Language selection


Community forests manage for multiple values at multiple scales in increasingly uncertain landscapes

What is a community forest?

Indigenous Peoples and local communities were legally recognized as having owned at least 447 million hectares (Mha) of forest land in the world with legally designated rights over an additional 80 Mha, for a total of 14% of the global forest area.

An estimated 36% of the world’s remaining intact forest landscapes are on Indigenous lands.

A community forest advances sustainable forest management based on:

  • local values
  • local benefits
  • local decision-making

Community forests are a unique form of tenure that differ from most provincial forest tenures that grant licences to forest companies to harvest specified forest areas or timber volume on Crown land over the long term. Most provinces and territories in Canada have some type of community forests with the majority concentrated in British Columbia (BC), Ontario and Québec. The definitions of community forestry and the legal frameworks that enable it to vary from province to province. They range from special licences issued by a province to co-management with a province, industry joint ventures and Indigenous-led initiatives. Each community forest is unique, since the local community manages it and sets goals according to their values. Community forests also offer an avenue for governments and the private sector to engage in forest-sector partnerships with Indigenous Nations.

Examples of community forests across Canada

In BC…

BC is unique in Canada with its area-based forest licence called the Community Forest Agreement (CFA). The tenure was introduced in 1998 in response to a decade of conflict over forest management and calls for greater community control.

  • BC currently has 60 CFA holders, ranging from 361 to 184,682 hectares.
  • Half of CFAs are held by Indigenous Nations or in partnership with non-Indigenous communities.
  • Licences are long-term, granting communities the exclusive right to harvest timber and manage botanical forest products within a fixed area. 
  • Governance is by community-based entities, including community corporations, limited partnerships, societies and co-ops.

Twenty-five years later, CFA licence holders are demonstrating the success of this model and are creating multiple benefits for rural and Indigenous communities, including:

  • local jobs
  • community dividends
  • investments in education, infrastructure and recreation
  • re-investments in forests for enhanced stewardship, climate change adaptation and wildfire risk reduction

Since 2002, BC has signed forestry agreements, including CFAs, with 177 First Nations, providing more than $382 million in revenue-sharing and access to more than 181 million m3 of timber.

First Nations in BC hold tenures representing 13% of the provincial allowable annual cut—up from less than 3% in 2001.

In addition to CFAs, in 2019, BC added another area-based, long-term licence that has contributed to the forest area managed by First Nations—the First Nations Woodland Licence.

While the rights conferred by a CFA are limited to harvesting timber, the benefits are more than just economic. Many CFAs go above and beyond legal requirements and are creating social, cultural and ecological benefits for their communities. This is in part due to provincial policies that support the unique nature of these tenures by providing a degree of autonomy and flexibility, while keeping more of the economic benefit from resource revenues local.

To date, the success of BC’s CFAs, as a particular legal framework to enable community forests, comes from supportive provincial forest policies, local ingenuity, as well as persistent local advocacy and collaboration.

The BC Community Forestry Association (BCCFA, 2022) reported that CFAs created 0.48 full-time local jobs/1,000 m3 in forestry, logging, and support services, which is approximately 76% greater than the industry average.

Almost 80% of BCCFA survey respondents made cash and/or in-kind contributions averaging $423,327 with an additional $38,516 in in-kind contributions. The total in-kind contribution was over $1 million.

The BCCFA reported an average of just over $100,000 from each CFA for investments in enhanced or modified management for ecological or social reasons.

A case study of the Haida Nation

The Haida Nation on Haida Gwaii (Xaayda Gwaay.yaay) in BC pursued its own path to bring forest management under local control after concerns were raised about the rate and methods of timber harvesting on the island. Several initiatives focused on building alliances between the Haida and local non-Indigenous communities. The Islands Community Stability Initiative (ICSI) began in 1995, long before BC’s Community Forest Agreements began to be signed in 2000. ISCI submitted a proposal for a community forest pilot project.

While unsuccessful in securing a Community Forest Agreement, negotiations emerged from this application process that produced a land use plan guided by an ecosystem-based management (EBM) framework, a process initiated in 2003 and eventually signed as the Strategic Land Use Agreement (SLUA) in 2007. The SLUA was as much a product of long-standing Haida opposition, campaigns, and non-violent civil resistance as it was of provincial-Haida negotiations. The 2010 Haida Gwaii Land Use Order (the Order), signed by the BC and Haida governments, succeeded the SLUA. The Order incorporated EBM, an integrated management strategy for natural resources that promotes equitable sustainable use and conservation.

The Order is based on co-operation and a foundation of Western law incorporating spatial delineations of Haida values. It is unique and directly derived from the Haida community forest development process. The Order brings together Haida cultural values and overlays them on a Western model of resource management. It is an effort to reconcile the Western and Haida worldviews of stewardship. Moreover, it is an ongoing experiment to incorporate the traditional with the modern, admittedly within a framework that is based largely on Western management principles. Communities on Haida Gwaii trust and prefer a working relationship and co-management with the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) over current requirements by the Ministry of Forests to partner with BC Timber Sales. While this does not preclude future relationships between the CHN and the Province of BC, it does illustrate that Haida Nation members feel the CHN holds and demonstrates a greater responsiveness to local concerns.

About the same time as the Order was signed, in 2010, the Haida Enterprise Corporation (HaiCo), the economic arm of the Haida Nation, formed Taan Forest Products. Taan adopted the Haida value of “yahguudang,” meaning “respect for all living things and the interdependence that binds us.” Taan received Forest Stewardship Council certification for its high forest management standards.

Decision makers are informed by setting and monitoring spatially measurable attributes by licensees and the province. However, the Haida approach is not perfect. The Haida Nation’s ability to gather information about community lands and cultural features is limited. Western management overrides Haida traditional management in areas where resource use is permitted by BC. This is offset by providing buffer zones for Haida cultural features to protect them from resource exploitation and timber harvest damage. These restrictions allow the Haida to develop a different and adaptive approach to resource management. The lack of enabling legal frameworks that include the sharing of benefits and having a strategic influence on decision-making is a challenge for the successful negotiation of collaborative arrangements.

Haida Gwaii serves as an example of the primacy of relationship building and trust for the implementation of EBM and shared decision-making. While governance is complicated by the local context, it is constantly evolving and is not “one-size-fits-all.” The recognition of Haida cultural features and the shared mandate to monitor and evaluate current logging practices are essential to disrupting the history of colonialism, distrust, and discrimination experienced by the Haida people. The Haida continue to pursue their own path with the Province of BC through a range of strategic and operational agreements, demonstrating that there are many ways to define “community forestry”.

Across Canada…

  • In 2021, Community Forests International announced a climate change action collaboration—the Common Ground Project—on the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik with the Ulnooweg Development Group, which supports Indigenous initiatives and the Nova Scotia Family Forest Centre.
  • Nova Scotia implemented a pilot project with the Medway Community Forest Cooperative in 2013. On Cape Breton, the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, representing five Mi’kmaq communities, is working with the Province of Nova Scotia on shared governance of the Kluscap Wilderness Area. This is part of a growing trend across Canada to promote Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs).
  • In New Brunswick, community organizations like the Conservation Council of NB and Falls Brook Centre have promoted community forests for decades. The Upper Miramichi Community Forest Partnership has also made efforts to establish a community forest.
  • The Model Forest of Newfoundland and Labrador promotes partnerships among government, industry, academia, environmental and community organizations to collectively find solutions to promote sustainable forest management. The Innu of Labrador have worked with the province to develop a mutually acceptable ecosystem-based forest management plan, which includes establishing protected areas based on a 2003 interim agreement.
  • An interesting example of innovative forest management and tenure is the Algonquin First Nation of Kitigan Zibi. On their own reserve “common lands,” they focus on the ecology and environment, promoting biodiversity to mitigate climate change. Off reserve, on Québec public lands that are still part of their traditional territory, the Natural Resource and Wildlife Office carries out silvicultural contracts that provide well-paid employment to community members and ensure the Office is financially viable.
  • Ontario’s community forest pilot project lasted five years in the 1990s. In the mid-2000s, following an economic collapse in the forest sector, Ontario brought in two new forms of tenure: Enhanced Sustainable Forest Licences and Local Forest Management Corporations. Both required a broader range of stakeholders on licence holder boards, particularly Indigenous and local community representation. While a few of these may be considered community forests, Ontario has not gone as far as other jurisdictions to introduce a specific community forest licence.
  • In the Prairie provinces, Indigenous-industry partnerships are emerging. In Manitoba in 2018, Canadian Kraft Paper and Nekoté, a corporation representing seven First Nations, formed a 50-50 partnership—the Nisokapawino Forestry Management Corporation—to co-manage almost nine million hectares of northern Manitoba boreal forest. This is the largest forest tenure in North America overlapping with the traditional territories of nine First Nations.
  • In Saskatchewan, Sakâw Askiy Management Inc. is a partnership of eight industry and First Nation groups holding the Prince Albert Forest Management Agreement for just over three million hectares of boreal forest. The business model is designed to give operating decision-making rights to local knowledge holders.
  • In Alberta, municipalities and local organizations are following a North American trend to establish urban Community Food Forests to provide food and ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and water management.
  • The Yukon First Nations Land Claims Settlement Act and the Forest Resources Act provide for Renewable Resource Councils (RRCs). Both the territorial government and First Nations are responsible for determining membership in the RRCs, which act as an avenue for First Nations to provide input into the management of renewable resources. Similarly, in the Northwest Territories under land claim agreements, First Nations have established RRCs and Renewable Resource Boards for settlement lands. Some First Nations are developing their own forest management plans.
  • While most community forests are established on Crown land, many are also located on private lands. One good example is the Eastern Ontario Model Forest, made up primarily of private landowners.

A path forward for community forestry in Canada

More communities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, want local forests to be managed in a way that meets community values and expectations. Many are learning from the successes and challenges of existing community forests and seeking to secure forest management rights for their communities. Nearly 30 years on, continued advocacy, policy learning, and forest policy reforms are needed if governments want to support additional and thriving community forests. Reforms include redistributing harvesting rights to Indigenous and rural communities, promoting changes to forest management regulations that reduce the emphasis on timber management, promote management of non-timber forest products and ecosystem services, and broaden the scope of management rights to allow more autonomy and flexibility for local solutions.

There remains a need to expand the diversity of tenure arrangements and increase the quality of interaction between non-Indigenous stakeholders and Indigenous Nations. Reconciliation based on a recognition of Indigenous rights, social licence and trust is achieved one conversation at a time.

Both provinces and the federal government have a role to play in supporting community forests. Community forests provide a collective approach to sustainable forest management based on a recognition of Indigenous rights, shared benefits and local decision making.

Page details

Report a problem on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: