Community Forests are creating high quality environments, which will attract high quality business and potential employers. In this way they are aiding the regeneration of the most deprived areas of England.
"Community forests" were always a cool idea. But there was no urgency. Thousands of hectares of maturing second growth stood outside my door. The woodsman’s axe seemed far away.
But change happens. I’ve moved. Like most folks in the Comox Valley I can see the woods, but they’re a long ways from my back door. And moving further away every day.
Some of this is about provincial policies (it’s cheaper to log private lands than public lands & there’s a lot less red tape). Some of it’s about changes in the industry: large blocks of local forest are now owned by multinationals with little interest in forests as forests. Increasingly, "forest management" is about maximum return on short term investment, not long term husbandry of assets. When cash flow is down, cut more.
So now "community forest" is more than a nice idea. I used to work in the woods, as well as play in them. My father recently retired after 45+ years in the industry. But it’s getting harder & harder for people to work & play in our local woods. This is driven not just by industry changes, but also by rapid growth and sprawling development patterns.
A deforested or "post-forested" (is this what the rural suburbs of the Valley really are?) landscape has lost something. The loss isn’t always visible. Sometimes it takes generations to notice. But it’s there (or, not there). The "community forest movement," stretches from India to Africa to the UK to North America. It’s an investment that goes beyond fibre per cubic metre.
The bright spot in our larger community is the work being done by the Cumberland Community Forest Society. This group is modelling something for the rest of us in the region: buying up forest lands for local use & management. The Cumberlanders are very close to having the $1million they need to buy 650 acres on Cumberland's southwest boundary. Good on them! A December deadline is looming & they need support.
This is more than a "Cumberland issue." The size of property may seem large to the average suburban lot-owner, but it’s just the beginning of the repatriation of the local forest base that needs to happen. This repatriation has to do with a sense of the forest as an aesthetic/spiritual, environmental, recreational, and economic resource.
A picture of where Cumberland could be headed is given by the District Municipality of North Cowichan, one of the grandparents of community forestry in BC.
Most of District’s 5000 hectares came to the municipality via tax sales in the 1920s and 1930s. Private land owners took the timber and left the land. Short term investment & management circa early 20th century.
Now, 80 years later, the land is producing another crop of logs. But it’s also providing long term public hiking, bridle, and bike trails. Managed logging is generating enough capital to pay for a number of other recreational services in the municipality. The forest also gives the District a set of "lungs," some watershed protection, and an aesthetic/spiritual reservoir. So, even though development & land clearing is at a fever pitch in the Cowichan Valley (sound familiar?), they’ve got a partial, built-in green space/growth management boundary that puts money into the cash box.
Through a "community forests" a municipality or society or land trust gets back some local control. The process of getting there can also help foster a deeper, more thoughtful debate about what a community values in the forest. Sometimes – as on Denman Island where a group has been struggling to have some say in the management of a huge portion of the island’s forest, the language is "sustainability." Sometimes, as in North Cowichan, the language is basically "business as usual," because the forest & community interests in it are already relatively well-integrated.
In Cumberland we can see how creating a community forest is a community building experience. The communityforest.org.uk site describes this in terms of diverse, sometimes opposed interests coming together in the name of a larger shared value. Whether the forest value is seen in timber/dollars, clean air, open space, or bike trails, there is common cause in the need to create a community managed forest. People are coming together to make an investment in their community.
In the verdant Comox Valley it’s sometimes hard to get excited about forests, who owns them, how they’re managed. It must be very puzzling to newcomers, especially those from Alberta or from BCs urban centres, when they encounter the flurry of concern about "disappearing" green spaces: with such an abundance, surely we can spare a few hectares here & there?
But the truth is in the long view. This landscape is being transformed, and quickly. Neighbourhood forests are receding as rapidly as my hairline. A patch of nondescript forest land, like Lannan, becomes a "sacred" place just because it’s underdeveloped and sitting between two growing population centres. Community forests are one of the ways to address the need for a living (& productive, in many & diverse ways) landscape.
I live on the other side of the Valley, but dedicated forest land is going to become one of the rare & expensive assets of our larger region. So I’m throwing a few Drachmas into the Cumberland Forest pot. Establishing that community forest is a small but important step towards the long term health & well-being of my community.
If you have any questions about the Cumberland Community Forest Society, email the Cumberland Community Forest Society at email@example.com. For more information on joining the monthly donorship programme, contact Andrew Nicoll by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone (250) 897-9781. Check out the website at http://www.cumberlandforest.com./ Good information & great layout.
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