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The evolution of devolution : evaluation of the community forest agreement in British Columbia Ambus, Lisa Marie

Abstract

In 1998, the government of British Columbia introduced a new form of tenure for community forestry. The Community Forest Agreement (CFA) was envisioned as a unique institutional mechanism for devolution, providing resource-dependent communities and First Nations in B.C. with the authority to set the direction of forest management in their locale, and to create local benefits. Relative to the industrial status quo, there were high expectations of community forestry and what it might achieve. This study empirically tested some of these expectations with respect to B.C.’s Community Forest Program. Taking a realist approach to evaluation, a variety of qualitative research methods were used to critically assess the structure, performance, and outcomes of the CFA. Analysis of the CFA revealed that its structure is virtually identical to tenures designed for industrial forestry with a few minor exceptions. In the current tenure regime, the CFA devolves limited power over strategic decisions and community control largely resides at the operational level, affecting on-the-ground aspects of timber harvesting rather than enabling a broader and more holistic approach to forest management. Outcomes of the CFA generally did not satisfy expectations that communities would commercially harvest botanical non-timber forest products, develop capacity for value-added wood processing, and utilize more environmentally-sensitive harvesting treatments. The study did find that CFAs supported local employment and were more labour intensive than industrial licensees in harvesting and silvicultural activities. Assessing the CFA structure and the on-the-ground outcomes side-by-side, this study suggests that the impediments to realizing a more holistic form of community forestry likely have their roots in the institutional mechanism itself, rather than in the efforts of communities. Flowing from the evaluation are recommendations for government to consider devolving more power over key strategic management decisions and increasing the size of CFAs to improve their economies of scale; and recommendations for communities to build their capacity and critical social mass to leverage policy changes that may further the evolution of community forestry in B.C.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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