Advocates of sustainable forestry are hailing the creation of Alberta’s newest model forest.
“Model forests set the standard of how sustainable forest management should be done,” says Juri Agapow, a forest operations extension specialist who is president of the new Weberville Community Model Forest.
“By sustainability, we mean taking all the economic, ecological, and social values into account and preserving and advancing them for future generations.”
The Weberville site is Alberta’s second model forest (the first is the Foothills Model Forest in the Hinton area) and consists of 33,000 hectares. Sixty per cent is privately owned and the remainder is Crown land, covering the entire spectrum of land uses from agriculture to virgin forest. There are about 200 landowners, many participating in the Landscape- Level Private Land Forest Management Plan handled by the Weberville Community Forest Association (WCFA). The document includes detailed information on climate, geology, vegetation, soils, eco-sites, ice age, history of the forest, wildlife data, and other valuable information about the land base.
It’s part of an effort to increase landowner participation in sustainable woodlot management and agroforestry, and increase integrated community land-use planning that recognizes the values of forest resources, said Agapow, who works for FPInnovations, Canada’s national forest product research institute.
Involving local people in the decision-making process is considered a key part of the process, and participants are encouraged to adopt a collaborative approach, and freely share ideas, data and resources to find economic but sustainable alternatives to current practices. It also allows for competing values and interests to be represented in the partnership, and promotes initiatives that reconcile economic priorities, social concerns and environmental concerns.
The new Weberville Community Model Forest comes on the heels of a two-year pilot project, led by Alberta Agriculture’s Agroforestry and Woodlot Extension Society and FPInnovations – Forest Operations Division, which focused on how to conduct sustainable forest management at a community scale.
“With an individual woodlot, a lot of times you don’t have the scale needed to really manage your land properly because it is just too small,” says Agapow.
By encouraging landowners to collaborate on a single, landscape- level management plan, Agapow says they not only work together toward sustainable forest management, but also create synergies and opportunities to gain better access to markets, suppliers, and logging contractors.
Weberville is unique within the model forests, of which there are 15 in Canada and 58 worldwide.
“What we did in Weberville was to create a template that other communities can adapt and follow to create their own community forest,” says Agapow.
WCFA has signed a memorandum of understanding with NAIT’s Boreal Research Institute to act as a research partner and co-ordinator, providing WCFA with some core funding for staff and the Boreal Research Institute with access to specific model forest research. It has also signed an agreement with the Alberta Forest Extension Network, which includes FPInnovations, to provide technology transfer from research conducted within the model forest.
One upcoming research project will involve trials on a climate change adaptation program for forest-based communities, which is one of only four pilot projects taking place in Canada’s boreal forest region. Once researchers have completed the pilot and reported their findings, the Canadian Forest Service and Canadian Model Forest Network will finalize the program and roll it out to all other communities.