Common themes, contentious moments as Community Forest consultation kicks off

District of Sechelt

The District of Sechelt’s consultation on the Sunshine Coast Community Forest (SCCF) kicked off Monday with a world café event at the Seaside Centre.

More than 50 people came out to offer opinions on five questions set by the district: What are the top three most important aspects of the SCCF to you? If you were in charge of the SCCF, what would you change? How would you like to see legacy funds distributed? How can the community be more involved in SCCF? How can the SCCF best serve you?

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The attendees included prominent members of Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF), the group that went to court last year to try to stop logging in an area known as the Chanterelle Forest, as well as two former Community Forest board chairs and people involved in the logging community.

All but two members of Sechelt council, Mayor Bruce Milne and Coun. Mike Shanks, also attended the session, as did Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) director Mark Lebbell of Roberts Creek.

People were divided into seven groups to discuss and provide the top answers to each question. Some of the ideas that came out included making sure the board of directors has a broader base of backgrounds and better gender balance, putting decisions about how to spend legacy funds into the hands of a community-based committee or group instead of Sechelt council, and even having the SCCF ownership expanded to the SCRD, where most of the logging tenure is located.

It was also suggested by the people at one table that if the community can’t come to an agreement about the future of the Community Forest, it should be turned over the shíshálh Nation to manage.

Although there were a lot of common themes, there were also some contentious moments.

At one point while delivering his table’s answer to one of the questions, ELF’s Hans Penner called for the SCCF board of directors to open their meetings to the public. “It’s a public resource that they’re talking about, yet all the current meetings are conducted in camera. There’s not a single directors meeting – these are people working, supposedly, in the public interest – that’s open to the public. That should end immediately.”

Penner also said at one point, “The only reason we’re having this meeting tonight is because the Community Forest has not been managed properly.”

Former Sechelt mayor and SCCF chair John Henderson said he was concerned that comments are routinely made about the organization that aren’t based in fact. “On balance, the community forest has been a tremendous success. I respect the right not to support it, but let’s acknowledge it’s been a success,” he said.

There were also others who commented at the end of the event that it had given them their first opportunity to have a candid conversation with people whose views on the SCCF operations, and logging in general, differed.

One person called it “hope-building to meet people from the logging community" that she hasn’t before and another remarked that after previous meetings that were “acrimonious,” he was “seeing a lot of new faces and open minds.”

Julie Rogers, Sechelt’s director of communications, acted as facilitator for the event, which she said will be followed up by an online survey, pop-up booths at the Farmers’ Market and a formal poll.

Rogers estimates about 30 people attended a similar event Tuesday afternoon.

A report is expected to go to Sechelt council in September.

The SCCF annual general meeting, which will see the installation of new board members, is set for July 23, 7 p.m. at the Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden on Mason Road.

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