British Columbia

Vancouver Island group raises money to buy beloved forest lands from logging company

Fifteen years ago, a community group in Cumberland bought its first private timber lot from a logging company, so it could conserve it as a forest. Now, it's back for more.

Latest fundraiser garnered over $2M for 91.4 hectares of forest, including part of Perseverance Creek

Fifteen years ago, the Cumberland Community Forest Society bought its first private timber lot, from a logging company, so it could conserve it as a forest. Now, it's back for more. (Cumberland Community Forest Society/Facebook)

A group of Vancouver Islanders are not letting the COVID-19 pandemic interfere with plans to expand their strategy of preserving the forestry lands surrounding their village. 

The Cumberland Community Forests Society, formed in 2000, has been purchasing the private timber lots surrounding their village and conserving them as protected forest lands. 

Meaghan Cursons, the group's executive director, said it was able to purchase its first lot in 2005, over 72 hectares of forest for $1.2 million, and another adjacent 40 hectares in 2016.

Cursons credits the group's persistence for their success.

"We're not the first community organization that has said to a timber company 'please don't log our favourite place,'"she told host Kathryn Marlow on CBC's All Points West

"But we took a different approach here and went, 'okay, here's the economic reality we're working in. This is privately owned land and has been for 150 years' ...  [but] it's a unique opportunity because of a willing seller."

Meaghan Cursons is the executive director of the Cumberland Community Forests Society. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

In mid-March, the group was raising its final $150,000 of a total $2.38 million for 91.4 hectares along Perseverance Creek, southwest of the previously purchased lands.

Listen to the interview with Meaghan Cursons on CBC's All Points West:

Cursons says while the group has received help from conservation groups and the Village of Cumberland, at least half of the fundraising has come from grassroots efforts like plant sales, trivia nights, and organizing trail runs. 

"This town is amazing. This valley is amazing," she said. "You're in a town of less than 4,000 people here."

Unfortunately, all of their planned fundraisers — including a massive trivia night — had to be cancelled because of the physical distancing measures implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Nevertheless, the group still managed to reach its goal through some last-minute donations. It's now working through the legal and transactional processes to complete the purchase.

"The world turned upside down for a lot of people, but the commitment to this forest and the conservation effort continued," Cursons said. 

Cursons says ultimately the forest itself has been a great solace during the pandemic.

"It's been ... grounding in this really complicated time," she said.  "It's just been an incredible gift that this community has accomplished together."

With files from All Points West