Learn about the Cowichan Forestry Coop
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the residents of the Cowichan Lake area, in partnership with the International Woodworkers of America, lobbied the Provincial Government. They were upset that Parts of the working forest were being turned into large parks; reducing the available timber supply for local mills. As well, they were tired of seeing logs harvested from local forests being shipped past local mills which provided no local milling jobs.
With the closure of two large sawmills in the area, there was deep concern abought the future of our Communities around the Lake. Jobs were lost. Stores and schools closed, tax revenue lost and the Communities suffered. The Premier of the day was Premier Mike Harcourt. He toured the only large mill left on the Lake at Youbou.
At the end of his tour, he stood on a pile of lumber and announced that a Community Forest would be allocated to the area. Jean Brown, with a group of volunteers, then started the process of finding a governance model to manage this Community Forest. In 1995, a Co-operative was formed with the following local groups as members;
The Town of Lake Cowichan, The Cowichan Valley Regional District, The International Woodworkers of America, Community Futures, Royal Canadian Legion, Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce, Elks Lodge#293, and Sunset Improvement District
Each Group was allowed One Directors position on the Board as well as an Alternate Director. Jean Brown was elected as Chairman of the Board. The Province through the Ministry of Forests allocated to the Lake Cowichan Community Forest Co-operative an AAC of 18000 cubic meters of timber per year in the Mt. Bolduc area. So began the first Community Forest in the Province.
This volume based license would be good for 20 years from 1995. Jean Brown and her Board set up Board procedures, and put the Co-op on a sound footing which took up a few years to accomplish. After a few years Pat Foster was elected as Chairman of the Board. The Co-op started managing environmental youth teams for the Province. We hired a manager and several team supervisors to manage 40 teams that worked throughout Vancouver Island doing park and forestry projects.
These projects helped keep the Co-op funded. For the Co-op’s first logging contract, we partnered with Timber West. They managed all the Ministry requirements as well as all the engineering, harvesting, and public process required to harvest timber. The first few years were years of a learning curve for all of us.
There was a lot of learning, some earnings with some attempts at starting up wood aligned businesses. It came as a sock to us all when Timber West decided to close the Youbou sawmill down. Hard times in the industry came upon our Communities around the Lake. Pat Foster as Chairman was able to get from the Government an amount of money to hire Peter Woodbridge and Company to promote the Lake Cowichan area as a prime area for value added forestry business opportunities.
As we logged a few more settings, we became a little wiser in managing our forestry endeavors, and made a little money for the Co-op. Under Pat Foster’s leadership we also started a bursary for two graduating students to further their education. The AAC was cut from the 18000 cubic meters to 13800 cubes. The Province extended our license for a few more years.
After seven years of operation, Lorne Scheffer was elected Chairman. Lorne asked Brooke Hodson to Chair the Logging Committee. As we had a few loggers and a sawmill operator on our Board, we now had the experience to run a operation on our own and it wasn’t long until we were able to generate a decent surplus in our accounts.
Brooke and his Committee put out a number of logging contracts. These contracts were for all timber profiles and all harvesting methods. Ground based for 2nd growth, cable and heli logging for old growth. As well, we were able to have our wood flow to a number of local sawmills and pole yards and chip plants. It was at this time that the town’s local credit union joined with us and funded the local Forest Workers Memorial Park. A park dedicated to the memory of all who worked in the three aspects of the forestry business. Logging, Transportation and Milling. It is a favorite spot for families to have a memory brick placed for a loved one.
A number of Day of Morning events have been held here by the BC Federation of Labor and large Corporations reflecting on work place accidents.
It is a very special place for all.
As our Board started to look at our Forest License coming to an end, we organized a new community forest license committee. Lorne hired consultant Patrick Hrushowy and Forester Steve Lorimer to help with the tremendous amount of work that would be required to land a volume based community forest license in an area of the province that is well spoken for.
Another Community that was hard hit by the decline of the working forest land base is the Pacheedaht First Nation. The Pacheedaht had done all our forestry work and we had become quite close to them as neighbors sharing in some of the same hardships that happen to small communities when they face job loss and opportunity. As friends and neighbors we met with the band and asked if they would like to join with us to form a 50-50 partnership.
They agreed to the proposal and we set out to continue on our quest united. This for me has been a wonderful opportunity and a great example of how indigenous and nonindigenous communities can learn and benefit from one another. I believe that this could be a model for other rural communities to share the resources around their communities for the betterment of all.
As we started to lobby various Ministers of Forest, we learned that our task would be a difficult journey. We were undeterred in our efforts. This work carried on for many years. We were very fortunate to have the support of a vast host of organizations, companies, regional districts, town councils, and first nations.
The Cowichan Lake Community Forest hosted the BC. Community Forest Association AGM. On May 25 2016 and it was at this meeting that the then Forest Minister, Mr. Steve Thompson, announced to the audience that we would be invited to apply for a community forest volume based licence. This was great news; we still had a lot of work ahead of us. We named the Partnership, ‘The Qala:Yit Community Forest’ from the Pacheedaht language meaning: a special place near the ocean. On September 8 2018, Premier John Horgan Presented The Qala:yit Community Forest with a volume based license agreement consisting of some 8000 hectares of crown land and an annual cut of 31498 cubic meters.
With the new license issued to Qala:Yit Community Forest Partnership, the Lake Cowichan Community Forest leaves the responsibility of the forest tenure to the board of Qala:yit.
Photos provided by Goodfellow/Sahay