the WLCF have the decision-making power for their designated tenure area. The decisions made by the WLCF must comply with the Forest and Range Practices Act, which is laid out by the provincial government to meet 11 resource values. Unlike other tenure arrangements in British Columbia, the WLCF encourages public input to ensure the governance of the CFA is not only being operated by a select few decision makers. This is a key component to successful community forestry in British Columbia. It seems that the WLCF tries to balance economic, social, and ecological values through their governance structure to ensure all stakeholders are satisfied.

The WLCF shares their land base with diverse tenures and stakeholders for other specific resources. The WLCF respects and works with the other stakeholders to ensure they are both getting their desired outcomes from the land base. The community forest in Williams Lake allows people to access the public land within the community forest and use it within their legal rights. 

Ultimately, the overarching level of governance for the WLCF is the provincial government in the form of MoFLNRORD. The purpose of MoFLNRORD is to ensure the “stewardship of provincial Crown land and ensures the sustainable management of forest, wildlife, water and other land-based resources” [16]. Additionally, MoFLRORD takes the opportunity to work with “Indigenous and rural communities to strengthen and diversify their economies'' [16].

Assessment

Within the governance structure of the community forest, the T’exelcemc and the city of Williams Lake have equal power in decision making and planning. This is ensured through their shareholder agreement, and all documentation formalizing the creation of the community forest. As discussed earlier, First Nation groups across Canada have been historically disenfranchised from decision making processes on their traditional and unceded lands[4], this has lead to artificially lower participation in the forest industry. Because of that historical context, this community forest, and others with indigenous participation, are fundamental to the growth of wealth and decision making associated with forest operations on traditional indigenous lands[17].

Recommendations

The WLCF has been in operation for just over 5 years. It is a relatively new agreement, with the context that forestry has been happening in the area for over a century. While it could be viewed that having an operation this new could have drawbacks due to the lack of operational experience. However, in practice, the WLCF is operating extremely well. They’ve taken many concerns that are traditionally associated with large-scale and industrial forestry and worked to prevent the creation of those issues in their operation. The manager and other members of the community forest give significant credit to their success to their in-depth shareholder agreement. The document allowed the community forest to operate like it’s intended to; an equal partnership between the T’exelcemc (Williams Lake Indian Band) and the City of Williams Lake. Because of the strong framework they set going in, the two groups do an excellent job of accommodating each other’s desired goals to create uniform objectives.

An area that forestry operations, in B.C., are traditionally weak in is their forest stewardship plans (FSP).  The WLCF’s FSP is inconsistent in its strength. Certain areas, like Recreation Values, Grazing, and Visual Quality, are quite descriptive, while other sections, like management objectives around large mammals, and watershed hydrology objectives, receive less attention, are less specifically defined.

A possible recommendation for the WLCF could be becoming more active in advocacy for community forests in BC and abroad. This could be done from the point of view of a consultant, or from within the BCCFA. In British Columbia there are still lots of communities without a community forest agreement, with the exemplary example the WLCF sets, they could help communicate to other communities the benefits that come from the forest.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Bouvette, W.S. (1980). The True Story of the Cariboo Wagon Road.
  2. 2.0 2.1 SIABC (2017). "COMMUNITY FORESTS – COMMUNITY BENEFITS: The Economic Contributions of Community Forests to Rural BC Communities" (PDF).
  3. Ministry of Forests (November 27, 2020). "Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development".
  4. 4.0 4.1 Partnering with First Nations (n.d.). "PARTNERING WITH FIRST NATIONS".
  5. Ministry of FLNRORD (June 2011). "New community forest for Williams Lake".
  6. Province of British Columbia. (n.d.). "Proprietorships & Partnerships".
  7. 7.0 7.1 British Columbia Community Forest Asscocation. (2012). "The Community Forest Guidebook 2" (PDF).
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Management and Administrative Intentions". Williams Lake Community Forest. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  9. "2019 WLCF Annual Report / Virtual Community Meeting PowerPoint" (PDF). Williams Lake Community Forest. November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  10. Williams Lake Community Forest, 2013. "Application Packaged. Community Forest Agreement" (PDF).CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  11. Stirling, J. (n.d.). "Protecting a Community (Forestry) Asset. Logging and Sawmilling Journal".
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Goals and Strategic Planning Pillars". Williams Lake Community Forest. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  13. "What is a Working Forest?". Silviculture Magazine. 2013. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Operations". Williams Lake Community Forest. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  15. "Hand Fuel-Treatment & Mule Deer Habitat enhancements funded by FESBC". Williams Lake Community Forest. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development". November 27, 2020. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  17. Lawler, J. H., & Bullock, R. C. L. (2017). "A case for indigenous community forestry". Journal of Forestry. 115(2): 117–125.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)


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