By: Korie Marshall

The Dunster Community Forest Society awarded its first community grants on Dec. 6th, giving $1000 each to the Dunster Fine Arts School Society and the Dunster Community Association.

Chair Larry Stamm says the community forest has been developed solely through the efforts, time, and donated finances of the local community. Its mission is to serve the social, environmental and economic needs of the community, and it aims to carry out ecologically and culturally sustainable land use for the benefit of the community.

When the mountain pine beetle hit the Robson Valley in the early 2000’s, local timber licensees moved much of their logging operations onto the main valley side slopes to try to salvage the dead and dying pine forests there. Unhappy with the way the salvage logging was happening and concerned with maintaining the integrity of local water supplies and habitat, many Dunster residents organized to find a way to have more control over the management of the local forests.

The Dunster Community Forest Society was incorporated in 2005, with the purpose of obtaining and then managing a community forest. A 25-year agreement was awarded in 2009 covering approximately 20,000 hectares, of which 7,000 are considered to be operational. The land is on both sides of the main valley, and includes a portion of the Raush and Kiwa Valleys. The initial annual cut was set at 15,000 cubic meters.

Ray Thiessen, manager of the DCF, says working for a society means his job is a little different than working for a corporation. For one thing, he is not an employee. He manages the Community Forest on a one year, renewable contract basis, so he says it is really important that there be collaboration between him and the board. He’s been with the CF for a little over a year, and one of the things he’s been tasked with is coming up with the beginnings of a strategic plan, and he hopes to present it at the society’s next AGM.

Thiessen says the command structure is different within a society, which is not without its challenges.

“The buy-in is something that has to be maintained over time,” he says. Although the society has had the license for a while, it has only been the last year or so that there has been a concerted effort and planning to really get things going, in a cohesive and inclusive way. He thinks it is worth the work though, and will hopefully lead to a very dynamic community forest.

“We’ve attempted to get as many residents of Dunster involved as possible,” says Thiessen. “We have a difficulty in that we don’t have a prime contractor. We have lots of individual skills, but we haven’t been able to bring them all together yet. I see that as a goal.”

Stamm says there are currently two on-going harvest blocks on the south side of the valley, and two other blocks have been completed. So far, the harvesting has been in beetle killed pine stands, with the timber going to Carrier and Dunkley Forest Products, as well as small amounts of other species (green wood) going to local mills.

“We are concentrating on salvaging beetle killed pine while it is still commercially viable in order to generate revenue to finance inventory and long term strategic planning,” says Stamm. He says there is a lot of work ahead before the society can succeed in its mission.

“We are very pleased to finally be in a position to be able to give back,” says Stamm. He says the society hopes to be able to award community grants each year, but have yet to nail down how much of their income stream can be diverted. “The DCF is still on a tenuous footing, but we wanted to start making community contributions as soon as we could.”