Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist, Saturday, May 10, 2008
A federal cash infusion of almost $1.5 million over the next five years will help forest-dependent communities around Clayoquot Sound find new ways of creating a viable industry.

In a dismal week for the forest industry, against a backdrop of closing mills and laid-off workers, a spark of hope was ignited in Tofino Friday with the launch of the Clayoquot Forest Communities Program.

Nuu-chah-nulth Central Region Management Board and Ecotrust Canada are partners in the program which will help the Districts of Tofino and Ucluelet and the First Nations communities of Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Toquaht, Ucluelet and Tla-o-qui-aht look for ways to diversify forestry.

Clayoquot was chosen as one of 11 model forests across the country.

"We want to help communities to be more innovative," said Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn, in an interview after the program launch.

"There is an infectious enthusiasm by all the participants here."

Although the forest industry faces challenges, there are ways to look for new business opportunities, Lunn said.

"Everyone is very confident the industry will continue to emerge as a major part of our economy, but it is going to change," he said.

Program manager Elmer Frank already has his mind working on ideas such as value-added production, portable mills, riparian restoration and salmon habitat enhancement.

"I believe there are opportunities for the forest industry which are not necessarily logging," Frank said.

The program will not provide infrastructure, but will help with research, land-use mapping, tourism planning and feasibility studies.

"Our challenge is to work together as communities to build a more diversified and resilient local economy," Frank said.

Although tourism is a major draw in the Clayoquot area, communities are still struggling with the collapse of the fisheries and forest industries during the last decade.

Unemployment runs as high as 70 per cent in some of the more remote communities.

jlavoie@tc.canwest.com