Community forestry is a forest that is managed by a group of people within a district, such as a local government, first nation or regional operations, that represent the communities’ beliefs. Community forests seek to help those who reside around the land base to gain control and benefit from the resources the forest provides. In British Columbia, community forests allow communities to posses control and power over their specific land area. This includes having the exclusive power of harvesting Crown timber and charges fees for forest resources. Community forests are implemented to increase sustainable social, ecological and economic development. This occurs as communities use the resources the forest provides as a means to boost the economy, and allows those who reside in the community employment opportunities.
The development of community forests began in 1945 when Gordon Sloan, the commission on the forest resources of British Columbia, suggested that municipalities govern their local forests. This was on account of the fact that environmentalists, first nations and major timber companies disputed the methods in which forests were logged, as many were located in sensitive basins and affected the communities own water supply, terrain and sacred areas. Between 1945 and 1998, a scattering of community forests emerged, as local people gained interest in expanding and creating agreements in order to hold control of production, recreation and use of forests in their specific region.
In 1998 the Community Forest Agreement (CFA) was established by the Ministry of Forests as it was believed that community forests would support local livelihoods. The objective of community forests was to provide long term opportunities for communities, diversify the management among those who control forests in British Columbia, increase environmental stewardship and community ties, and promote communication and strengthen bonds between first nations and non-first nations groups. The increase of collaboration between first nation and non-first nation factions have allowed for collective initiative in management and operational planning, and has been promoted by the Community Forest Agreement program. This collaboration has been put in place as first nation peoples’ participation are prioritized in decision making, employment, planning, consultation as well as the ability to prohibit decisions from co-managing colleagues.
Currently, contacts have a span of 25 years and are renewable every 10 years. Present-day, there are 63 community forests, within over 100 individual communities are involved in managing, protecting, planning and operating said forests. In addition, community forests constitute around 2% of provincial annual harvests, and have helped to address rural poverty, and resource degradation.
Community forestry can be economically, socially, and environmentally beneficial to all parties involved. Communities work together to reach shared goals whose outcomes and benefits for that community will be protected and experienced for many years to come. This action will build bonds within the community and require some to take on leadership roles, which are the qualities needed to run a community managed forest. This in turn means the forest can benefit the people before even fully being a community managed forest. The lands can also provide a spiritual or cultural benefit’s for many of the groups involved.
Harvesting on the joint operated lands can also happen, and with that comes funding from goods and services to the people who manage the land. Other people count on forested areas and the other sort of natural resources provided, whether it's water or in more rural settings simply getting time outside. This has been know to increase a persons mood and has been known to be good for your health. As well, dependence on community forestry managed areas has become increasingly depended the further that population is from civilization. For areas such as Brazil, regional variations in access to markets, forest composition may actually lead to an increased contribution of forests to local incomes. This is particularly the case in traditional contexts caused by the absence of other more attractive income opportunities.
On a biological scale, community forests support opportunities in areas such as recreation, wildlife and watershed management for communities by providing and maintaining area’s for these environmental aspects to thrive. They also contribute to a more diversified forest economy. In fact managing local forested areas has been know to enhance wildlife habitat and wildlife quality.
As well, when you apply for the community forestry program and agree to the programs conditions, you keep the the forest from anywhere of 25 to 99 years. Which means the forest can thrive and develop for a long time. The management and preservation of a community operated forest require the understanding of proper resource conservation and sustainable use. Which requires you to learn about sustainable regeneration and protection methods to benefit the forest in its growth, which helps the manager in the long run.
Yet for finding areas where people are negatively affected are quite hard to find. One would simply be that the land used cannot be fully harvested to produce an optimal amount of timber supply, but that just leads to a bigger overarching problem. Another could be that people want to use the land for scientific use or research, yet there are many acres of land used for that and this land is currently being used for conservation, which is ultimately a benefit.
Community forestry is an innovative movement that emphasizes forest management at the community level. Community forestry has benefits that include involving Indigenous peoples, and emphasizing the local environment. Over time people have noticed that community forestry also has fundamental limitations, suggesting once again that the forest is not always greener on the other side.
The major limitations of community forestry have been linked to the movement’s core framework. Writing in the journal Society and Natural Resources, Bullock and Hanna describe three sources of conflict that arise with community forestry, involving communication, personal disagreements, and decision-making issues. The themes that dominate community forestry and are not mutually exclusive but occur simultaneously and interact.
Communication in the context of community forestry refers broadly to the information and interactive exchanges that happen between people or groups. Conflicting agendas reduce open-mindedness during discussions. For example, forest managers in B.C. have been known to refrain from consulting on sensitive issues because they wish to avoid frustrations arising from the public’s ignorance of many forestry issues . Community forests must be maintained apace with the livelihood of its constituent community, because they rely on the forest’s resources. Although groups such as Indigenous peoples and naturalists have a strong claim to be heard because of the wealth of local knowledge they possess, policy is usually decided by those removed from the region who are not in the best position to make decisions that affect communities . Community forestry requires municipal level of governing, but also hearing what individuals have to say is crucial. Community forestry needs to adapt, and serve as a tool to connect people in the community to those who wield more power, so that effective and timely results are produced.
Personal conflicts in community forestry stem from values and interests held by individuals or some portion of the community. In 1997, premier Glen Clarke announced the Jobs and Timber Accord (JTA) which would directly benefit the people of BC saying that “[the public] have a right to expect more jobs and other social benefits from every tree cut on public lands” . The promised benefits did not remain in the community but went to stakeholders elsewhere. Community forestry does not adequately aggregate community and stakeholders’ needs and wants, or promote the development of beliefs held in common.
Other moral and ethical challenges arise from the fact that “public forest land is often viewed as being a legacy of the larger public, not specific communities” . While this is true, the community who would be supervising community forestry efforts should in theory have the best, most sustainable long-term interests of the forest in mind because it is the land they sow and harvest from. This is the root of most personal conflicts - different generations have different views on forest management and finding representation across generations is challenging. Creating a collaborative environment where people think not just of today, but of tomorrow as well, is imperative for generating an effective action plan that will produce strong results for current and future generations.
Issues related to decision-making are a third source of conflict in community forestry, such as how a forest should be managed as a concept, the “where” and “when” of new plots and other details. A shift to community forestry does tend to increase the number of jobs in a community, but takes those jobs from a fewer number of outsourced employees. This was and is a concern for people because the transition to community forestry tenures has not been smooth and some have unexpectedly found themselves on the outside looking in . The theme of downsizing locally is common, and many sectors of the forestry industry in BC have seen a decline in their production due to the decreased number of logs coming in for refinement. The Prince George Citizen reported that “Hundreds of sawmill workers are being laid off in B.C., some of them permanently, despite recent record profits made by B.C. forestry companies, which continue to expand south of the border” .
Community forestry is an innovative alternative approach to forest management that could relieve some of the pressures of a lower harvestable rate due in part to the pine beetle. It would involve more jobs for members of the forestry industry while also creating an environment where parcels of land would be tended by communities. If this shift of power occurred on a larger scale with a more integrated action plan, some of the limitations of community forestry could be relieved. However, as of 2019, the lack of a smooth transition has led to fundamental criticisms of community forestry as a stand-alone practice.
Problems with community forestry involve communications, conflicting values and interests, and an unworkable approach to decision-making that fails to create suitable action plans for members of community and industry to follow. These criticisms of community forestry are valid, and to recognize them now is an essential step in ensuring that more community forests are created. The battle for local forest governance has been happening for about 25 years . Community forests appear to be an ideal way of helping the community, but they have shown their flaws. Future adaptations and basic changes are needed so that community strengths are balanced in the short and long term interest of BC’s forests.
In order to take remedial action in regards to the current state of community forestry in BC, the three principles commonly associated with it must be revisited. These principles are: (1) local residents have access to forested lands; (2) opportunities for the participation of local residents in management decisions relating to forested lands exist; and (3) an effort is made by communities to protect and maintain the forest they have the responsibility of managing” . These can be used as a framework for continuous action by meeting the expectations of these principles while still providing economic stability for the communities in question. Most community forests are doing this by using the dividends earned from timber sales for projects and programs within the community, through establishing partnerships with local organizations, funding charitable services, and creating grant programs . Others have established policies to help keep jobs within the community they are a part of, or include . Remedial action should also include the encouragement of CFA licensees to create a governance structure that “reflects the diversity of their communities, have strong mechanisms for downward accountability, and enjoy community support” .
Regarding the process of application to obtain a Community Forest Agreement (CFA), action can be taken to reduce the challenges and limitations that the application brings forth. “Since the inception of the program in the late 1990s, communities holding CFAs have faced a difficult economic context, stemming from the general downturn in the forest sector and, in the interior of the province, the onset of the fast-spreading mountain pine beetle epidemic” . Other challenges they face include rising operating costs as industry focus shifted from old-growth to second-growth forestry, and as distance between timber harvesting areas and processing facilities increased. The small size of the operations also “provides little competitive advantage on the marketplace” . The expectations for community participation and management can also bring challenges to the operations . They face financial challenges in the first several years of being in operation as well, as many of them operate on a not-for-profit basis and have difficulty with start-up capital and finding private investment .
To address these issues, the British Columbia Community Forest Association (BCCFA) holds an annual conference focused on topics of interest and challenges facing CFA licensees, and in 2002, BCCFA successfully and vastly reduced the royalties paid by CFA communities to the government . These conferences and consensus met by CFA licensees provide a great platform for remedial action to occur within the system of community forests in BC. Furthermore, options for remedial action to management issues include tactics centred around innovation: using alternative primary management goals such as research as opposed to timber harvesting, or harvesting for niche markets to extract more value from their timber, for example specializing in the log home building market . Others are “actively seeking to expand their tenured area in order to increase their annual harvest of timber and improve economies of scale” . All of these actions and problem-solving approaches to the issues faced by CFA holders strengthen the economic, social, cultural, and technical aspects of community forestry in BC, and should be encouraged with the principles of community forestry in mind.
As with most problems, a solution needs to be well organized and concise. To address various community forest disagreements and decision making issues, local governments, community groups and first nation representatives must set a clear model of governance to address issues and concerns. A clear set of rules must be determined and agreed upon by all stakeholders involved in the process of decision making, allowing decisions to be determined in an equitable and fair fashion that cannot be argued against. This process may involve local governments implementing stakeholder analysis to determine which community members and first nations people are most suitable to hold power in decision making. Analysis into stakeholders must be done to ensure that selected stakeholders are seriously invested in the goals of the community forest in not just short term, but long term. Furthermore, it is suggested that stakeholders are not only very knowledgeable about the forests, but also are predominantly populated by local community members of the forest. To ensure this, hired representatives should perform an in depth analysis of the stakeholders, investigating the values, investment, location and knowledge of the stakeholder.
Furthermore, it may be beneficial for community forest actors to implement information sessions or educational programs/updates to engage with and educate local residents with in depth, bias free information regarding the financial and ecological impact of a policy decisions for community forests. This will ensure that local residents who lack formal education about forests and timber production know the possible influences/repercussions that may occur due to a community based decision. Moreover, education of the public may address apparent frustrations from foresters upset due to public ignorance in community implementation.
In a Community forest, voices of all community members, first nations people and local governments must be heard and seriously considered to ensure communication amongst actors is clear and constant. Clearing up this communication barrier may involve a weekly or monthly meeting amongst a set of representative from each set of actors, who verbalize and address problems brought to them, addressing concerns or recommendations from stakeholders or community members involved. As a way to ensure all voices are justly heard and considered, actors are advised to employ an unbiased mediator who mediates conversation and debate amongst conflicting actors, ensuring situations stay on track, do not escalate and most importantly enforce agreed upon rules and guidelines for decision making.
Increased lay-offs in the timber industry associated with community forestry implementation seems to be a problem easily solved. Whomever the sole actor(s) involved in the hiring process based on agreed governance, are advised to follow the jobs and timber accord (JTA) and predominantly hire local workers. Local citizens live and breath their surroundings making it very easy to see why they would offer higher care and accountability for the forest. BC forestry companies have been reported to have record profits, making outsourcing of timber workers all the more fruitless.
Emerging in British Columbia in 1945, community forests have shown to be a diverse approach to managing and governing local forests. Managed by a mix of first nations groups, community members, non government organizations and local governments, community forestry provides a diverse group of actors, allowing for a plethora of knowledge, insights and opinions. Unsurprisingly, a large amount of actors involved in community forestry arises conflicts between different actors and associated beliefs. Furthermore, complications arise due to barriers in communication, knowledge gaps, non-local decision making, economic declines and local job decline. To address the numerous problems in community forestry it is advised that community forests actors engage in in-depth stakeholder analysis accounting for the values, investment and knowledge of the stakeholder as well as accounting for a diverse sample of the population. Moreover, it is suggested that actors implement unbiased mediators to ensure guidelines for decision making are followed. Information sessions for the general community are suggested to increase knowledge of the general community. Actors may also consider accounting primarily for stakeholders who are local and engaged community members. Additionally, investment into research to maximize economic forest productivity and the hiring of local forestry companies are all strongly recommended to improve the economic growth and local job market around community forestry. With 63 active community forests in British Columbia today, community forests are clearly an important mechanism of forest management in BC. With carefully planned and innovative techniques, hopefully community forestry will continue to improve on and learn from the many problems that it is faced with today.
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