Even though their federal funding expires in March, there’s confidence that the Prince Albert Model Forest won’t come to an end.
© Herald photo by Tyler Clarke
Prince Albert Model Forest general manager Susan Carr is seen outside of the Prince Albert Forest Centre, where they share an office with the Saskatchewan Forestry Association.
“Because we’ve managed to develop such strong supportive partnerships, it’s kept us going,” general manager Susan Carr said.
Partnerships are what the Prince Albert Model Forest is all about -- a necessity for an organization that’s seen its annual budget drop from $1 million when it was formed in 1992, to its present $75,000.
The current budget is “just enough to keeps our lights on and to pretty much cover our salaries,” Carr explained. “It’s right down to a base minimum, now.”
The Prince Albert Model Forest is one of 15 in Canada, sparked in the early ’90s by a need to ensure forest management techniques were sustainable.
“The initial idea of it, back then, was to create Canada’s largest outdoor laboratory for sustainable resource development, developing the research (and) the tools to make forestry procedures more sustainable,” Carr explained.
This is still their goal, she said, but after the forestry sector’s downturn a few years ago they’ve found themselves more diversified.
“We’re more about, rather than forestry, we’re about sustainable communities in forests,” she said.
“How do we find other industries other than forestry to keep people finding jobs in their own communities, so the youth won’t have to leave their home communities into cities? How can we find things for them to do?”
Since their beginnings in 1992, they’ve also expanded their focus from a limited area around Prince Albert to the entire province and further.
Carr remains in constant communication with the other 14 model forest in Canada, as well as occasionally the 60 model forest in 30 countries that were modelled after Canada’s organizations.
Currently operating with a staff of two, including Carr and Mika Carriére, they already rely heavily on partnerships, with the Prince Albert Model Forest serving mainly as a neutral facilitator for various efforts related to the economy, culture and environmental sustainability.
One effort that Carr cites as one of her proudest is the Saskatchewan Resource Ranger Program, which the Prince Albert Model Forest co-ordinates with partners.
The six-week employment program takes kids aged 16 to 18 out into the forestry field to teach them the ins and outs of the industry, in their own communities.
“They learn all about, and get certified, in all kinds of resource-related fields,” Carr said, citing several certifications that are earned through the program that get them job-ready.
The Prince Albert Model Forest is also contracted for work with other agencies.
Carriére is currently in the Cumberland House area gathering traditional knowledge from elders, as well as transcripts from conversations with elders that were recorded by members of the community.
We’re more about, rather than forestry, we’re about sustainable communities in forests ... How do we find other industries other than forestry to keep people finding jobs in their own communities, so the youth won’t have to leave their home communities into cities? How can we find things for them to do? Prince Albert Model Forest general manager Susan Carr
This is part of a contract with the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement to collect knowledge from throughout the Pasquia Porcupine Forest Management area.
Despite contracts such as this, and one with the provincial government to co-ordinate community engagement for woodland caribou research, the organization’s funding is almost gone, Carr said.
In hopes of ensuring what has been decided by the federal government to be their final funding year, ending March 31, isn’t their last as an entity, supporters have been sending letters of support to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.
“The network has been (a) crucial source of information and opportunity in our development of best practices/ management and youth capacity,” a letter from Beardy’s and Okemasis Band representative Alfred Gamble reads.
“With the current social and economic issues that our community faces, it is imperative that we access every initiative available to alleviate stress factors that inhibit our development and future securities.”
Gamble’s letter lists 12 ways that the Prince Albert Model Forest has helped, including the training of more than 100 students through the Saskatchewan Resource Ranger Program, wildlife monitoring, a program that helps them build their own houses, and the publishing of a book on the history of Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nations, among other efforts.
The Prince Albert Model Forest has had an impact much further than the province or nation, with the Swedish Forest Agency citing the organization with helping build their Vilhelmina Model Forest, as outlined in a letter of support on behalf of the group.
In a letter addressed to Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback asking for his support, Carr writes that the 15 model forests across Canada have served as a “societal innovation hub for communities across Canada when it comes to advancing forest issues from a sustainable development perspective.
“Model Forests support countless organizations in working together at the landscape level through partnership approaches.”
Somehow, either with a funding extension, partnership, merger or something else, Carr said that she’s confident there’s enough support for the organization continue past its March 31 funding expiry.
The Daily Herald will follow this story as it develops.