Cortes Community Forest

This week, Cortes Currents presents a conversation with the Manager of the Cortes Community ForestMark Lombard, and President of the Cortes Community Forest Cooperative, Carrie Saxifrage.  The Cortes Community Forest Cooperative (CCFC) is the non-aboriginal equal partner with the Klahoose First Nation in the Cortes Forest General Partnership (CFGP).

Photo credit: Logs from the Squirrel Cove cutblock on Cortes Island – Roy L Hales photo

Mark is a sixth generation woodlot manager…

Nature, climate change & adaptation

We sought to explore the ways in which the CFGP is balancing conservation of nature, climate change mitigation and adaptation, social benefit and reconciliation through ecosystem-based forestry.

So what is at the heart of their conservation strategy?

The community forest is 3800 hectares (ha). 31% of that is ‘netted out’ or excluded from the area that could be cut for a variety of reasons: visual quality objectives, riparian areas, old-growth.  That leaves 2700 ha for the Timber Harvesting Land-base (THLB), the area the community forest works on and cuts trees from.  The Community Forest cut-rate has averaged around 10 ha per year, or .3% of the THLB (0.0026% of the Community Forest).

By our math, this means that the THLB will all be cut in 330 years with 330-year-old trees ready to be cut back where the Community Forest started.

Ageing the forest

Ageing the forest one of the primary methods for preserving forest ecosystem functions.  Older forests  sequester more carbon, restore soil nutrients and provide habitat for some of our threatened and endangered species.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (MOFLNRORD) has aerial-photography based maps that assess forests in order to generate an Annual Allowable Cut (AAC), set to be 100% of the growth rate of a forest. So to know how much forest the CFGP is leaving to age, they need to confirm the data the AAC is based-upon.

Ground-truthing is the act of confirming in person, or on the ground, data that was gathered by other indirect means.  Ground-truthing the parameters that the MOFLNRORD uses to set the AAC occupies much of the CCFC board time these days.

15% of the annual growth

Confirming the AAC, Carrie says, is important for hitting the target of taking approximately 15% of the annual growth – it’s like spending a portion of the interest earned from a savings account, without spending the principle.

The operations team also ground-truths wetlands, streams and the sensitive ecosystem inventories that were gathered by MOFLNRORD over a decade ago.

Ground-truthing also connects these forest stewards with the woods and the creatures that inhabit them.

So, the CFGP is avoiding sensitive areas, and species at risk, confirming growth rates to ensure they’re taking only a portion of the interest and cutting less to preserve more forest for longer – aging the forest.  But according to Mark and Carrie, cutting nothing is not better.

The CFGP is not only considering the needs of ecosystems and species-at-risk but also carbon sequestration, wildfire mitigation, local economic development, and economic reconciliation.

Alders, hemlock, cedar and douglas fir

Mark tells us that much of the island is dominated by small alders and hemlock, often with mistletoe.  These trees are dead, dying or growing slowly – and they’re particularly susceptible to a changing climate.  Replacing these trees sooner rather than later would increase forest carbon sequestration and reduce the fire risk.

But you can’t just cut the alder and hemlock – their prices are too low to support harvesting alone.  The Community Forest cuts small patches, which is not very profitable to begin with.  Add to that the need for economic reconciliation with indigenous partners, and the desire to support a local value-added sector for the island. So the Community Forest cuts some higher-quality and higher-value cedar and douglas fir as well.

Climate change impacts

There’s a lot to unpack there:  what climate change impacts are we already seeing in Cortes forests?

Mark and Carrie are seeing the extent and range of cedar, hemlock, douglas fir, balsam fir and salal is diminishing already – and we have reason to expect that will continue.

So what is the community forest doing to adapt to the changing climate?

Mark explains they are making creative choices where they replant to select the most suitable species possible.  But, he goes one, while there are good, helpful people at MOFLNRORD, the forestry regulations in BC are such that the CFGP is too often stuck with labour intensive seedlings that are increasingly inappropriate to the climate on Cortes.

Wildfire mitigation

So, how about wildfire risk mitigation?

The risk is certainly rising, and with some big clearcutting and fires in Cortes history – Cortes is primed for a big one.

Much can be done in terms of thinning, limbing, and chipping wood that would be fuel, but it is very costly to do.  Wildfire abatement programs almost always require funding to run.  Cortes is considered a low priority area and funding requests have mostly been declined.

One technique the CFGP does employ is limbing trees where they fall and putting the branches in low spots and under the path of machinery.  This returns nutrients to soil, reduces compaction, eliminates the need for big burn piles and, after a year or two, reduces the fuel load.

The economics

So, how about economic reconciliation?

Mark and Carrie express a lot of gratitude for the generosity of the Klahoose in offering to share the Community Forest with the CCFC.  They say that it could not have been done without that partnership. The CFGP is an active form of reconciliation.

And, how about that value-added lumber industry?

Making more use of Cortes Forest logs on Cortes is not only good for keeping jobs and dollars local, it also makes the case that the Community Forest is generating economic activity beyond selling logs, which can be used to justify increased flexibility in cut-rates with the MOFLNRORD.

More hemlock and alder

The lumber being produced locally is also of top quality.  Mark encourages the use of more hemlock and alder in building.

Local builder and Community Forest Cooperative vice-president, David Shipway, once said that hemlock can be a longer lasting choice of lumber (personal communication).  Mark agrees, saying that the powder worm gets into the fir but not the hemlock – termites too prefer fir.

Firewood

Firewood is another community need being provided by the Community Forest General Partnership.

Mark makes a compelling case that alder is the species of choice for firewood from the community forest: it can produce 3.5 times the BTUs per hectare as compared to douglas fir.  Douglas fir is the species-of-choice for many Cortesians, but Mark suggests that may be in part due to improper seasoning.  Fir heartwood can be burnt without seasoning, while hemlock and alder must be dried.  And when dried, the tree species have comparable BTUs/cord: Fir has 28 million BTUs, Hemlock has 26 million and alder 19 million BTUs/cord.

Fir is a much more valuable species as lumber though, so Mark suggests that we consider using the other two common Cortes trees.

In closing, Mark and Carrie thank all those who have worked hard toward the goal of creating a community forest for Cortes, and specifically Kathy Francis, Bruce Ellingsen, Liz Richardson, David Shipway and the Klahoose Nation.

And many thanks to Mark and Carrie for their service and for sharing for this piece.

Top photo credit: (l to r) Bruce Ellingsen, Mark Lombard, Carrie Saxifrage – courtesy Carrie Saxifrage

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