In just a few months, community forest experts from across British Columbia will be arriving in Lake Cowichan and learning about some of the unique forestry work taking place in the town’s backyard.
The Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative (CLCFC) and the Pacheedaht First Nation have announced they will host the annual general meeting and conference of the BC Community Forest Association, a provincial organization advocating for the success of community forest initiatives throughout B.C. The conference has typically been held by communities in the interior.
“We thought it was a good idea to bring folks here, let’s show them what we’ve been doing the last 20 years,” said CLCFC representative Patrick Hrushowy, adding that an increasing number of forest co-ops are forming on Vancouver Island.
Hrushowy said now is a particularly important moment to host the events because the co-op’s volume-based licence has expired and, in partnership with the Pacheedaht, the organization is looking for change.
“If you switch to what is referred to as a community forest agreement, that’s land-based, you end up having both the responsibilities and the benefits come from managing the forest for yourself,” he said. “You end up with that sense of ownership and a stake in the future. The more you care for the land, the more the land will provide for you.”
The CLCFC’s land — in the Bolduc area — falls within traditional Pacheedaht territory. Consequently, said Hrushowy, the co-op and the First Nation have been working together for years on issues like forest management, post-logging clean-up and reforestation.
“We think showing [other association members] how we’ve operated on the coast and particularly how we’ve built this relationship over the years with the Pacheedaht, we think this represents a model that other people may want to follow,” he said.
Susan Mulkey, manager of extension and communication at the association, said it’s been a delight working with the group from Lake Cowichan.
“We’re way ahead of ourselves than previous year’s planning. They’re very engaged and enthusiastic,” she said.
Mulkey said the annual conference and AGM is a way for community forest groups from very geographically different parts of the province to come together, network and learn from each other.
“We have about 50 members. They’re all unique and everyone deals with their own unique challenges and situations,” she said. “But there is some commonality and we work really hard to support communities to not have to reinvent the wheel.”
In addition to tours of some of the Lake Cowichan co-op’s forestry operations, the Pacheedaht First Nation will be preparing a traditional feast for delegates.
Hrushowy estimates there could be between 100 and 150 people in attendance. The conference and AGM run May 26 to 28.