What is a Community Forest?
A “community forest” is a forest owned and managed to provide secure and reliable access to the ecological, social, economic, and cultural benefits produced and provided by the forest. The local community plays a significant role in decision making around how the forest is managed and used. It involves collaboration between various stakeholders, community members, governments, and non-government organizations (NGOs). Use and management of the forest is decided upon based on the needs of the community, including public health, environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and social uses such as recreation and education.
Why is establishing a community forest important?
Summer water shortages caused by low streamflows negatively impact water quality and the health of fish habitat. If low streamflows are not addressed, water shortages for local farmers and other water users will continue to occur more frequently and with greater severity. With climate change, we also need to do more now to recover our endangered salmon species . A study for Whatcom County assessed a wide variety of proposals that would increase streamflows through various means. Of the 32 projects considered, the proposal to improve forest management practices through a community forest model on Stewart Mountain was the highest ranked project across numerous metrics, which included supporting the local forestry economy.
All forest management activities within the SMCF will be guided by three primary objectives:
- Restore hydrologic functions in the South Fork Nooksack River Watershed
- Restore local employment opportunities throughout the forestry sector
- Increase engagement and interest in community-based forest stewardship.
What role does the community play in the decision making process?
Over the next 12 months, partner organizations will be engaging the community with outreach events where community members are asked to give input and sign up to get involved in the project. Researchers from partner organizations are also conducting a study on best practices from established community forests in the Pacific Northwest. This study will provide recommendations for a Stewart Mountain Community Forest (SMCF) ownership and organizational structure.
Will the community forest still be actively managed? If so, what kind of forest practices will occur?
Stewart Mountain Community Forest will be actively managed for wood products and watershed enhancement. Ecologically based forest management is the model which will be used, using an approach called “Variable Density Thinning”. This is a more labor intensive approach, which yields more lumber per tree, promotes a mixed-age, biodiverse forest, and restores hydrological function.
How will I be able to use this space?
SMCF will provide public access for recreational, cultural, and educational uses. There will be trails for hikers who want to explore this biodiverse forest and the banks of the South Fork Nooksack River. SMCF will also be a site for environmental education and ecology/forestry research. Local timber industry employers will be contracted for forestry operations, maintaining good forestry jobs in the South Fork Nooksack Valley, and restoring traditional uses for the Nooksack Indian tribe.