A Special Place, a Unique Vision
Lot 1127 seems an ordinary name for such an extraordinary place: 153 acres of pristine waterfront forestland overlooking Desolation Sound on Cortes Island, a jewel in the necklace of islands strung along British Columbia's west coast.
Our journey began in 2002 when I, Ann Mortifee, and three good friends, Ron Bazar, Ron Wolda and Bill Friedel, heard that the land next door to our community was coming up for sale and the only people bidding on it were commercial clear-cut logging companies. None of us could face the thought of the devastation that was to come. In a moment of madness we decided to form a small company of our own, Eco Initiatives Inc., and see if we could buy the land, rezone it, place an ecoforestry covenant on it and create a community with just enough sites to pay for the land to be protected. Our difficulty was that none of us had money enough to pay the $1.15 million to finance the vision.
I remember walking along the waterfront one afternoon. I stopped and looked back at the forest. “To Whom it may concern,” I said out loud. “If we are going to take such a huge risk, I think I should have a sign that we are making the right decision.” And then for some unknown reason I continued, “If you place a white eagle tail feather on the beach today, I will give all that I have to bring this vision about.”
Fortunately, it was not the time of year when eagles are molting, so I was fairly confident that no feather would appear. I walked about 50 yards down the beach, rounded a large boulder and there lying on a fresh green bed of seaweed was a perfect white eagle tail feather. “Oh Lord,” I said as I picked it up, “Now I am really in for it.” And that started some of the most challenging years of my life.
Somehow, and I am still not quite sure how, we convinced Weyerhaeuser, the owner of the land, to carry the mortgage for a year. With all the enthusiasm of the ignorant we even decided that we would document our process as we went along and eventually create a charitable foundation to help other communities utilize ecoforestry as a means of protecting forests, air, water, animal habitat and creating human jobs.
But as the time passed and we faced the legal, fiscal, and bureaucratic hurdles before us it became obvious that we were seriously over our heads. I had no idea how to proceed and in a fit of desperation I called out, “We need a partner who knows what we need to be doing.”
It just so happened that I was singing the opening song at a Social Ventures Institute Conference being held on Cortes Island. I was sitting at dinner sharing with a friend about our vision and my dream of a foundation that would advocate for Ecoforestry to replace industrial clear-cut logging practices. Suddenly a man sitting at the far end of our table said, “Excuse me, but I couldn't help but overhear what you were talking about. I think the idea is fabulous. You wouldn't by chance need a partner would you?’
I leapt up and said, “Oh, yes. Yes, I do. I do need a partner.” He laughed and replied, ‘I would love to be your partner.” I reached toward him and we shook hands there and then, without even knowing who the other was, and we became partners. As fate would have it, our new partner was David Butterfield, one of the most successful sustainable land developers in Canada. And by the time the evening was over, The Trust for Sustainable Forestry was founded.
Shortly thereafter my brother, Peter Mortifee, stepped forward and managed our financial strategies, saving his sister from bankruptcy and becoming the Treasurer and Vice President of the Trust.
By hook or by crook this happy little band of dreamers succeeded, and Lot 1127, which would eventually be named Everwoods Community ,now serves as the prototype for a new style of social enterprise for forest conservation-based land development the purpose of which is to protect forests, maintain water and clean air, create local jobs in forestry and secondary manufacturing, conserve animal habitat, and create light-on-the-land communities.
The successful formation of this new social enterprise relies on five key concepts:
- The formation of a federally chartered, self-sustaining charitable organization (The Trust for Sustainable Forestry) to hold and manage timber and non-timber resources in perpetuity under the principles of Eco-System Based Forest Management, which has a profit- sharing understanding with its partner, the for-profit corporation;
- The formation of a for-profit corporation to manage the land development. (In the case of Lot 1127 (Everwoods Community), Eco Initiatives Inc. served the purpose. In our second venture, (Elkington Forest) Living Forest Communities Ltd. serves the purpose.
- The development of a new regional Zone called "Community Land Stewardship", allowing for light-on-the-land clustered home sites (maximum of 1 home per 10 acres); limited roads and infrastructure; sustainable development guidelines created in conjunction with community desires.
- The formation and registration of conservation covenants to ensure for sustainable eco-forestry practices in perpetuity as protection for the land. (The Land Conservancy of BC and the Comox Strathcona Regional District served to provide this protection piece for Lot 1127)
- The formation of an Investment strategy that would allow for a reasonable return for all investors, proving that conservation, community development and financial return can indeed go hand in hand.
As The Trust moves forward on its remarkable journey, new partnerships continue to evolve. The overwhelming response from interested communities, universities, organizations, First Nations and Government confirms the need to bring communities back into our forests, to blend conservation and sustainability with economic prosperity. The Trust satisfies this need, balancing the fiscal objectives of industrial forest owners with the holistic desires of communities that depend on the health of our forest. PS: Today, Everwood shas 15 community members building homes, orchards, organic gardens and workspaces while approximately 97% of the original forest remains protected in perpetuity.