A look back at the long road to Tumbler Ridge’s Community Forest

Some of the many people who have been involved in the Community Forest: (l-r) Mike Caisley, Ray Poulx, Aileen Torraville, Clay Iles, Don McPherson, Harry Prosser, Jerrilyn Schembri, Ellis Howard, Ron Colledge, Tim Caldwell, Duncan McKellar, Darwin Wren, Wojciech Szczesniak, Rob McKay and Doug Beale.

On March 1, the ceremonial first load of wood came out of the Tumbler Ridge Community Forest. It is one of the first steps for the newly-formed Community Forest board, but it marked the end of a long, sometimes rocky road that took over a decade to navigate.

While there had been some early attempts at establishing a logging industry in town, the issue came to a head in 2003, when a Small Business Forest Enterprise program, established by the NDP, came to an end and the now-ruling Liberals changed the focus of logging programs to focus on ensuring maximum revenue and not getting “more people working in the wood,” as Brian Wesleyson, Peace River Liard Timber Sales Manager said in a Vancouver Sun story on May 10, 2003.

One of the prime movers in the creation of the community forest was Harry Prosser, owner of Two Horse Power Logging. He says that, at the time, this new policy looked like it might be the end of horse logging across the province. The new policy meant horse loggers were bidding against machines. “Machine logging can do this for a lot less money because it is not as labour intensive,” Prosser said in the same article.

Prosser tried to get town hall involved in the discussion, but he didn’t make much headway until he talked to then-Economic Development Officer Ray Proulx, who stood up to support the Horse Loggers. Initially, the talks were around protecting this way of life for horse loggers. Development Officer Ray Proulx, who stood up to support the Horse Loggers. Initially, the talks were around protecting this way of life for horse loggers.

Another surprise supporter came in the form of MLA Blaire Lekstrom, a member of the Liberal party. “He said more or less this government won’t help you. But I will work for you. He said that in a public meeting here,” Says Prosser.

Rob Mackay helps Duncan McKellar hang the Communty Forest Sign on the ceremonial first load of wood in preparation for the celebration on March 1.

But that would come later. At the time, Prosser was worried about his way of life. So he and another area logger formed a committee as part of the BC Horse Council. Says Prosser: “I was appointed as spokesmen. I wrote letters to literally everyone. It took me six weeks. I went into Dawson Creek to the paper, and that story was picked up by the PG Citizen, and then it was picked up by the Sun, I was talking with David Anderson, the NDP opposition. I told him there was nothing more I could do, and he said, but everyone knows who you are.”

Turns out that when the story hit the Vancouver Sun, the government took notice, and in 2004, Prosser met a couple of times with then forestry minister Mike de Jong. He argued that the horse loggers, while a more expensive method of logging, were still viable.

Prosser had a hidden ace up his sleeve. “I thought to myself, I have to get this guy’s attention,” says Prosser. “So I did a background check, made some phone calls, checked the internet, and found out his family were farmers down in the Fraser Valley. So when I sat down with him, I said ‘we have farmers here that horse log in winter to make extra income, but I know that you as a lawyer don’t understand this,’ and he tried to interrupt me, and I said ‘please, let me finish here’. So I went on a little bit, but finally let him speak. He said ‘Harry, did you know I was raised on a farm?’ And I said ‘No, I never knew. So you do understand how important this is.”

Around the same time, the Government announced that it was planning on doubling the size of the existing community forest program. According to Prosser, de Jong spoke to him and said “you guys put in for a community forest, and you’ll get it.”

In 2005, 33 new communities were added to the program, including Tumbler Ridge. “When De Jong came and made the announcement that we were going to get one, we hadn’t even finished the paperwork,” says Prosser. It seemed like the perfect ending to the story. But in 2006, everything changed. A large chunk of the proposed community forest went up in smoke in the Hourglass Fire.

It took another two years for the District to submit a new application for a Probationary Community Forestry License, and another three before the license was granted. It was only a few months ago that the official Community Forest Corporation was officially created.

By this time, though, there are no more people horse logging in the area, not even Prosser. “Five years ago in November I had double knee surgery, so I couldn’t do any logging after that.”

Which is, at least for Prosser, the big irony here. The Community Forest was set up to give horse loggers a chance to make a living, and now, there are no more horse loggers. “There’s not enough money, there’s not enough people,” he says ruefully. “What killed horse logging was the pine beetle,” says Prosser. “The margin between the stumpage and what you could get shot out the door.” Prosser says he doesn’t know if there’s anyone doing horse logging in the province anymore. He doesn’t know of anyone in the Peace.

“The Pine beetle killed us; I guess you can’t blame that on the government.”