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By Jim Stirling

British Columbia's three major beetle action coalition groups are reporting solid progress toward divining road maps for a prosperous future.

The groups were established so the people most affected by the downturn in timber supply caused by the mountain pine beetle epidemic could have a say in how their communities can best adapt and thrive. Funded by the provincial and federal governments, the coalitions’ grassroots work is an object lesson in challenges and opportunities.

The Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition (C-CBAC) is the trailblazer organization, formed in 2004. Keith Dufresne, the coalition’s manager, says an important result has already been achieved: “A positive, productive and forward looking perspective in regards to the unprecedented mountain pine beetle epidemic.”

In the last couple of years, the group has completed 14 economic and social strategies including more than 250 people in advisory and steering committees and extensive liaison with local citizens and government agencies.

The C-CBAC has hosted five workshop/tours in beetle affected areas, received the full engagement of three First Nations language groups and kept elected officials from local to federal levels up to speed with what’s going on. That process includes an assessment of future infrastructure requirements in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.

Dufresne says other recently completed or continuing projects focus on: forest worker transition issues; climate change and waterlands and social development/community stability.

A compilation of the work is contained in the Cariboo-Chilcotin Regional Community Diversification and Mountain Pine Beetle Mitigation Plan.

Dufresne says the plan will present the scope of the problem to communities and propose opportunities for them to grow, expand and diversify. Dufresne believes the plan can become the catalyst for something perhaps more important: “To create trusting and long lasting partnerships between and within communities, the regions and provincial and federal governments.”

The Omineca Beetle Action Coalition (OBAC) encompasses a geographic area of some 13 million hectares from the BC/Alberta border west to Smithers and into the north Peace country. Activities within the OBAC have been gathering momentum, reports Elizabeth Andersen, the coalition’s general manager.

The group has identified 11 focus areas and produced two strategy plans addressing minerals and mining exploration and alternative energy respectively. The coalition adopted a three phase approach to a strategy addressing future forest products and fibre. Its components were a discussion paper, a community level debate and input from a committee of experts. Their board believes the dimension lumber business will be there but they’re also looking at the range of expectations from the forest land base and what type of fibre flow there will be to drive them, summarizes Andersen.

The coalition’s Integrated Regional Infrastructure Strategy examines the existing road, rail, airport, port and telecommunication corridors and the role of these foundation items in diversification.Other strategy plans underway include one on community and social services support—as people move through transition stages—and another on labour retention and attraction.

“With each strategy, we look at where we are, what could be and what might happen if we move in a given direction,” explains Andersen. “We create a vision.”She says OBAC is not in the business of telling communities what to do. Rather, she adds, the role is to facilitate and enable communities to pursue the most promising opportunities.

The Southern Interior Beetle Action Coalition is the third major group designed to help forest industry-dependent communities. It’s been around about two years and a half and has the advantage of learning what to do and what not to do from the other groups’ experiences, points out David Laird, coalition chair and Mayor of Merritt.

The group is structured around nine regional districts, including the Thompson, Okanagan and Kootenay valleys, and six tribal associations, which were involved from day one, says Laird.

“We’re not taking a cookie-cutter approach,” he asserts, despite the region’s size and diverse economic structure.

The coalition’s first major strategies include an analysis of the region’s 11 Timber Supply Areas (about 40 per cent are pine mix stands) plus an economic and social planning report.

“I’m very confident we will come up with some very useful information on timber supply and fibre movements as well as social and economic planning which will go community to community including First Nations,” outlines Laird.