Forest company operating in Cumberland rebranded

Once Hancock, Manulife Investment Management re-introduces itself to council

Manulife Investment’s forestry division, formerly Hancock, updated Cumberland on recent work in the region. Supplied file photo

Manulife Investment’s forestry division, formerly Hancock, updated Cumberland on recent work in the region. Supplied file photo

The name has changed, but the forestry plans are pretty much the same.

At a recent council meeting in Cumberland, Matt Merritt, the area manager for Manulife Investment Management, updated the Village of Cumberland on the company.

“A lot of you probably know us as Hancock Forest Management, but now, we’ve rebranded,” Merritt said. “Essentially, nothing’s changed with the structure of the company.”

Hancock had already been part of Manulife, he said, but undertook the name change last fall. The forest management division of the company manages local lands rather than own them. The actual owners are long-time investors such as retirement funds.

“We’re a little bit different than some of the forest management companies around,” he said.

Globally, Manulife’s forestry operations are spread beyond Canada, to include the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and South America. Overall, this covers about 2.4 million hectares. On Vancouver Island since 2003, they have managed about 22,000 hectares spread between two managed forests, one in the Comox Valley and the other near Lake Cowichan.

All of the work, Merritt said, is third-party certified by auditors who visit work sites to measure environmental standards as well as the social and economic well-being of workers and local communities.

“Our foundational principle is good stewardship is good business,” Merritt said.

He also talked about the role of the forests it manages in sequestering carbon. In 2020, for example, these removed 2.2 million metric tonnes from the atmosphere.

“We recognize that forestry plays a significant role in how well the planet adapts to climate change,” he said.

Merritt talked about projects in areas of the U.S. being used for carbon sequestering, including one near Lake Superior, in place since 2016 and which at the time was the largest carbon project in the country.

In terms of Cumberland-area work, the company is re-evaluating plant species for resilience to climate change. Operations for this year include enhanced silviculture work such as thinning, plant control and road maintenance, but no harvesting or road construction for 2022.

RELATED STORY: Collaborative Perseverance Creek land purchase expands Cumberland Community Forest

Merritt mentioned three sales to Cumberland Community Forest Society over the years for conservation as well as the company’s work with the village and groups like United Riders of Cumberland on land use, the collaboration for the area of the Bevan industrial lands, participation on a watershed advisory group that looks at issues such as wildfire threats and work with others like the Comox Valley Regional District on matters like monitoring lake water turbidity.

The company’s operations in the region have not gone without critics. A group called Hancock Watch runs a website about the company, which includes an anonymous piece critical of forestry work on Denman Island.

As well, in the fall of 2020, a Facebook group called Friends of Bevan Trails started in response to plans for logging an area near a trail network and circulated a petition to save it.

RELATED STORY: Harvesting planned near popular Comox Valley trails

As far as council members’ concerns, Coun. Gwyn Sproule raised questions about the prospects for more selection harvesting.

Merritt responded that there are different types of selection logging but he talked about options to leave single trees versus leaving groups.

“Generally, you have more success with grouped retention,” he said, adding that leaving single trees can result in blow-down problems from less wind resistance. “We certainly look at different options.”

Another issue raised was slash burning, but the company said it has not been burning much in the Comox Valley for several years primarily because it had not been doing a lot of harvesting. As well, it hires meteorologists to provide airflow forecasts.

Coun. Vickey Brown said she appreciated the company’s efforts to collaborate with the village and community groups, but had reservations about harvesting, particularly with fewer people employed in the sector now. She was also interested the possibility of Cumberland’s forests as a sequestration project.

“I’d rather see the trees standing than cut,” she added.

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