The final piece in Sechelt’s consultation on the Sunshine Coast Community Forest (SCCF) is now in place, setting up the possibility that the incoming council could make some changes to the operation.
SCCF logging has been a flashpoint for controversy several times since Sechelt was granted a community forest licence in 2006, most recently last winter when Elphinstone Logging Focus won a brief court injunction against logging in an area known as the Chanterelle Forest.
The District of Sechelt announced in June it was going to seek public input on the SCCF through initiatives like an online survey and World Café events.
In a Sept. 19 report to council, district communications manager Julie Rogers said more than 500 people had taken part in that part of the consultation. She said the common themes that emerged were the need for more community education and involvement, a desire to ensure better environmental protections, and a need to leverage opportunities for local economic development and job creation through operations and through the Legacy Fund.
The results of Innovative Research Group’s telephone survey, which was conducted in late August and early September and was the final phase of the consultation, were released just before the Oct. 20 municipal elections.
The survey of 511 randomly chosen residents from all areas of the Coast found that while awareness of the Community Forest and its operations is up, “overall favourability of the organization has dropped sharply since 2010 and 2009... Although a strong plurality approves of the organization when it comes to creating jobs, logging responsibly and informing community, the approval rates are down from 2010.”
As well as tracking shifts in opinions on SCCF, the survey also captured shifting views on what the top issues facing the Sunshine Coast are. Forty-one per cent of respondents this year put water-related issues at the top of the list, compared to just five per cent in 2010. Twelve per cent cited affordable housing as a top concern, something only two per cent mentioned in 2010.
On forestry-specific questions, 18 per cent of the respondents said they, or someone in their immediate family, work in forestry. Six per cent said they were involved in a business that depends significantly on forestry.
Just over 80 per cent said they strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement, “effectively developing our natural resources is key to B.C.’s future economic growth” and about 46 per cent felt similarly about the statement, “British Columbia’s forests are managed sustainably.”
Around 71 per cent of the survey respondents claimed to know at least something about the SCCF, and of those, 37 per cent had a favourable opinion of the operation (down from 47 per cent in 2010) and 22 per cent had an unfavourable opinion.
Of the people with an unfavourable opinion, most cited SCCF’s logging practices as the reason, with others giving reasons like poor organization and management and lack of transparency.
The survey also asked people about the Com-munity Forest Legacy Fund, which comes from dividends paid to the District of Sechelt by Sechelt Community Projects Inc., which manages SCCF’s day-to-day operations. SCCF reported a net income of $1,178,152 for the first two quarters of 2018.
Thirty-five per cent of respondents felt the fund should be used for environmental protection and remediation. The next highest preference was for economic development and job creation (16 per cent), followed by not-for-profit projects (14 per cent) and municipal projects like recreation facilities (11 per cent).
Outgoing mayor Bruce Milne said in September that the results of the phone survey would be the final piece needed to give the board at SCCF a clear picture of the values the community wants to see applied to the management of the Community Forest.
It will be up to the incoming council, which is being sworn in on Nov. 7, to decide how to follow up on the consultation.