By Dave McGowan, R.P.F., RSA Consultant
After two and half years of working as a Resource Stewardship Agreement (RSA) consultant, I have to admit to a bit of surprise when a tourism operator asks what is an RSA. I understand they are besieged with the likes of water regulations, cancelled hunts, and border issues, to name a few, and of course at this time of year, everything is running 24/7. Despite this, you’re in business and these trials come with the territory. Both NOTO and various government organizations have provided lots of information, notices and material on RSAs for three years running, so there isn’t much excuse to be uninformed.
When I first contact operators I am often asked “Why should I bother with an RSA?” They have many reasons for this perspective and it is a legitimate question. For example:
Why should I - it’s just more paper work.
Why should I - the Forest Company has always done as it pleases.
Why should I - past deals with the Company and the MNR have not been honoured, why should this be any different.
Why should I - this area is already cut and roaded – there is nothing left to protect.
I already have a good working relationship with the Company and I don’t want to mess with it.
These are reasonable points and usually come from a history of broken promises and mismanaged values. Let’s be quite clear, an RSA will not solve all your problems. However, for those who choose to see it, an RSA can help by protecting those natural resource values that draw your guests. I think it is worth pursuing the business-to-business relationship with your SFL holder (forest company) through an RSA. It brings together two of the big three industries on the landscape. You can be powerful allies for each other.
My experience to date has involved negotiations across several forest areas with over 50 tourist operators and lodge owners. Your tourism business is based on clients who enjoy and use the natural resource based values in and around your facilities. These values are one of your key business assets. Just as you insure and protect your cabins, boats and gear against loss, so should you protect your values. After all, your guests come for the scenery, to walk or ride the trails, swim and fish the lakes and enjoy all nature has to offer.
An RSA does require some paper work, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are templates for the basic elements that need to be in the legal agreement. NOTO has provided all licensed Resource Based Tourism Operators with a comprehensive outline of what can be included that you can draw from. The forest industry have outlines that work very well too.
As anyone who has tried can tell you, it’s hard work to clearly define tourism values and then agree to forest prescriptions to protect and sustain those values. But once it has been done through the RSA, they can be included in the approved Forest Management Plan (FMP). This is the document that the law says everyone has to follow for forest operations on that chunk of Crown land. Nobody can do as they please. While all of us can point to past failures and horror stories, you gotta move on. Through my RSA work I have seen both parties gain a new respect for each other’s business and work hard to find the solutions they can live with.
While an RSA gives both the forest company and the tourism operator a contract enforceable under law (may you never have to go there), they also allow other ways to solve problems that may arise. First, problems should be minimized because all the cards are on the table (values and prescriptions). Second, review each year what is going to happen so there aren’t surprises. Third, you talk to each other right away of there is a problem and try to solve it. Fourth, if an impasse is reached you can use mediation or arbitration. RSAs are a commitment by both parties to make it work. They are a demonstration of that commitment to others such as the MNR, the public and forest auditors, registrars or certifiers.
So, its all been cut. Past harvests have not always used all the forest resources because of stands or parts of stands left to protect other values or because there was no market for those species. If the market improves or the time has elapsed for return harvests, an RSA can assist in protecting newly developed values or ensuring that existing values are not compromised a second time.
I have found many situations where the local tourism operators and the forest company staff have good working relationships, especially in recent years. I am impressed at the efforts they made to sort out their differences and reopen communication. Even with these successes, there can be an advantage to an RSA. It happens when change comes to pass. As the tourism operator sells or expands his/her business the RSA allows for change and keeps the forest company up-to-speed. If the forest company changes hands or staff come and go, the RSA provides a clear reference point for the new owner or staff.
I have had the good fortune to be a part of negotiations on SFL Forest areas where there has been innovation, ingenuity and integrity in developing the RSAs. No, it isn’t a bed of roses but rather a reflection of a determination to respect each other, the intent of RSAs (the Memorandum of Understanding principles), and to find a way to support each other in business. I understand that other forest areas have not been as successful. I think those who are still bucking the process should rethink its primary objectives and recognize the potential solutions, relationships and costs savings they could realize. As I see it the bottom line is better defined values information, clear direction on how values are managed and sustained and therefore a business whose key assets are better insured.
This article was taken from pages 17 & 18 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Spring 2004 Issue