On Monday, December 10, Premier Dexter announced that the province was buying the Bowater Mersey woodlands, and that portions of them would be given over to community forests. That was just six weeks ago, and Christmas intervened, but people have hit the ground running.
By Tom Sheppard
More about that in a moment.
There have been questions about what community forests are, and how they work. Some have had concerns about the concept, wondering whether there will be fewer tax dollars and limitations on the ability of sawmills to get the logs they require for lumber. Neither is true.
Community forests exist in a number of countries and elsewhere in Canada. Their whole idea is to give the community a stake in the management of the forests. Management committees could include people from the community, woodlot owners, sawmill owners; forestry, recreation, fishing, hunting and wildlife organizations; institutions like the local board of trade and the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute; municipal politicians, native peoples, the Department of Natural Resources and other provincial government employees.
The concept has generated a lot of excitement and is seen as a way of re-energizing the economies of rural Nova Scotia. Forests would be managed for multiple uses, including logging, hunting and fishing, recreation, tourism, the creation of new forestry products, and research into ways of maintaining healthy forests for future generations.
As of this writing, two members of the local community are attending a community forest conference in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on building communities through community forests. They are Mary Keirstead, representing the North Queens Board of Trade, and Jane Barker, who is the forest stewardship coordinator with the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute.
There are more than 120 community forests across Canada, in various sizes. The Revelstoke forest in British Columbia is 119,000 hectares in size (or 295,000 acres); the Whaelghinbran Farm forest in New Brunswick, created from an organic farm, is just 580 acres. Ontario has good examples of community forests, including the Geraldton Community Forest in northwestern Ontario. In BC, the North Cowichan forest is only 4900 hectares in size, but has an annual budget of over a million dollars.
There are sophisticated community forests in the UK and Europe; Sweden has 730,000 hectares of community forests managed by boards elected by the communities, a system established over a century ago and coming from a desire to make forests a resource for everyone in a community.
There has been a lot going on since Nova Scotia bought the Bowater lands. I attended a meeting a week ago at MTRI, where planning was going on in response to a request for expressions of interest sent out by the Department of Natural Resources. As well, MTRI is currently conducting a public opinion survey to determine the uses to which the community wants a community forest put. That survey, and additional information, are on the MTRI website.
The DNR tender, which must be completed by the end of this month, is the first phase of a two-step process. Interested groups are being asked to respond to the request so that DNR can evaluate their experience, expertise and vision. Some of the groups will then be put on a short list and asked to submit a more detailed proposal.
The request for expressions of interest is designed for the development of community forests in western Nova Scotia, with proposals potentially including lands in Queens, Annapolis, Digby, Yarmouth, Lunenburg, Kings, Hants and Halifax counties. The proposals can include just Crown lands or a combination of Crown, private, municipal and First Nation lands.
The MTRI meeting in Kempt was followed by a public meeting held at the Masonic Hall in Caledonia last night (past the deadline for this column). At the first meeting, a variety of people discussed the DNR proposal requirements, which included what the group proposes for the land to be included, the activities proposed for the community forest, expected partnerships, a preliminary business case, evidence of community support, environmental benefits, economic opportunities, wood supply flow and the diversity of community social and economic benefits, including for those in the native communities. The proposals have to show how the rights of the native peoples will be taken into account.
MTRI has been working with long-time and new partners on the proposal and showed several maps to illustrate the lands being considered. These lands are in what Bowater called the Medway District, and so the community forest would be named the Medway Community Forest Cooperative.
As someone who has lived in these woods for forty years, and who has observed highs and lows in our forests, I am excited by this turn of events. I applaud the government for doing this and the groups that are putting together proposals. Hang on for the ride.
- Tom Sheppard can be reached at email@example.com