Course:FRST370/Wetzin'kwa Community Forest Corporation: co-managed by Smithers and the Village of Telkwa, British Columbia, Canada

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Summary

This case study examines the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest, located just West of Smithers, BC, operated and managed by the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest Corporation (WCFC). Wetzin’kwa Community Forest (WCF) is situated on the traditional territory of Wet’suwet’en First Nation. The WCF was established in 2007 and tenure is held jointly by the town of Smithers and the Village of Telkwa, with involvement from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Key Words

WCFC: Wetzin'kwa Community Forest Corporation

Stakeholder: A person, group or entity that has an interest in a business, territory, or issue.

Affected Stakeholder: An affected stakeholder is a stakeholder who is likely to be directly impacted by the choices made regarding the activities taking place within a business, territory, or issue.

Interested Stakeholder: Any group, person, or entity that is linked to the activities in a forest area, but who does not have a long-term dependency on that specific forest area.

Introduction

Community forestry is considered a forest management method which relies on a collaborative governance approach. This means that the community is granted with decision making abilities regarding the management of the forest as well as social learning opportunities and the promise of forest sustainability (Assuah, 2015). Community forestry often focuses on ecological sustainability as well as community involvement, thus, community forestry is a feasible option for forest conservation and community development (Charnley & Poe, 2007). The purpose of this report is to take a deeper look into the management, objectives, history, and impacts of the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest.

Description

View of Hudson Bay Mountain located within the Wetzin'kwa Community Forest

The WCF is utilized by residents of Smithers, Telkwa, Witset (Moricetown), surrounding communities, and travelers to the region. Though there are many Wet’suwet’en residents in Smithers and Telkwa, neither are primarily Wet’suwet’en communities. Located 30 km’s West of Smithers, Witset is the central Wet’suwet’en community and has a population of 1790 (Office of the Wet’suwet’en, 2020). Smithers is the largest town in the region with approximately 6,000 residents (Tourism Smithers, 2020). Telkwa is another small community located 15 km’s East of Smithers with a population of nearly 1,400 residents. All three communities are located within the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (The Bulkley Valley). Noteworthy is that Smithers is the regional service center for approximately 20,000 Bulkley Valley residents, indicating that the Community Forest also serves a greater population than just Smithers, Telkwa, and Witset (Tourism Smithers, 2020).

The Wetzin’kwa Community Forest occupies approximately 32,897 ha of land where people are free to do numerous recreational activities such as hiking, mountain-biking, horseback riding, skiing, fishing, hunting, camping, and snowmobiling. Of this, 23,675 ha is considered forest management land base (FMLB) meaning it excludes non-forested areas such as alpine, rock and lakes (WCFMP, 2015). As well as the recreational activities that take place in the community forest, the WCFC strives to protect the cultural heritage sites of the Wet’suwet’en. It has an approximate annual allowable cut of 30,000 m3/year though, from 2010 – 2014 the AAC was increased to 95,000 m3/year in response to the mountain pine beetle infestation (Baker, 2015). The WCF is located on Crown land and has many mountains within and surrounding it. Hudson Bay Mountain is the most well-known mountain in the region and lies almost completely within the WCF. The primary tree species harvested for commercial use within the forest are Hybrid spruce, Interior lodgepole pine, and subalpine fir.

Tenure arrangements

Overview map of Wetzin'kwa Community Forest

The community forest is located in the Bulkley Timber Supply Area (TSA). In the late 90’s, the community pursued an economic development plan that was completed in 1998. In 2004, the contractor Lynx Forest Management was hired to assess community forest models and volume requirements for profitability (WCFC, 2016). In 2007, the WCFC was granted a long-term tenure in the form of the License K2P. This was issued by the Province of British Columbia and has since been collaboratively managed by the town of Smithers and the Village of Telkwa (Baker, 2015). The community forest is governed by an elected board of seven volunteer directors whose job it is to make decisions regarding the management of the land. The board of directors is made up of representatives from different stakeholders such as the Wet’suwet’en Nation, the town of Smithers, and the Village of Telkwa.

Administrative arrangements

Wetzin'kwa Community Forest Corporation Management

A primary example of an arrangement is that the WCFC licence is jointly held by the town of Smithers and the Village of Telkwa. In addition, the Wet’suwet’en First Nation holds power in the decision making process because the community forest is located on their traditional territory and the WCFC recognizes this. The planning and management of the WCFC is conducted through the preparation of a Forest Management Plan, which is required under Section 43.3 of the Forest Act (Baker, 2015) This is outlined under the institutional power of the province of British Columbia and specifically, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. The WCFC operates through a board of seven volunteer directors. Organizational management decisions are made by the board of directors, however operational decisions are recommended by the contract forestry consulting company Silvicon Services Inc. This contractor conducts all the planning and operations for the forestry component of the Community Forest. They plan and produce the Forest Management Plans and Forest Stewardship Plans that are required to operate in the Community Forest. They’re also in charge of the day-to-day operations in the WCF. The Forest Management Plan is a five-year plan used to identify and propose management objectives and strategies to achieve those objectives. This plan is reviewed by the Chief Forester and approved if sufficient. Moreover, the plan then guides operational activities within the Community Forest. In addition, a landscape-level Forest Stewardship Plan is produced every five years and requires approval by the government so harvesting and road building activities can take place. This is regulated through the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) in order to govern all forestry activities on crown land. Finally, the Chief Forester holds authority over the WCFC because this person sets the allowable annual cut annually.

Board of Directors

The WCFC board of directors is a good example of how the community forest operation allows for representation; the board is made up of representatives from First Nations, industry, three jurisdictions, and members of the public who represent the interests of the community (Assuah, 2015). Of the seven members on the board of directors, one each is from Telkwa and Smithers, one from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, and one from Northern Engineered Wood Products (an industry representative) (Assuah, 2016). These four seats are permanent seats and only change when individuals resign. The three other seats are each held for three-year terms by members of the public. The WCFC not only has representation for all its stakeholders on the board, but it also alternates one community at large board member, annually. The WCFC falls short in terms of its social goals only in that it lacks representation from local recreational groups such as the Bulkley Valley Cross Country Ski Club (Assuah, 2015).

Grant Program

The Wetzin’kwa Community Forest Corporation has a grant program which allows activities to be carried out in the area of Witset, Smithers, and Telkwa (WCFC, 2016). These grants are available to registered charities and not-for-profit organizations with the requirement that projects are secular with a term no longer than one year (WCFC, 2016). The money for the grants comes from the profits earned by the Wetzin’kwa Community Forrest Corporation (WCFC, 2016). The first year the grant program was in effect was 2009 where the WCFC was able to set aside $90,000 in grants to not-for-profit organizations and charities (WCFC, 2016). In 2019 alone the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest Corporation was able to give $293,467.52 in grants to different not-for-profit organizations and registered charities which is the largest amount of money by the organization in grants to date (WCFC, 2016).

Affected Stakeholders

The affected stakeholders of the WCF include the Wet’suwet’en Nation, the citizens of Smithers, and the citizens of Telkwa. The WCFC engages with its stakeholders through annual reporting of goals and progress. The Wetzin’kwa Community Forest Corporation has several platforms through which communication with stakeholders can be achieved. These include open houses, an annual report on activities from the year, radio and newspaper articles, the WCFC website, and resource user group meetings, representatives from the board report to their local governments (Village of Telkwa, Town of Smithers), and board of directors reports to the Wet’suwet’en Nation (Baker, 2015). The town of Smithers is mainly concerned with recreational activities that can happen on the land, such as cross-country skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding. As there is not a large number of stakeholders for this community forest project, all of them have a significant amount of power when making decisions. The Wet’suwet’en Nation is a stakeholder with the most significant amount of power when making decisions because the land which the community forest lies on is their traditional territory.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

The interested stakeholders are similar to the affected stakeholders as this community forest operation is in a fairly remote area so many of the interested stakeholders will be the same as the affected stakeholders. An exception is individuals who travel to the region to utilize the recreational benefits. These individuals will not be directly affected by management decisions, however, because they occasionally utilize the WCF they will be indirectly affected by its management decisions. Another interested stakeholder that will not be vastly impacted is the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations as they are responsible for approving management plans for community forestry operations in BC, thus, they are an interested stakeholder. The Ministry has a lot of power over community forests in BC as they have the power not to renew tenures as well as have the power to request changes that should be made to management goals and objectives. One goal of the Ministry is to ensure that public values are being incorporated into the management of community forests. This value is key to the Ministry as it sets a standard of how community forest operations should be run and gives a framework for objectives and goals (Assuah, 2015).

Objectives of the Wetzin'kwa Community Forest Corporation

Listed on the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest Corporation website are their key management objectives. These are divided into environmental, social, and economic goals (Baker, 2015).

Environmental Goals

·        To manage all resources sustainably

·        To maintain both plant and animal diversity

·        To ensure the integrity of water quality in all watersheds

·        To minimize negative environmental impacts

·        To prioritize the harvest of damaged timber

Social Goals

·        To involve the local community in management decisions

·        To ensure that community values are maintained

·        To maintain a respectful working relationship between stakeholders

·        To encourage and enhance outdoor recreation/education

·        To heighten community awareness of management

Economic Goals

·        To ensure management efforts lead to long-term profitable operations

·        To ensure management efforts lead to long-term economic benefits for local communities

·        To maintain and grow local forestry related employment opportunities

·        To harvest botanical products

The WCFC meets the majority of these goals and is considered a good example of a well-run community forest operation in British Columbia. The WCFC is recognized particularly for its achievement of social goals.

Governance of the Community Forest

The intention of community forests is to give more authority to the public and local populations in order to make decisions on how the land around them is utilized. In terms of governance, day to day management activities within the community forest are run by Silvicon Services Inc. Larger management decisions are made by the board of directors. The WCFC has a good standing relationship with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. Before the WCFC applied for the community forest license, they approached the Wet’suwet’en Nation for approval and consultation (Assuah, 2016). This laid a foundational framework for collaboration on management decisions. Further, the Wet’suwet’en Nation reviews operational plans and has the opportunity to adjust these plans before implementation. This shows that though the Wet’suwet’en are not license holders, they hold authority in community forest management decisions.

Another stakeholder that holds power in decision making are local recreational groups such as the Smithers Mountain Bike Association, the Bulkley Valley Nordic Centre, and the Smithers Community Forest Society (Assuah, 2016). These recreation groups have most of their trails within the community forest boundary. They are also popular groups within the community and are given power by public influence. The WCFC has signed memorandums of understanding with each group in order to respect and incorporate their views of land management. The groups are also provided opportunity to voice concerns or opinions about management decisions at annual resource user group meetings held by the WCFC.

Community Benefits

Economic

Recreation trails in the Wetzin'kwa Community Forest

A key goal for the WCF is to establish economic benefits for the local community. The WCFC has been able to achieve this and has had a mean increase in annual contributions since 2009. This goal is achieved through a few different strategies. First, all work conducted within the community forest is contracted out to local contractors from The Bulkley Valley. For instance, in 2012 the WCFC spent $4.5 million on labour within the community forest (WCFC, 2016). This all goes back into the community because all workers are local contractors. In addition, the provincial government benefits from roughly $100,000 in annual stumpage fees (WCFC, 2016). Another major source of economic benefit from the WCF is their grant program. Local not-for-profit organizations and registered charities can apply annually for project funding up to a maximum of $15,000. This program has been around since 2009 and has increased in annual contributions yearly to a maximum of $293,467 in 2019. In addition to this program, WCFC provides bursaries of up to $3,000 for successful applicants attending the Northwest Community Collage. Finally, the Bulkley Valley Nordic Centre resides within the WCF and receives a portion of income generated from harvesting within 200 meters of their trails (WCFC, 2016).

Recreational

The locals benefit greatly from the WCF because there is a strong emphasis on supporting local recreational clubs. As stated above, the Smithers Mountain Bike Association (SMBA), the Bulkley Valley Nordic Centre, and the Smithers Community Forest Society all have trails within the forest. Additional clubs that are impacted by WCF management are the Smithers Snowmobile Association, the Bulkley Valley Backpackers, and the Bulkley Backcountry Ski Society (BBSS). Most of these clubs receive funding from the community forest annually through the grant program. In addition, harvesting activities create extensive road networks in the backcountry regions surrounding Smithers. The costly creation and maintenance of these road networks provides these clubs and their members with access to remote areas for recreation purposes. Many of these clubs have close relationships with the WCFC, attending annual general meetings and conducting planning meetings together. An example of collaboration is the network of logging roads that the Bulkley Valley Nordic Centre groom and utilize for skiing in the winter. Another example of club members benefiting are the snowmobilers and backcountry skiers that are able to access mountains when the WCFC is operating logging operations in the winter. These roads would otherwise be un-drivable due to snow.

Common Conflicts in Community Forestry

A paper by Bullock and Hanna (2007) explains some common sources of conflict found in community forestry. These sources of conflict will be analyzed in term of the WCFC and what they do to minimize these conflicts and their impacts.

The first common source of conflict in community forestry is through communication or lack there of. Community forestry thrives off of the participation of the public in the management of the forest. Bullock and Hanna (2007) explain in their paper that forest managers can become indifferent with regard to public consultation due to the level of ignorance regarding forestry issues. On the flip side of this, having good communication and creating public awareness can also mitigate issues because as the public’s level of knowledge is increased, there is also an increase in the tendency of the public to question the decisions being made (Bullock & Hanna, 2007). In terms of the WCFC, communication is an area which could be slightly improved upon. Although the WCFC website contains a list of social goals, their relationship with the general public could be improved; because of this, the general public’s participation is lacking in the Wetzin’kwa community forest (Assuah, 2016).

The Bullock and Hanna (2007) paper lists personal dynamics in terms of values, beliefs, and interests as a common issue in community forestry. The authors go on to explain that this means that the motives of the industry often differ from the public’s values, leading to questions regarding the nature of the government’s representation and the accountability of tenure holders. The government ideally would be representing the values of the public while the industry’s values lie within the profits to be made. Conflict arises when the management bodies do not represent the community’s values accurately (Bullock & Hanna, 2007). In terms of the WCFC, many recreational groups have expressed a high level of satisfaction with the WCFC’s management and activity performance, implying that the public is being represented accurately and their goals are being represented accurately (Assuah, Sinclair, & Reed, 2016).

The final source of conflict in community forestry listed by Bullock and Hanna (2007) is the management process. This includes factors such as decision making, deliberation setting, inclusivity, and the balance of interests. The paper goes on to explain an example in BC where First Nations, non-indigenous communities, and small firms are all looking for timber from a “claw-back” policy where 20% of volume is transferred from licensees with AAC’s over 200,000 m3. A process such as this has the potential to create massive divides in different communities and is a definite source of conflict as this policy benefits some groups while leaving others out (Bullock & Hanna, 2007). The WCFC has been able to avoid management process conflicts as its board of directors includes members from different stakeholders such as the Wet’suwet’en Nation, the town of Smithers, and the Village of Telkwa (Assuah, 2016).

Recommendations

The only recommendation we have is taken from Assuah (2016) and is that the WCFC could improve its relationship with the general public. Overall, the WCFC has good relationships with all stakeholders, including the public. There is a high approval rating as to how the community forest functions; however, Assuah (2016) outlines that there may be a lack of general public engagement. This may be due to a lack of education about the community forest and a lack of providing information on events such as the annual general meeting. So, our recommendation would be to have better outreach to the community in order to educate and engage the general public. The goal of a community forest is to engage the public in the management of the land and forests surrounding the community, so it is imperative that the WCFC ensures that the public is being engaged in order to meet the requirements of a successful community forest.

The above recommendation may require the general public to step-up and form an educational committee themselves. The reason behind the community forest is to allow the public and local population to have more say in the land and forest management around their communities. There are many members of the public that are engaged through the recreational groups and volunteer board of director positions; but, the majority of the general public is not involved in the decision making process and should be given more opportunity through education and outreach to enable transparency and open communication.

References

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Assuah, A. (2015). Learning for sustainability through community forest management. University of Manitoba Libraries. Retrieved From: http://hdl.handle.net/1993/30290

Assuah, A., Sinclair, J.A. (2019). Unraveling the relationship between collective action and social learning: Evidence from community forest management in Canada. Forests. 10(6).

Assuah, A., Sinclair, A.J., Reed, M.G. (2016). Action on sustainable forest management through community forestry: the case for the Wetzin’kwa community forest corporation. The Forestry Chronicle. 92(2).

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