The Medway Community Forest Co-op is getting closer to reality, after initial approval from the Department of Natural Resources.
Now the group needs to work out the finer details to get final approval on their proposal.
"This is the first real community forest in Nova Scotia," says Jane Barker, a member of the co-op's board of directors.
Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia all have community forest networks, which gives them examples to look at to help them create their own model.
"It's something very new and exciting for Nova Scotia, but we have a lot of catching up to do," says Barker.
Work on bringing a community forest to the area started in December 2012, after the provincial government announced they would accept proposals for community forests on crown land. This was at the same time the government announced it would purchase the Bowater mill site and all of the lands held by the company in Nova Scotia, totaling around 550,000 acres.
There were only two proposals submitted to the provincial government, the Medway Community Forest Co-op and the St. Margaret's Bay Co-op. The Medway proposal, the only one accepted, covers around 15,000 hectares of land, the maximum allowed for a co-op.
Getting the proposal accepted was no easy feat however. They had to outline how they would handle an extensive list of requirements. The document had to explain how they would get community support, partner with the business community and work with current forest users and owners.
They also had to discuss how they would work with the government, show understanding of businesses that work in forest products in the area, who the customers would be for their products, outline a forest management plan and create a business case for the proposal.
"It was a huge amount of work that went into creating the proposal," says Peter Jones, a member of the co-op's board of directors.
The final proposal totaled 125 pages, plus appendices.
There is a misconception that a community forest means the land becomes a protected area, says Barker. Protection means the land is very limited in uses; however community forests have broad economic potential.
The uses cover a broad range as well, including the usual forest related products to innovative ideas like harvesting wild mushrooms for commercial ventures. Basically the forest can be used for any economic venture, with one caveat.
"The main thing that holds true is the forest is managed sustainably in the long term," says Barker.
The main difference between the land being used by a private owner versus a community forest is that it has to benefit the community in some way.
"In the future should any profits be derived (by the cooperative), they are redirected back to managing the forest or community initiatives," says Jane Barker.
Community support is a key part of making the co-op work, she adds. It isn't about what a small board of directors wants, it is about what the community wants to see the land used for. When first forming the group, they held public meetings that found support was high.
The community forest is not about competing with existing landowners either.
"We really want the community forest to benefit and not compete with private woodlot owners," says Barker.
There is still work to be done on how that will happen, but they plan on working with woodlot owners to make sure it does.
Going from here
The co-op was originally created with five people on the board of directors, including Barker and Jones, and in moving to the next steps they have expanded it into an interim board of 11. Those on the board cover a wide variety of backgrounds, from forestry contractors, woodlot owners, municipal councillors, the Nova Scotia Cooperative Council, Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute, and they hoping to get first nations representation on the board as well.
This interim board will move forward for now until they can hold an election in the next year.
There is still plenty of work to be done before they get operational.
"The key thing is to negotiate with the government the license to operate on the land," says Jones. That will take up to six months.
They also have to create a governance for the board, negotiate responsibilities of between them and the government and looking at outside sources of funding to sustain them until they start working the land.