North Cowichan can do a better job of protecting the environment, according to a consultant’s report.
The report, prepared by Diamond Head Consulting and presented to council at a recent special meeting, points out a number of opportunities to improve, clarify and enhance North Cowichan’s environmental policies and regulations, as well as identifying actions that would strengthen the municipality’s environmental leadership.
Among the recommendations is that North Cowichan should consider better regulations to prevent pre-emptive land clearing associated with subdivisions.
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“Under current regulations, land clearing often occurs years before the land is developed,” the report said.
“This can lead to unnecessary tree clearing in cases where development does not proceed, or where sites are left bare for long periods of time. This can lead to erosion and the proliferation of invasive plants.”
The report said the municipality may also want to consider developing a community forest strategy.
Such a strategy could provide North Cowichan with a clear vision, goals and performance standards for the management of its community forest, according to the report.
“The development of a tree-protection bylaw would also help manage phased tree removals, tree protection and replacement, especially within the urban containment boundary,” the report said.
“However, adequate staffing would be required to administer and enforce such a bylaw. Staff are currently finding enforcement difficult.”
The report recommends North Cowichan strengthen its bylaws and regulations to better control invasive species, and encourages council to provide additional measures for watercourse protection over and above provincial laws.
Diamond Head said that many municipalities in the province have already initiated measures to protect their water courses beyond the provincial mandate.
“Most of these municipalities are in the Lower Mainland, providing North Cowichan with the chance to be a leader in this on Vancouver Island,” the report said.
Camille Lefrançois, an urban planner with Diamond Head, told council that North Cowichan already has a strong foundation of environmental policies.
“It’s a good place to be to start strengthening the municipality’s environmental assets,” she said.
Rob Conway, North Cowichan’s director of planning and building, said staff intend to use the report as a resource and guide for developing and updating environmental policy in the new official community plan, and other upcoming projects intended to update bylaws.
He said the report’s recommendations will also be considered and brought forward as part of the annual business planning process as funding and resourcing opportunities allow.
Mayor Al Siebring said he can already hear members of the development community saying that more regulations will cost them more money and impact their project’s affordability.
Mike Coulthard, a senior forester/biologist with Diamond Head, said if the new environmental policies are designed properly with a lot of consultations with the public, they will be more acceptable to the public and the development community.
“If they are not thought out properly, [the initiative] could go sideways,” he said.