Sunshine Coast Community Forest’s (SCCF) firewood program was honoured as a finalist for an “Untapped BC” 2022 award in a ceremony hosted Sept. 29 in Vancouver. While the title of Workforce Inclusion Champion for employers of less than 100 people went to the Poco Return-it Centre, SCCF’s program ranked in the top three of the nine nominees in that category.
The awards are an initiative of the Open-Door Group, the Presidents Group and BC Partners in Workforce Innovation. They recognize the outstanding achievements of BC employers and individuals who are leading the way in diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Employing the marginalized
SCCF’s administrator, Sara Zieleman told Coast Reporter that their nomination came through the local Open Door Group office, in recognition of the living wage employment the firewood program provides to community members experiencing barriers to traditional employment. She said most of the employees are referred to the program through Vancouver Coastal Health’s mental health and substance use clinic or through the Arrowhead Clubhouse.
“They get a lot of meaning out of the work that they do…for them it is very transformative. We have employees whose friends and family have shared with us that they went from living almost as recluses and not having much social interaction to going to local support groups and offering help to their peers. Some have gone on to other jobs in the community using their experience in the program as a stepping stone to bridge employment barriers they had,” she stated.
Challenges in 2022
While “incredibly surprised and honoured to be selected as an award finalist” Zieleman tempered her remarks with details that the program will not be operating for the coming season, due to a lack of wood supply.
“After we delivered the last of our wood in June, we reached out to the Sunshine Coast Trails Society and with a modest amount of tools and training, our crew worked alongside volunteer community groups who create and maintain so many of the trails we enjoy on the Sunshine Coast. Collaboration with the Hidden Groves Society, Tetrahedron Outdoor Club, and Halfmoon Bay Environmental Society and others helped us keep our crew working for some time. They primarily brushed and raked trails and removed invasive species," she explained.
"Unfortunately, with trail maintenance season coming to an end and not having logged since March, we have no wood and no work, so this is coming to a close for now.”
No firewood supplies for the upcoming season
Along with temporarily halting employment opportunities, there will also be an interruption to the provision of affordable firewood for community members.
“I do get a lot of phone calls about it, and its pretty heartbreaking to have to tell people that we don’t have any, but our spring logging program was delayed and the wood that will be coming out this fall will not be ready to burn this year. We are not going to be able to help anyone this winter,” said Zieleman.
Since it began operations in mid-year in 2021, working out of the District of Sechelt public works yard the program has employed 13 individuals and provided fuel supplies to over 120 households on the Sunshine Coast. Zieleman estimates 25 per cent of those clients were provided firewood at no cost due to their difficult financial circumstances.
The initiative also aims to reduce the impacts of firewood poaching in local forest areas and to redirect logging waste to reduce slash piles, making better use of local timber resources and decreasing burning required at logging sites.