In Support of Community Forests


A look at the benefits of community forests using the Wells Gray Community Forest as a successful example.



The principles of community forests, when applied by local management to an area which can support a viable forest enterprise, can provide significant benefits, of which Wells Gray Community Forest provides an example.


Distinctive features of a community forest are:

-an area-based tenure in the vicinity of a community

-local management which integrates community objectives and knowledge into operational plans and activities with a long term perspective.

-a forest based enterprise, which has greater incentive to reinvest in the forest than a manufacturing-based licensee, and which can benefit financially from freer access to diverse customers for its logs (by species, grade and specification) and other forest products.

-net revenue from product sales can be distributed to local projects or reinvested in the forest.


In B.C., several forms of tenure have these characteristics. Included are several First Nations’ tenures and Tree Farm Licences held by Mission, Revelstoke and Burns Lake.  The largest group, now about 46 in number, (with more applications under review), are “Community Forests.” (CF).  This tenure originated from 1998 legislation which provided for mostly small volume licences to be held by communities in rural areas. The first five year probationary CF licence was granted in 2000.


CFs are not homogeneous. They exhibit very significant differences in ownership, structure, land base, allowable annual cut, (AAC) forest type, site quality, proximity to customers and management.  Consequently, generalizations are not appropriate and comparisons are problematical.


Because of the authors’ familiarity with Wells Gray Community Forest (WGCF) during its development by knowledgeable volunteers and since its establishment in 2006, as well as a recent opportunity to interview George Brcko, RFT, General Manager (GM) its structure and operating practices are described. WGCF is centered at Clearwater, B.C. in the North Thompson valley.


After a 5 year probationary period, (no longer mandated) WGCF was granted a 25 year, renewable licence.  The productive land base of approx. 10,000 hectares consists of 3 areas close to Highway 5, one being part of the District of Clearwater watershed.  The initial AAC was 20,000 cubic metres (m³), similar to many other CFs Because the Licence area contained a substantial volume of beetle killed pine, the Ministry   granted a temporary AAC increase of 13,500 m³. This dead pine became the first logging priority and was completed in 2011.


The imminent return of the AAC to 20,000 m³ led Directors of the WGCF Corporation to invest $30,000 for an intensive Terrestrial EcoSystem Mapping (TEM) and Site Index Adjustment (SIA) project.  With this new data the Ministry is expected  to support a permanent AAC of 33,000 m³.WGCF consists of a forest type transitory between Dry Douglas Fir and Interior Cedar Hemlock and benefits from productive sites, now mostly green timber within economical proximity of multiple customers.  On the other hand WGCF, like most community forests, has a significant number of management constraints including watershed disturbance restrictions, visual quality concerns, urban interface fire hazards and high use of  recreational trails.


WGCF is structured as a corporation, with shares held by a society.  It has a 7 member Board of Directors, including one from Simpcw First Nation, to whom the GM reports. The Board has an Advisory Committee consisting of 6 members of the general public. The Society has 7 members: 2 Directors, 2 Advisory Committee, District of Clearwater, Thompson-Nicola Regional District and the Simpcw First Nation.  WGCF recently distributed approx. $100,000 to local entities, after considering 26 applications.


Forest development planning within the WGCF is based on extensive feedback from the community.  Once areas are planned for harvest, the GM negotiates and supervises contracts for main road location, road construction, logging, reforestation and other silvicultural activities.  Currently, cutblocks are offered for sale to local logging contractors who are invited to submit a single price bid per m³  for the timber on the block, including pulp grade.  Prospective contractors are responsible for making the most favorable log sales agreements with customers within economical trucking distance. This business approach has netted WGCF a return of $10-11per m³  over the last few years.


Log sorting for customers is done on the landings at the time of logging.  Typically, pine has been purchased by Interfor’s Adams Lake mill, cedar by Gilbert Smith mill in Barriere, peeler fir by Tolko’s Heffley Creek plywood plant, pulp by Domtar’s mill in Kamloops and fir sawlogs by local sawmills.


Where feasible, harvesting, silviculture plans and other activities are integrated to optimize long term results. With a silviculture background, the GM’s declared standard for logging and reforestation is “best practices” as compared to “common” or regulated practices in the region.  Species selection and stocking density for reforestation are carefully considered relative to producing the best mix of long term volume and value.


Further discretionary expenditures are being considered for:      -Post free growing brushing

          -Pruning high value fir stands

          -Fertilization of 80-100 year old stands outside the watershed

          -Producing and supplying bio-fuels

The most positive feature of a community forest tenure is retention of public ownership with localized management.  This provides a better reference framework for integrating decision-making between competing resource values and promotes a longer term management focus.  This tenure provides opportunities for partnerships between First Nation communities and other interests which can benefit forest management.


While BC’s community forest model has many positive attributes, changes to forest policy are required to maximize the opportunities from promoting this form of tenure. For example, the stumpage system could be replaced with a taxation system that supports local management and provides incentives for communities to invest further in their forest resources. Many CFs, to be economically sustainable, need larger AACs, even if this requires reallocation from other tenures or sources.

Within the mix of publicly administered tenures in B.C., the community forest model is worthy of further policy development and wider application.


Jim McWilliams, RPF (ret’d) worked in the BC forest industry for 45 years, primarily in executive positions with manufacturing facilities.


Jeff McWilliams, RPF, is a senior associate with B.A. Blackwell & Associates Ltd. Jeff has over 24 years of experience in forest resource management in BC.