Trust for Sustainable Forestry: Cortes Island

Dr. Chris Ling, Post Doctoral Scholar, Royal Roads University
Dr. Ann Dale, Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Community Development, Royal Roads University
Published April 18, 2008

Case Summary

This case study describes the creation and the first project of the Trust for Sustainable Forestry, a small not-for-profit trust created to develop small, ecologically sensitive communities in protected, but working forest environments.

The aim is to demonstrate that the ecological integrity of a forest can be maintained at the same time as providing space for living and allowing the creation of diverse economic occupations. The Trust will maintain and create funds from real estate development to allow the protection of other areas of forest. This development, however, is also in itself sustainable and provides a way of sustaining, but also harvesting forest areas and keeping them out of large-scale industrial forestry or rural/suburban development land uses.

The case identifies a number of key lessons, including the importance of partnerships, a potential drawback of community consultation and the possibility of creating planning zones that support a creative and multifunctional land use model that integrates ecological, social and economic imperatives.

View from Ecovillage

View from the Ecovillage development site

Sustainable Development Characteristics

For any project to be considered sustainable, it must integrate decision-making for all three imperatives of sustainable development – ecological, social and economic (Dale 2001, Robinson and Tinker 1997). It perhaps must also be measured against likely alternatives and what would have been the result of business as usual. 

Financially, the project is funded by the return on investment obtained through the sale of the ecovillage plots – thereby enabling further investment in other sustainable development initiatives elsewhere and the preservation of the remainder of the forest for sustainable forestry. Its contribution to the economic imperative is the development of opportunities for local employment, and manufacturing products from locally sourced materials. The ecological imperative is integrated by the principles of eco-forestry based on a systems approach to the identification of timber resource that can be taken from the forest without reducing the ecological integrity of the forest ecosystem. The creation of live-work opportunities and the retention of resources and employment opportunities locally within the community meet the social imperatives of community development.

It is certainly more sustainable than two other likely alternative scenarios – the clear cutting and loss of the ecological and economic forest resources all together, or a low density rural development, which while possibly retaining some limited ecological functionality would have removed the possibility of the development of sustainable economic activity.

Critical Success Factors

The crucial elements that ensured the success of this project were:

  1. the presence of a small number of key individuals with the vision and the ability to invest in the idea;
  2. the creation of a new Community Land Stewardship zone in partnership with the local municipality that ensured the novel approach to development could be legally adopted; and,
  3. novel multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary partnership with public-private-not for profit on one hand and developer-business-activist-forestry partnerships on the other

Community Contact Information

Doug Makaroff
Living Forest Communities
#21 -21 Dallas Road
Victoria, British Columbia V8V 4Z9

What Worked?

  1. Critical seed investment by community leaders.
  2. The recover of the seed investment using real estate sales to build in stable, iterative financing sources.
  3. Linking development with forest conservation, protecting significant areas of forest from clear cut logging.
  4. The creation of a residential development with a significantly lower development and ecological footprint than typical low density rural development.
  5. The creation of a local sustainable forestry enterprise.
  6. The creation of a new zoning category to allow for this type of residential development in partnership with conservation covenants.

What Didn't Work?

  1. Initial attempts at community partnership and consultation were unsuccessful due to an understandable scepticism and distrust of ‘developers’, a justified concern over dense development and what that meant for the sustainable management of water on the island, and an innate preservationist tendency in the community.
  2. Despite project ideas and consultation with other municipalities, the model has yet to be tested in another locality.
  3. In general, there are currently insufficient resources to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the current sell off of forestry lands owned by large timber companies on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands where private ownership of forestry land is much greater than elsewhere in Canada.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

The initial investment to purchase the Everwoods site came from a small number of wealthy individuals led by Ann Mortifee, a well-known singer and musician. It is anticipated that the return on the investment from the first project, and the activities of the Living Forest Community Company will enable the Trust to be self-sustaining in the long-term.

Research Analysis

The two strands of this case study that have important lessons for the adoption of sustainable community development solutions are the importance of key people (nodes and leaders) and partnerships on one hand, and the recognition of the potential for multifunctional use of the forest resource on the other hand – sustainable and securing the future of the environment for all of those uses. Also interesting, is the reaction of the community to the prospect of development, even a development that seems to present only benefits for the island community, perhaps unique to island and/or smaller communities rather than large urban centres, which may suffer from an over-acceptance of development. The question of scale and limits of development, as well as questions of under, over, and uneven development remain to be seriously addresses by Canadian communities (Newman and Dale, forthcoming).

Key people

The project wouldn’t have started without the leadership of a small group of community leaders with the skills, financial resources and vision to make the project happen, and access to resources outside the community. The community as a whole was not interested, at the time, in a development-led solution to the threat to the forested lands on Cortes Island, and as a result were stuck largely waiting on trusts and charities to take responsibility and ownership of the land – but support from such trusts proved not to be forthcoming, resulting in the sell off of forest land to holding companies largely interested in liquidating the assets of a forestry lot, and then selling the land for development. 

The intervention of the future membership of the Trust for Sustainable Forestry to purchase the land ensured that it was, at least temporarily, taken out of the hands of the asset liquidators. The Trust, however, had to make a return on their investment as it was made up of a small number of individuals rather than a large Land Trust that could raise the money from charitable donations. The Trust had to, therefore, explore methods by which a return could be made on their initial investment. Realistically, this meant liquidating the natural capital on the site – a solution that contradicted the reason for buying the land in the first place.

Key people with business acumen, knowledge of real estate development, environmental expertise and sustainable forestry expertise were on-board with the project, and these skill sets enabled the Living Forest Community concept to be developed, resulting in the preservation of a multiple-use forest.


Both successful and unsuccessful partnership attempts were made in the initial start-up of this project. A key unsuccessful partnership was between the Trust and the community living on Cortes. The goals of the Trust and the community were ultimately the same: a desire to preserve the forest and ensure the resources of the island are protected. However, the way in which the Trust aimed to achieve this goal was greeted with suspicion in the community, perhaps understandably in a province known for unsustainable forestry practices throughout the 70s and 80s.

On Vancouver Island, there is natural resistance to ‘development’ as island resources are limited, and there was no a priori experience or knowledge of the type of residential development proposed by the Trust. In addition, there was an expectation that forestry activity meant clear cutting (as evidenced by previous forestry practices) and, therefore, the project raised suspicions on two fronts. Paradoxically, this resulted in the community partnership being deadlocked. The threat to the land was considered by the Trust to be so imminent that they were prepared to bypass partnering with the community, in order to achieve results.

Once a community partnership is created, is it ever necessary to break it, and what, if any, precedent does this set? Ultimately, this is a question of priorities:  do we believe that democratic decision-making, and community cohesion is more, or less, important than taking swift action in the face of imminent threats. Of course, this ultimately depends on the validity of the concern, and the degree to which the project is in keeping with the vision and concerns of the community. It is also a question perhaps of a vision being ahead of the majority, as sometimes happens with visionaries and new models of governance that are at the edge. There is, therefore, a need for leadership that can demonstrate to the community the compatibility of their vision with the planned development.  Perhaps the failure of the partnership between the Trust and the community could be described as a failure of imagination of the part of the community, and/or a failure of communication on the part of the Trust?

The successful partnership with the municipality compensated for the failure of the partnership with the wider community. This success is probably owed to the more measured and considered approach to decision-making that is available outside of the potentially confrontational atmosphere of community meetings. The partnership with the municipality was vital in the success of the project as it facilitated introduction of the new form of zoning, the CLS zoning. Zoning restrictions have oft been blamed for hindering sustainable land use planning and sustainable urban growth (Dale and Hamilton 2007), and would have done the same here if the Trust had not worked in partnership with the municipality to create a suitable form of zoning. The nature and development of this partnership with the municipality will be explored in the next edition of this case.

Sustainable land use

What makes this project sustainable is the marriage of economic development, community development and the sustainable use of a natural resource, in essence, sustainable development. All this is kept in check by a process of local governance and oversight that will inhibit inappropriate moves away from this model.

At the root of this project, is the belief that economic activity, ecological functionality and the development of society can co-exist in the same area of land without detriment to ecological integrity of a particular ecosystem. Multifunctional land use is one of the suggested solutions to sustainable planning (Selman 2002, Ling et al 2007) and the type of development evidenced in this case study is an example. The creation of a novel governance structure, the local Trust, and the CLS zoning was vital in allowing it to occur. Alternative mono-functional land uses of clear-cutting, low-density residential development or preservation of the forest do not offer as many opportunities nor as stable or sustainable a future as this multifunctional approach.

Detailed Background Case Description

In many parts of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, the major forestry companies are divesting land assets to maintain income levels by liquidating some of their capital: Globe and Mail, Oct 5, 2007.

The level of private, as opposed to Crown, ownership of forestry land on the east coast of Vancouver Island, and the Gulf Islands is unusually high as shown in this BC Government map. The foresty companies' land sales, therefore, affect the land around many communities, and is often at such a scale that it arouses intense local community opposition, such as seen in another case study examining the community response to logging on Salt Spring Island.

In recent years, a substantial amount of land in BC has been sold by the major forestry companies, often to small logging companies or developers, depending on the location and development potential. In a number of situations, this has resulted subsequently in brutal clear cuts, serious ecological damage, and unpopular developments.

In order to prevent this, communities and individuals have devised a number of strategies to oppose such land management changes – some have been covered in another case [link to Salt Spring case] – this case introduces another, initially more personal, example of local leaders influencing, and even controlling land management in the Gulf Islands of BC.

The Trust for Sustainable Forestry, based on Cortes Island, BC identified a potential threat to a 153-acre lot of forestry land for sale by a major logging company. Previous experience from the islands suggested that the land would be purchased by a private logging company, which would then clear cut the site and likely not use non-local labour as  local loggers do not have the industrial logging equipment necessary for clear cutting. So, not only would there be significant damage to the island's ecology, no local economic or social benefits to the community would result from the enterprise.

A few individuals raised money to buy the land in order to develop a sustainable forestry project based on two small, pre-existing, but disused mills found on the site. Their aim was to renovate these mills and then use the remainder of the lot for sustainable forestry to preserve both the social and economic heritage of the site, as well as maintain its natural capital. To pay for this, and to make the project financially sustainable as well as create opportunity to purchase more land elsewhere, part of the 153-acre lot was earmarked for development as an ecovillage, which would then be sold on the open real estate market as the ‘Everwoods’.

This new concept was to develop a closed system with people living on the land, using the forest resources and manufacturing goods from those resources. The development philosophy was to be ‘light-on-the land’ with a dense ecovillage development on the property, and a covenant placed on the remainder of the property to ensure it is managed for eco-forestry in perpetuity. This model of dense development meant that the overall density of the development was no more than the allowed maximum when the lot is taken in the whole, but the clustering of buildings reduces the footprint of the development compared with typical lot-based development. The primary focus was to use the residential development to fund the preservation and sustainable use of the forest.

As there existed a strong preservationist focus within the community, the Trust's new concept met initial and vocal resistance from the island community. In many cases, communities are locked in a cycle of pro versus no development, with the result that in other larger areas, development occurs piece-meal and on an ad hoc basis. The hope in this community was that these lots would be purchased by land trusts and conservation organizations to protect the forest with no development whatsoever. There was also a fear that the island did not have the water resources and services to adequately support more development.

In areas where action hasn’t been taken much more significant ecological damage, however, has occurred through clear cutting processes. The money is not available to buy up the lots for sale for preservation of the forest ecosystem, and so the Trust's form of sustainable development may be the a viable way of preserving forest systems on a large scale – as the business principle behind the process allows for continued investment in other locations based on the success of the first project. There are additional economic and social benefits to the Trust's model.

The 153-acre lot was split into two zones; one where 80 to 90% of the land was placed under a restrictive covenant in partnership with the Land Conservancy of British Columbia. A covenant restricts use of the land for sustainable forestry in perpetuity, with allowable cut limits and management practice limitations and includes the mill, and its operation. The remaining 10 to 20% of the land has been developed for residential use.

A number of development choices were made in both areas of the lot to reduce the impacts, and enhance the benefits of the development. This meant that a different type of zoning was created to allow for the style of development to occur that was substantially different from the typical low density development found on the island. The typical zoning requirements for low density single family homes designed to reduce development to a ‘sustainable’ maximum aimed at reducing the load on, specifically, water resources – but this results in a net development footprint that is much greater than the net development footprint of the ‘hamlet’ model developed for the project. This model is for a cluster (in this case 15) of homes with common infrastructure and a communal strata constitution that create cooperative living within the forest, minimizing the development footprint of infrastructure and services while optimizing the development potential of the 153-acre lot as a whole.

The process of raising money for the project, and ensuring responsible management, resulted in the creation of two entities, one a public-private partnership and the other a public one:  the for-profit Living Forest Communities Company, which handled real estate selling and marketing etc. and the non-profit The Trust for Sustainable Forestry, which co-holds the forestry covenant (with TLC) and also acts as the focus for the locating and purchasing of land for future projects. Profits from the former serve to repay the initial investments to buy the properties and to build up the Trust. To date, the return on investment on Cortes has led to the consideration of a new project opportunity at Shawinigan Lake in BC. Lessons learned from the initial steps of the Cortes project are to encourage the municipality to create an appropriate new zoning types based on the Community Land Stewardship Zone adopted on Cortes for the Everwoods project.

The current position of the community on Cortes will be examined in a future edition of this case study.

Strategic Questions

  1. This project involved multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary partnerships and instigated a multi-use/function landscape development. Is this complexity an inevitable result of an attempt for sustainably developed land us, and an essential component of sustainable development?
  1. Are there tools and techniques that can be used to communicate more effectively to communities the benefits of sustainable development versus traditional development in situations of highly polarized views about development in general? 
  1. Would this trust model be effective in other landscapes, such as grasslands/prairie ecosystems?
  1. Would this model be replicable in other communities, and is it scalable?

Resources and References

Dale, A, 2001, At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st Century, Vancouver: UBC Press

Dale, A. and J. Hamilton. 2007. Sustainable Infrastructure: Implications for Canada’s Future. Final report prepared for SSHRC/Infrastructure research grant

Ling, C, J.F. Handley and J. Rodwell, 2007. Restructuring the post-industrial landscape: A multifunctional approach, Landscape Research, 32(3): 285-309

Robinson, J and Tinker J, 1997, 'Reconciling Ecological, Economic, and Social Imperatives: a New Conceptual Framework' in T. Schrecker (ed.) Surviving Globalism: Social and Environmental Dimensions, London: Macmillan p 71-94 

Selman, P. 2002. Multi-function landscape plans: a missing link in sustainability planning. Local Environment. 7: 283-294.


It is clear that this Trust for Sustainable Forestry: Cortes Island was an initiative due to the present lack of support for land use planning by the provincial government. The provincial government had initiated land use planning in 1994 in response to demonstrations over Clayoquot Sound (British Columbia Government, n.d.). With staffing cutbacks in the natural resource sector, the provincial government ended support for land use planning in 2010. Additionally, Tree Farm Licence legislation and policy still allows for the tenure holders of TFL’s who are major forestry companies to unload their private land and benefit from the liquidation as pointed in the Globe and Mail article of October 5, 2007. Presently there are 34 TFL’s in the province with a high number on Vancouver Island area which are located within a highly constrained land base (British Columbia Government, 2012). As pointed out, in the past local residents of Cortes Island having experienced the forestry practices of the 1970’s and 1980’s has encouraged distrust towards any forestry development. The past practices included clear cut logging, no hiring of local labour and significant damage to the island’s ecology. As noted this created strong resistance from the local residents in discussing any ideas of development, even towards the Trust for Sustainable Forestry initiative, proving extremely challenging.

It is interesting that the resistance by the community towards this initiative proved to be so strong that the Trust considered working around the community. Upon completion the zone resulted into two zones: 80% to the Land Conservancy allowing sustainable forestry and 20% to the residential development known as the “ecovillage.” I wonder if it was fully recognized by the community upon completion of this project, that the alternative, the selling of the TFL area to a developer, could have resulted in a significantly different outcome?

Question 1.
Answer: Absolutely, I believe that was the success in this project that in developing the structure of the landscape development, involvement across all sectors, partners and recognizing a multi-use function aspect was required. This project is incorporating multi factors to be addressed. People living in a natural and important ecological environment where there also resides a highly economic value in the forest to the province. In other words, the three imperatives of sustainable development are at consideration: ecological, social and economic (Dale 2001, Robinson and Tinker 1997).

Question 2.
Answer: A presentation by forestry industry leaders that could explain and reinforce that improvements in forestry practices have occur today versus in the 1970’s and 1980’s to influence people’s understanding that progress has been made. This is a difficult message to convene as people are somewhat skeptical. Examples of how court cases and societal pressure continue force amendments to forestry legislation and policies for the purpose of developing better business practices. Presentations by successful communities that have incorporated ecological, social and economic factors in their development and supported sustainable development, can reassure residents that all can be achieved if carefully thought through (Dale 2001, Robinson and Tinker 1997).

Question 3.
Answer: I will speak from my own experience living in the Cariboo Region of British Columbia. Population is concentrated in Williams Lake, Quesnel and 100 Mile (roughly a 14,000 population per each community). The Cariboo Region has experienced a significant mountain pine beetle epidemic in the past 10 years causing an acceleration of lodgepole pine harvesting. The allowable annual cut in all 3 timber supply areas has increased significantly to enable the harvesting of wood when it is most economical and to enable reforestation in impacted forest stands. The Cariboo Region due to these specific local challenges is presently dealing with the cumulative effect of multiple forestry decisions occurring in concentrated areas. This has been recognized by government officials, industry and first nations. I believe that until this situation affects a mass number of people who want to reside in these vast forest landscapes, this trust model will not be applicable. On Cortes Island with significant logging planned in a constrained area with long time residents, this Trust for Sustainable Forestry model was suitable for this particular landscape.

Question 4.
Answer: can see this model being replicated in other places especially where the same factors existed as on Cortes Island. Three factors were occurring that supported a successful plan: wealthy participants, interested residents and leaders that followed through with the plan. The most challenging factor when applying this model to another community would be securing the financial resources to set up a Trust.
Instead of having to rely on individual financial resources to address a land use planning problem, pressure needs to be applied to the provincial government to support land use planning and to change TFL legislation to prevent or discourage the selling of the private land component within the tenure.

Dale, A. (2001). at the edge. sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver:
UBC Press.
British Columbia Government (2012). Provincial Map of Tree Farm Licences, Timber Supply Areas, Regions. Received from
British Columbia Government. (n.d.) Integrated Land Management Bureau. Land Use Planning. Received from
Robinson, J. & Tinker, J. (1997). Reconciling Ecological, Economic, and Social Imperatives. In T. Schrecker (Ed.), Surviving Globalism: Social and Environmental Dimensions, (pp. 71-94). London: MacMillan.