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North Cowichan likely to turn to taxes to cover financial losses in forest reserve

But some feel the reserve’s contributions to recreation and environment far outweigh losses
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Financial losses due to the logging pause in North Cowichan’s forest reserve will likely have to paid for through general taxation, but some council members feel that the cost is worth it for the reserve’s recreational and environmental opportunities. (Citizen file photo)

With no logging planned for North Cowichan’s municipal forest reserve until the forestry review is completed, staff is anticipating the municipality will have to turn to general taxation to help cover the reserve’s expenses for the first time since the review process began in 2019.

At a committee of the whole meeting on Nov. 28 to discuss the upcoming budget for 2024, forester Shaun Mason told council that the revenue from the 5,000-hectare forest reserve in 2024 is projected to be $388,200, while expenses are expected to be approximately $730,800.

He said all that’s left in North Cowichan’s forest reserve fund as of the end of 2023 is $230,490, which leaves a $112,000 deficit in the department for 2024. The fund has been covering the lost revenue since the municipality decided to suspend logging in the reserve in 2020 until the review is complete.

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Mason said the forest department’s main focus for 2024 is on the forest-review process and continuing with general maintenance and management in the forest reserve.

“Staff continue to explore ways to strengthen policy and land-use planning by staying connected with the environmental team, and to explore opportunities as parallel processes for [North Cowichan’s] biodiversity protection policy and the climate action and energy plan,” he said.

“Staff continue to work towards a forest-management plan based on council’s direction.”

With many in the community demanding to have more say in management plans for the forest reserve, council decided in 2019 to just complete the existing 2018 forestry contracts and cease logging until experts were tapped for their input and the public has been thoroughly consulted on what people want for the future of the public properties.

Before the review began, revenue from harvesting in the forest reserve covered all of the municipality’s forestry-related expenses, with much of the rest of the income going into the reserve fund.

Preservation plans have touted the sale of carbon credits as a way to replace harvesting revenue, but as the consultation process is ongoing, that avenue has not been opened either.

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Some council members have raised concerns that North Cowichan’s forest reserve funds are being depleted while the forest review continues without any substantive new revenue to replace it, leaving taxpayers to pick up the bill.

Coun. Bruce Findlay said at the COW meeting that, according to his calculations, North Cowichan has lost between $8 million and $8.5 million in revenues since it ceased logging in the reserve.

But Coun. Christopher Justice pointed out that the projected budget expenditures for 2024 for the Cowichan Aquatic Centre outweigh the facility’s revenue by $3.7 million, which is 10 times more than what it cost to run all the 5,000 hectares of forest in the reserve for the year for the many recreational activities that are held there.

“We really need to stop referring to forestry in terms of loss,” he said.

“Our forests are providing a good and high recreational and environmental service to the community at what I would consider to be a pretty reasonable cost.”

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Coun. Chris Istace agreed and said the essential role of the forest reserve during the pause in logging is ecological biodiversity and recreation.

He said that in North Cowichan, the cost recovery for other recreational activities is currently 18 per cent, while the municipal forest is operating at 53 per cent cost recovery.

“So, as recreational assets, the forests are operating at double the national average of high-performing recreational assets,” Istace said.

“That doesn’t include [finance director Talitha Soldera’s] future reports on the revenue that the forest reserve actually creates in asset management through natural assets.”

Coun. Debra Toporowski said the trees in the reserve have not stopped growing since the pause in harvesting began, so some of the other councillors are looking at the issue the wrong way.

“We’re growing money up there,” she said.



Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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