Why a Community Forest

In 2005, the Province of British Columbia announced an opportunity to determine the fate of thousands of hectares of forest surrounding Whistler. The province offered Whistler, as well as the communities of Pemberton and Squamish, an opportunity to submit a community forest proposal that would give them a tenure license to harvest 10,000 cubic metres (m3) of wood annually.

After many discussions among neighbouring communities, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), Squamish and Lil’Wat Nations joined forces to propose the creation of a 55,000 hectare community forest. The joint venture reflected an important cultural reality: Whistler and its adjacent lands are part of the traditional territory shared by the Squamish and Lil’wat people.

In November 2007, the three Sea-to-Sky governments signed a letter of intent with the Province of BC. Of particular note, was the fact the then unnamed community forest would be one of the first forest operations in BC to employ Ecosystem Based Management. This holistic approach to environmental management considers all aspects, including the human factor, of an ecosystem and determines the best way to ensure its health.

By partnering, the RMOW, Squamish and Lil’wat Nations were able to employ the strategies outlined in each of their communities land use plans into their plans for governance of the forested lands. The importance of sound land management practices to support long-term economic, social and ecological goals resonated through all three plans, effectively putting the partners on the same page. Eventually, the amount of land in the proposed tenure was negotiated between the group and the Province to the forest’s current size: 30,280 hectares.

Through discussion and community dialogue, the three regional governments developed a plan that would see forestry management emphasize recreation values, watershed protection, visual quality and cultural values. Almost half of the forest, 15,000 hectares, would continue to be protected from harvesting through mechanisms such as Old Growth (nearly 50 per cent of the trees are designated old growth forest) and Ungulate Winter Range status designation.

In April, 2009, the RMOW, Lil’wat and Squamish Nations, under the banner of the Cheakamus Community Forest, entered an agreement with the Ministry of Forests and Range. This unique, historical covenant gave the group jurisdiction over the forestland surrounding Whistler, a forest now known as the Cheakamus Community Forest.