The District of Fort St. James’ community forest will expand into an area near Chuchi Lake and Witch Lake.
Supposed to come in 2009, the expansion was delayed, but appears to be about to finally come through.
“The political will is there, it’s just details now,” said Ross Hamilton, senior forester for the KDL Group, which manages the community forest for the District and has since 2003.
Hamilton said coming to an agreement was “complex, elegant and time-consuming.”
He said there were many parties involved in the negotiations, from First Nations to B.C. Timber Sales, to Conifex.
“Everyone had a piece to play in the solution,” said Hamilton, calling it a “group effort.”
The expansion is partly compensation for a section of the current community forest the District of Fort St. James gave up to help move along the treaty negotiations with Yekooche First Nation and the province, but it is also to allow for an increased annual harvest of 50,000 cubic metres by the District.
The area, near Shass Mountain, did not necessarily have high timber values due to the steep terrain, but it did include a variety of timber types, which would have helped after the beetle-killed pine was gone.
Hamilton said the community forest management has been adapted over the years, including taking into account the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic, which required them to increase the cut rate for the pine.
“We did our best to salvage all that we could at that time,” said Hamilton.
Of the approximately two million cubic metres of wood in the community forest, over half of it is mature pine which was significantly impacted by the pine beetle.
Wood is harvested within the community forest through clear cutting. There were concerns the rate of clear cutting within the Sowchea Creek watershed was partly to blame for the high flood levels of Sowchea Creek in recent years.
But while the community forest is near the Sowchea Creek drainage, Hamilton said only the Murray Creek tributary of Sowchea Creek is within the community forest. The bulk of Sowchea’s watershed is being harvested by Canfor or through B.C. Timber Sales.
The community forest is also managed for more than just timber values.
The Nyan Wheti Trail, a historic trail which runs from Stuart Lake to near Fraser Lake, is also maintained within the community forest, which allowed the municipality to plan for recreational and cultural values as well.
The Tulle Lake Trail is also managed and maintained within the community forest.
In 2007, the backside of the Murray Ridge Ski Area was added to the community forest, with the potential to develop an expansion of the existing ski area.
Hamilton said the cost of development has led to those plans being put aside, but the runs are laid out. Some harvesting was done along the road in the area, however, the ski runs are not going to be made anytime soon.
Within recent years, the cut rate for the existing community forest tenure had increased significantly to get the beetle killed wood out, going from just over 40,000 cubic metres in 2006 to over 126,000 cubic metres in 2008.
However, the rate had then dropped back to around 46,000 cubic metres in 2011.
So the new expansion area near Chuchi Lake would allow the District to increase their cut rate to 50,000 cubic metres annually for the long-term.
The area would also be managed for what are called “visual quality objectives” which means people paddling on thae Nation Lakes chain would be protected from seeing the clear cut blocks by a buffer of trees left along the water’s edge.