The Village of Fraser Lake in northern B.C. says its innovative approach to logging in the community forest is helping the municipality develop in a sustainable way.
Community forests are area-based forestry tenures that start off with a 25-year lease. They’re managed by local governments who decide where the revenue goes.
Fraser Lake Mayor Sarrah Storey said the village decided to do things its own way in the community forest and is making bank as a result.
“We could have taken a different deal, and we chose to do it on our own and we reaped the benefits of that.”
Village CAO Rodney Holland said revenue from a more sustainable approach to logging has helped bring the community back from the brink after the local mine closed in 2015.
“We lost 275 good paying jobs. What this allows us to do is to put our own values on it so in the case of Fraser Lake we’ve said local employment is very important,” Holland said.
“We’ve had during the summer months about 45 local loggers working and then in the winter it ramps up to about 70. So it’s a huge benefit for the community. Per cubic meter we create significantly more employment than conventional logging.”
Holland said that for years communities have criticized major industry for how they log and have argued there’s a better way. Community forests allow them to put their own approach into practice.
“The village does care about generating revenue to pay for the infrastructure replacements but if people can’t afford to stay here we lose residents,” Holland said.
“We’re also very concerned about wildlife habitat and clean water. So we have required our loggers to learn how to retain a lot of the juvenile trees… We’ve been training loggers for the logging of tomorrow.”
He said the municipality doesn’t allow “moonscaping” in its forestry area and wants to do away with the practice of “just going out and flattening everything” because there’s no point in cutting trees that could have 30 years of growth left.
“Why would you just flatten that? Keep that tree. It provides cover for the animals and thermal breaks… It allows you to eventually get back on the land and do harvesting again,” Holland said.
“We’re always talking about innovation and improved usage.”
Holland said the community “lights up with conversation” when the horizon glows red in the fall because piles of forestry waste are being burned.
“Some of the fires are the size of the school, they’re so big. We said that’s not happening in the community forest.”
The village instead chose to haul out the biomass itself — in some cases at a loss. That led to a local entrepreneur making a business out of grinding tree-top piles and hauling the product to a pulp plant in West Fraser.
Holland said the village has been able to salvage logs that would have been “looked at as garbage” by industry. Instead of being discarded that wood is now being used to create dimensional lumber.
“Our community forest almost entirely has functioned in areas that industry has long since decided was not economical but we’ve made a go of it by being innovative.”
Storey said communities need to “go back to basics” and think long-term as natural resources dwindle. She said the village is looking to expand its management area but they don’t know what that’s going to look like yet.
“Imagine if it was only municipalities or communities that ran forestry. The amount of money that would have stayed in communities would have been huge. These communities would look like Vegas.”