Photo courtesy of Carrie Saxifrage,

Board Reality 101: What is in a piece of wood for Cortes Island?

Today’s Folk U Radio is called Board Reality 101. And by board I am referring to a piece of wood. What is a tree? What are our forests to us? On today’s Folk University we look deeper into this question and the incredible partnership between the Klahoose First Nations and non-nation members in creating a forest managed by a community. 

Cortes Forest General Partnership: A Unique Model for Community Forest Stewardship

Mark Lombard, ecological builder and manager with the Cortes Forest General Partnership, joins us to open this episode to explain the Partnership, the Cortes Community Forest Coop, and the impressive and rare community stewardship being modelled on Cortes. The Cortes Forest General Partnership holds a 3,800 ha Crown land tenure and was won thanks to visionary work of those that came before including the Klahoose First Nations and their generosity. The Partnership includes three members of the Klahoose Nation and three non-indigenous members, which are selected by the Cortes Community Forest Coop. The primary function of the Coop is to represent the non-indigenous community and select these three members of the Partnership. The Co-op has no other operational decision-making regarding the community forest.

Creating Lifestyle Businesses from Protecting Forest Ecosystems

Nick Gagnon is from a family business of silviculturists. Silviculture is the “art and science” of cultivating forest health for the trees, and the wildlife, water, soil, and for the land stewards/users. His family supported themselves actively managing forests for their health and using the dead or lower quality trees to create fibre resources. This was heavily dependent on government contracts which came with the economic downturn of 2008. 

Nick brought his many mechanical and forestry skills to Cortes Island with him where he’s been working as a mechanic, silviculturist, and serving on the Cortes Community Forest Coop board and working in the Community Forest. This year, he was able to demonstrate the “little blue machine” a Finnish contraption that had belonged to his family and had just sat, largely abandoned, since the 2008 recession. This machine can cut, lift, and delimb trees but while leaving very little impact on the forest ecosystem. “It’s a game changer” for forest management: allowing them to have gotten more useable fibre out of this year’s section of managed forest than ever before with the least visual and ecological impact. 

Nick was able to bring this machine to Cortes and invest in its complicated repair thanks to a sort of bridge loan from the Cortes Investment Coop. He explained how crucial it can be for lifestyle businesses to be able to get small investments like this to help grow their businesses. He defines lifestyle businesses as one that supports the worker’s life versus those businesses designed just for growth, capital gain, or expansion. 

Nick foresees opportunities for many lifestyle businesses that could be supported through the community forest, especially with steady and reliable access to wood fibre from the sawdust to the logs themselves, including pressed wood bricks, biochar, wood chips, firewood, and high quality building lumber.  And all of this can happen, while ensuring a healthy amount of wood is made accessible to the forest floor to create new soil, reducing wildfire risk, ensuring the tallest and healthiest trees are encouraged to grow and prosper, and reducing the impact on the forest floor and ecosystem. 

Does Cortes Have Enough Firewood?

Nick says the he believes we can maintain the health of the forests and provide enough firewood for Cortes Islanders that need it, but it will take getting over the hump of perpetual shortage. It also means Cortesians learning to store and season their own wood and using and relying on a mix of woods, because there isn’t enough Fir to burn that exclusively.  As Mark Lombard has reminded neighbours before, based on the space and time and what is needed to healthily grow a forest versus the BTU (heat units) that a piece of wood outputs, Alder provides 3.5 times the BTU per hectare.

The Cortes Community Forest Coop Zoom AGM IS TODAYMonday, November 23 at 7 pm, on zoom, details on tideline. 

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