Cheakamus Community Forest to sell carbon credits

Province approves program to sell verified emission reductions

Whistler companies looking to purchase carbon credits to offset their corporate emissions will soon have a locally-grown option.

The Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF) is breaking new ground with its efforts to reduce its reliance on logging for revenue and instead sell verified emission reduction credits, or carbon credits.

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The provincial government has officially approved the project in principle and now those involved are working to finalize the details and go through the internationally recognized accreditation process.

"We have an agreement with the B.C. Forest Service to make the calculations and determine how many carbon credits to sell and they have given us permission to sell them," said Peter Ackhurst, managing director of the community forest and chair of the board of directors. "It has taken six months to talk with the province and get the agreement to proceed based on the methodology."

Brennan Clarke, spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, said the CCF is not necessarily a pilot project that other community forests may copy, but it is indeed a unique situation and the only one of its kind in the province.

"Cheakamus has an ecosystem-based management approach and a land base and community that supports this opportunity," Clarke wrote in an email to The Question. "The ministry has approved the Cheakamus project in principle but the community is still working to finalize the details.

"It is unlikely that the same set of circumstances exist in other community forest areas, but it is possible they may sometime in the future."

The CCF was the first in the province to develop an ecosystem-based management plan in consultation with Ecotrust Canada.

According to its website that type of plan: "acknowledges environments holistically, examining ecological systems in terms geography, flora and fauna, economics and culture. It also incorporates the cultural values of both First Nations communities and Whistler. By using this integrated approach, Ecotrust Canada was able to develop a plan for the CCF that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable."

By using an ecosystem-based management plan the allowable cuts for logging can be recalculated and lowered because other objectives, like conserving an old growth forest, protecting watersheds and habitat for species at risk, are recognized.

The final version of the document was completed in April and it is currently out for public review.

Ackhurst said the organization, which is made up of the RMOW, Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations, has managed the 33,000 hectares of Crown land surrounding Whistler since 2009.

When it was established, he added, it was determined there was an allowable annual harvest level for timber of 20,000 cubic metres.

However, logging around the resort community became a contentious debate in Whistler, one that Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden campaigned on last fall.

"I campaigned on a promise to end the logging of old growth by the community forest and I placed myself on the board, with the consent of council or course, to try to work towards that end," said Wilhelm-Morden. "I am not going to take credit for the carbon credit program, because it was well underway before I joined the board, but it is a terrific way in which the community forest can meet revenue goals without logging."

She noted the locations of where carbon credits can be purchased, including for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, has also been a topic of some debate.

She said carbon credit reserves set up in less developed countries have been criticized as limiting economic opportunities for those areas.

"Here in Canada and specifically in B.C. if people are interested in purchasing carbon credits they can do so in their won backyard and that helps us achieve our goals without necessarily restricting economic opportunities in other countries," Wilhelm-Morden said. "It is a winning situation all around."

Living Carbon is a non-profit owned carbon offset development company that has been tasked with establishing the forest carbon offsets for the Cheakamus project.

Manager Briony Penn said the goal is the create an incentive to improve forestry practices and leave intact forests, which are carbon sinks, as another type of revenue.

One of the challenges, however, is it takes a significant amount of money to develop forest carbon projects. That is why Living Cabon, which is owned entirely by the Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia, was approached and is now involved.

"When you create a carbon project you have to guarantee the forest will be looked after for 100 years," Penn noted. "There are lots of complications with that because this is the first of its kind and we will have to work out details."

Living Carbon is tasked with calculating the quantity of carbon offsets that can be sold, which will then be put out to the open market once it is accredited.

Soon, Penn said, there will be a request for expression of interest for local companies interested in purchasing the credits as part of the process.

While provincial government departments are mandated to purchase offsets, for municipal governments it is discretionary and the RMOW has decided to do so and has agreement in principle with the community forest.

For its 2011 corporate emissions it expects to purchase $52,000 but has delayed doing that so it can purchase them from the CCF once it is accredited.

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