Letter: “Community” Forest?

Dear Editor,
The award of an area-based Community Forest Licence is contingent on widespread community support. The following statements formed the Guiding Principles upon which support was given for a McBride area licence and upon which the organization set up to hold the licence was to operate:
“The community forest will be community-driven via democratic election of a board of directors by the community.”
“The Village does not propose to control the community forest. The Mayor and Council of the Village of McBride wishes only to be an active member of the community-based board.”
“It must be clear that the Village of McBride will only be a director and will have the same input as any other elected board member (i.e. one vote).”
“Once an award is made, the community must be consulted regarding the Articles of Incorporation and constitution” Section 5.2 of the Approved Management Plan, in regard to Structure and Operating Plan, states:
…the structure of the community forest corporation should reflect a community-elected board driven system…”
“The community at large will provide input through its elected board members.”

The singular difference between a Community tenure and every other form of forest tenure in British Columbia is the contingency for broad-based support. The reason is twofold: first is the fact that this tenure was designed specifically with the expectation that the diversity of interests and stakeholders within a community would be engaged and involved in consideration and deliberation of potential local economic opportunities possible through a sustainable supply of local timber. A community level of involvement mirrors the demographics of support needed to sustain a local economy. Second, in the naming of this unique tenure, the Province placed the onus on communities to hold to account whatever organization was set up to hold and operate a community forest licence. It is made clear by the Provincial CF Association that no organization including sole shareholder corporations is exempt from community oversight. As noted in the quotes above, MCFC was expected to function in a manner that allowed for direct transparency and accountability between Board of Directors and the people whose support was garnered in order for a licence to be entrusted to that organization.
You will note that all Notices, Press Releases and Information released from the Shareholder/MCFC Management over the years includes the phrase “Village of McBride is sole shareholder.” The only reason for including this phrase is to remind the community that Council asserts the right of control over the makeup of the Board and therein oversight of a major forest licence to the exclusion of the community, except as required under the BC Corporations Act. This is the antithesis of what the CF program was designed to be or provide to a community.

It takes the diversity of a community to oversee a major forest licence at a local level. As noted above, this community forest licence was never intended to be a privately owned licence of the Village of McBride. Had it not been for widespread support, there would be no award of a licence in McBride. The results of inadequate and limited oversight of this major forest licence can only be described as devastating and embarrassing to the province. Public resources intended to sustain the forest future and the local economy were pillaged. This was a direct result of the sole shareholder willfully dismissing local concerns as interference, and failing in their duty to heed Ministry warnings that Management of MCFC was lacking the necessary controls for adequate oversight of the licence. In the absence of the statutory requirement for meaningful community engagement and oversight, the sole shareholder has also failed to act in the best interests of the corporation set up for the purpose of representing the best interests of the community as a whole, by failing to report and account for, in the company’s financial records, the significant proceeds from the majority of the timber licenced for harvest to MCFC but transferred and sold under private contract and untruthfully reporting the true value of these assets to the community. Not only did this compromise the forest future of this community through unsustainable harvest levels, it also contributed to the significant financial losses incurred through legal court challenges and a significant local lawsuit, penalties and costs associated with restoration for the more significant environmental breaches of the CF Licensing Agreement and financial losses due to overcut, waste and a significant silviculture liability of between $1.5 -$2 million vs the corporation that recent Lidar Inventory results is now revealing. The lack of an appropriate level of oversight has led to the McBride licence being deemed within Ministry, industry and community forest circles that the McBride licence exemplifies how not to manage a community forest licence. Management of this licence also brings into question the province’s Professional Reliance policy with regard to the necessary checks and balances for managing a major forest licences at the local level in the absence of recognition of the statutory requirement for meaningful community engagement. Two-thirds of the population of the community reside beyond the municipal boundary. This population contributes to the businesses and volunteer organizations that keep the village of McBride viable. Community members with extensive experience in forestry and on the land base have attempted for years to raise concerns of impending disaster in regard to management of this licence, both to Village council and Management only to be treated with contempt and labelled the Mountainview Mafia.
In August Council had an opportunity to amend the culture of arrogance that has both divided this community and seriously impacted the forest future and economic outlook of the community. Instead of altering the practice of council appointments to a community-elected Board of Directors, once again council chose to remind the community that the right of control for oversight and future decisions regarding the direction of this licence is intended to be maintained as the prerogative of those elected to the council of the village of McBride. Added to this is the price of putting one’s name forward as a potential candidate for the Board which is one’s endorsement of this right of council to the exclusion of community engagement except as required under the BC Corporations Act.
Political oversight has been a poor structure for this particular licence. The licence needs to be transferred to a community-based organization in which its Board of Directors are directly accountable to the community. The timing is right to allow an Interim Board Directors to be elected by the community of McBride to serve in the transition period to a new organization.
“Politics is nothing, if it is not inclusive”

Having served as a representative of small communities on an advisory Board certifying Forest Licensees, this opinion is respectfully submitted,

Betty Abbs,
McBride, BC

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