The best and highest uses for North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve are a primary focus. (Photo submitted)

The best and highest uses for North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve are a primary focus. (Photo submitted)

North Cowichan issues Request for Proposals for Engagement Consultant

Municipal Forest Reserve management plan the focus for interim and the long term

North Cowichan has issued a request for proposals from qualified applicants to undertake community engagement supporting the development of interim and long-term forest management plans for North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve.

“It has taken a great deal of time and consideration to get to this point, but with an issue this complex, the time has been necessary to allow us to reflect on and confirm what we as a community need to achieve,” noted Mayor Al Siebring. “Community engagement must be coordinated and aligned with the technical review we are undertaking on the forest reserve, and both aspects of this issue have required much discussion, expert input, and debate, as both processes will require a significant investment.”

Council approved the deliverables for the engagement RFP at its meeting on Aug. 21. Since then, the RFP documentation was reviewed and finalized with input from Dr. Stephen Sheppard of the University of British Columbia before being issued on Sept. 14. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 11 at 2 p.m., after which follows a period of evaluation and negotiation with applicants prior to the issuance of a contract. A contract is expected to be awarded near the end of October or early November.

Issuance of the RFP comes after nine months of discussion between council, staff, members of the community, and more recently, professors from UBC, regarding ways to structure a review of North Cowichan’s MFR. A key milestone occurred in April when council confirmed its desire for meaningful public engagement on the future management of North Cowichan’s forests to determine the highest and best uses of the MFR.

Discussions about how to approach engagement and align with a technical forestry review continued through spring and summer. In August, council endorsed both the engagement RFP deliverables and a partnership with professors from UBC to conduct a technical forestry review.

The engagement consultant will work with North Cowichan and the UBC partnership group between the end of 2019 through 2021 to meet the following goals:

* Provide information to residents about the MFR and build public awareness/capacity on forest management issues

* Seek input from residents about their local knowledge, values, and preferences for management of the MFR to assist council in determining the highest and best uses of the MFR

* Maintain regular, two-way communication and provide updates to the public during the engagement process

* Provide quarterly updates to council on the progress of engagement

* Make recommendations about the interim and long-term forest management plans to staff, the UBC partnership group, and council, based on public input

* Provide recommendations to council for ongoing community engagement on the MFR.

North Cowichan is one of the few communities in North America that owns and manages forest lands for the benefit of residents. The Municipal Forest Reserve is 5,000+ hectares in size and accounts for approximately 25 per cent of the land base in North Cowichan.

For decades, the MFR has been managed as a working forest, with logging of up to an annual allowable cut of 20,000 cubic metres per year. Over the decades, revenues generated through harvesting have been reinvested back into the community. In addition to being a working forest, the MFR is a significant recreational feature in the community, loved by residents and frequented by visitors from around Vancouver Island and abroad.

There has historically been little to no communication with or involvement of the general community in North Cowichan’s forestry program.

In winter 2018, North Cowichan began hearing from citizens interested in the district’s harvesting activities within the MFR. Since then, many members of the public have been attending council meetings and advocating for a review of North Cowichan’s forestry practices that includes public input.

Council decided to dramatically limit harvesting in 2019 to allow time to consider its approach, and in April, council confirmed its desire for meaningful public engagement on the future management of North Cowichan’s forests to determine the highest and best use of the MFR.