JR RARDON PHOTO Port McNeill in Focus is a bi-weekly opinion piece, written by Port McNeill locals Derek Koel and Matt Martin, that focuses primarily on various issues going on in and around the town. Have some thoughts about Port McNeill in Focus? Email editor@northislandgazette.com and we will publish them online and in print.

Port McNeill in Focus: Not exactly the community forest kumbaya I envisioned

I get it, this is the North Island, not North Van, logging is in our DNA. It’s what we do.

Let’s dive into the North Island Community Forest Limited Partnership, (NICF).

I was a founding NICF Board Director, until 2013. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, the people and learning about the forest industry.

The political foundation for the Community Forest was laid long ago. In 2010 the Port’s finally pulled the trigger, formed the Board, and after much preparation, plans and paperwork the North Island Community Forest Partnering Agreement was signed by the three “Stakeholders,” Port Alice, Port McNeill and Port Hardy.

Each kicked in 33K of seed money. The Province issued the licence for three different areas and we were off to the races. By 2003, BC Timber Sales had auctioned off NICF’s first cut.

NICF has been touted as one of BC’s most successful Community Forests, and the numbers bear it out, over $4.5 million dollars has been shared by the three Port’s.

If your definition of success is a quick buck, it has been a success. The price of cedar is riding high, and we have been creaming the crop. Three blocks in the Marble River area have been harvested, and plans are set to log the last of our high value cedar.

Some of B.C.’s 57 Community Forests define success differently, depending on their community’s values, needs and geography. Some value standing timber over logged timber.

The focus may be on recreation and trail infrastructure to bolster tourism, education and local wellness. Selective logging occurs to provide wood for community and value added projects. Forests are retained for aesthetic, watershed protection and environmental reasons. Maybe they promote botanical forest products and firewood cutting.

I get it, this is the North Island, not North Van, logging is in our DNA. It’s what we do, and I think we do a pretty good job, so let’s ‘giver’.

Now if any of NICF’s tenure included land remotely close to our population centres, then I would argue there is social and economic value in leaving trees standing.

A recent provincial government announcement seems to be setting up NICF for an expansion. It’s in the early vague days on this one still, no details yet, but can we please get ahead of this one? Lobby, or horse trade, for new community forest land that is closer to the people. Imagine the potential of an easily accessible community forest.

I find it ironic that local politicians criticize our bread and butter, an industry that has directly added $4.5 million to the municipal coffers. I suspect some of those NICF logs even traveled down our highways.

Where was the social licence and value added conversation when our community forest was logged?

Whether searching the net or your municipal office, there is scant NICF information available. Maybe somewhere in the dregs of the ministry’s website exists some of NICF’s fancy documents: Forest Stewardship Plan, Business Plan, Timber Supply Analysis, Operational Plan, Forest Management Plan, open house and annual general meeting minutes.

Let’s face it, those plans just collect dust on a digital bookshelf and nobody reads them, but the public information should be readily available.

Wouldn’t it be nice for the public to know who the seven NICF Directors are? No info on that, either.

Rumours of a handsome remuneration package for the NICF “Volunteer” Directors? If so, probably worth every penny, but shouldn’t we know either way?

NICF was formed as a Limited Partnership and thus it can cloak itself in various legislation to keep it’s business private. There is no obligation to provide any information to the public.

The directors are doing a great job. They are delivering on the Stakeholders mandate and the 2013 mission statement, to paraphrase: maximize revenues and divi it up three ways.

Not exactly the community forest kumbaya, I envisioned.

The founding bylaw (and lone NICF document online) lays out the intention for managing, developing and operating the NICF. It features directives like; “enhancing outdoor recreation and education opportunities;” “sustaining, expanding and diversifying local forestry related employment” and “promoting opportunities to harvest botanical products.”

They don’t really jive with the 2013 mission statement.

NICF’s land has great recreation and tourism potential with 1300 ha on Alice Lake and a 630 ha section that boarders WFP’s campsite and Marble River Provincial Park. The 425ha Quastsie block has potential too, it’s in Coal Harbour’s backyard.

Let’s put more community into the community forest.

Derek Koel is a local businessman, residing in Port McNeill since 2000. Over the years he has served on many local boards, committees, and organizations. He is a father of two, and is interested in healthy living, outdoor recreation, and local issues in the community.

* The views and opinions expressed in this opinion-editorial are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Black Press or the North Island Gazette. If you have a different opinion, we request you write to us to contribute to the conversation.

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