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First tree comes down

With the falling of the first tree in Sechelt's community forest comes the filing of the first major complaint with the provincial ombudsman regarding the community forest process.

With the falling of the first tree in Sechelt's community forest comes the filing of the first major complaint with the provincial ombudsman regarding the community forest process.

Community forest supporters gathered at a cutblock near the Sechelt landfill Tuesday morning to officially fall the first tree under the community forest's recently granted cutting permits.

Len Pakulak, chair of Sechelt Com-munity Pro-jects Incor-porated (SCPI), the body which holds the forest tenure, said the occasion was the successful culmination of four years of work to establish the community forest locally.

"This is a really good thing to have happen for our community," Pakulak said, listing benefits such as work for local logging companies, wood for local mills, the ability to protect the environment and existing trail networks, as well as "significant financial benefits" for the community. The community forest tenure allows for 20,000 cu. m to be harvested from identified cutblocks around Sechelt annually, although the province is allowing SCPI to take 40,000 cu. m in this first year of operation.

There has been some opposition to the establishment of a community forest locally, most notably from the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association (SCCA). The association says the forest stewardship plan (FSP) for the community forest doesn't enforce high enough environmental standards or do enough to keep logging out of community watersheds.

Recently the SCCA sent an email to the Forest Practices Board asking them to consider an appeal of the community forest's FSP, but that appeal was denied.

The board noted they took into consideration the SCCA's comments but felt an appeal was not necessary.

That seemed good news for community forest supporters who talked about the decision at Tuesday's ceremony.

But the celebratory event was dampened by news that the SCCA had filled a formal complaint with the provincial ombudsman alleging abuse of process in the establishment of the community forest.

"Basically the complaint is against the minister for granting the licence and it's against the District of Sechelt for abuse of process," said Dan Bouman, executive director of the SCCA. "I hope they investigate the complaint because we have alleged that there were mistakes in law, and that there is a process established in law and that process was not followed."

Bouman pointed to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act as supporting the allegations and noted the complaint itself is about 16 pages long with about 60 appended supporting documents.

The ombudsman is expected to decide whether her office will investigate the complaint within the next few weeks. Bouman says once that decision is made he will possibly circulate the complaint in the community.

Currently there are copies of the complaint available at each of the local government offices on the Coast.

When Coast Reporter contacted Sechelt Mayor Cam Reid Wednesday about the complaint, he said he was not aware of it.

"But my initial response would be, 'Oh, that's just Dan Bouman.' He has from the beginning made a statement that he would kill the community forest as long as any portion of it was in the watershed, and rather than being willing to work with us to make it work in the best interests of everybody, he is continuing to fight it," Reid said.

Reid sees this complaint with the ombudsman as another tactic to try to stop the community forest.

"I haven't seen the allegations, but that doesn't surprise me because of [Bouman's] position working against the community forest," he added.