Visions of the MCFC: The Past, Present, and Future of our Community Forest from the Perspective of our Original Board Members
Originally published August, 2018
As many of you know the MCFC has now gone into a year long extension of our three-year lease on crown land as a pilot project with the Department of Lands and Forestry (previously DNR). Now that the Lahey Report has come out, we will be able to go into talks with the Department of Lands and Forestry about a long-term lease. Before we go into this, it is nice to look back at where we’ve come from and remember the visions that started the community forest, reflect on where we are now, and think about our hopes for the future. To gather this information, I have interviewed the people who have been with the MCFC from the beginning, namely our original board members.
Our board members spent a great deal of our interview time remembering the past and the steps they took to help create the MCFC. Most board members became interested in establishing some kind of forest reserve or sustainable forestry operation in the area after hearing about successful forests that had been protected in some way in other regions. Community Forestry did not come to most board member’s minds until 2011 when it was mentioned in “The Path We Share” a document produced by the Provincial Government of Nova Scotia. Soon after this, a working group backed by the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute became interested in establishing a small community forest on the MTRI land base behind their main building. Also around the same time, a campaign called Buy Back the Mersey came into existence. This campaign was started because the forestry company Bowater had recently gone out of business and the public wanted to prevent a new international corporation from taking over the land that had been vacated. The provincial government bought this land and it became crown land. After many meetings and deliberations, the working group that had been interested in a piece of land behind MTRI expanded their view to a portion of the new crown land and pitched their idea for a community forest in the area to the provincial government. Although the original vision of most board members involved multiple community forests working together, there was still great excitement on the board when the MCFC was chosen as the pilot project for community forestry in Nova Scotia in 2013.
The board members all expressed their feelings of elation after they knew that the MCFC was going to come into existence. The path to community forestry in Nova Scotia had not been an easy one. Many board members professed that one of the biggest problems they had faced in this process was not getting discouraged with the many setbacks they faced in establishing the forest and the slow pace of government. The waiting game that they had to face after submitting the proposals was so disheartening. However, they took heart in the unwaning enthusiasm of other board members and in the end it paid off! The MCFC became the first community forest to be established in Nova Scotia.
The board members also touched on the feelings of the community about the establishment of a community forest in the region. Some community members were genuinely excited with the idea of the creation of the community forest in the region, but the committee did experience some pushback. There was concern that the community forest was not going to be a working forest and that it would become another protected park with no cutting taking place. The MCFC tried to address this in our first year by doing our first cutting as soon as was possible without negatively impacting the environment. In advertising this cut on social media and the website, we hoped that we would reassure some concerned community members.
During our interviews the board members touched on something that has really inspired them about being on the board of the MCFC. There were several topics that were brought up. Some board members talked about how happy they were to be part of a board that includes a variety of voices and points of view. This mix of people allows the board to make decisions that better support the views of the community. Others talked about how exciting it is to be part of an atmosphere of change. Board members also talked about how they have been inspired by our manager Mary Jane. As a young woman in a non-traditional field, they were impressed by her determination, grit, and her willingness to go above and beyond to get jobs done.
When asked about the community forest as it is now the board members were pleased to note that we haven’t lost our vision. Although we have come through many struggles to get here and we will go though many more, we are continuing to try to do things in a different way from how they have been done in Nova Scotia so far, whilst doing our best to include community voices.
When talking about the future of the MCFC, board members expressed the hope that we stay strong and enthusiastic going forward. We want to keep the spirit of experiment to show people new options in forest management and show how they can work in practice. Board members also expressed the wish for us to achieve financial stability through new revenue streams, and for us to be able to make more community-based decisions.
The interviews that I conducted with board members seemed to have a similar theme of hope. The board members remembered their past joys and frustrations in establishing the community forest, reflected on the present state of the forest, and expressed their visions for our future. Although we face many frustrations as the first community forest in Nova Scotia, we continue to be hopeful and excited for our future, and those of us who work for the MCFC are so happy to have a strong board of directors to support us as we go forward.
A special thank you to Jane Barker, Katie McLean, and Jim Crooker for the interviews!