A decision on whether logging plans in a section of North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare municipal forest reserve should move forward has been postponed in a unanimous vote by council until more information is received.
More than 200 people crowded into the council chambers on Dec. 19, raising concerns about fire regulations around capacity in the room, as the local government heard numerous delegations and presentations regarding the forest reserve.
Many of the speakers spoke in favour of pausing logging in the reserve until a thorough community discussion has been held, while numerous professional foresters and others spoke on how well the reserve is managed by the municipality, and how suspending logging would impact North Cowichan’s bottom line.
The municipality has received numerous requests recently that it suspend its long-time policy of limited logging in the reserve lands until experts are tapped for their input and the public has been thoroughly consulted on what people want for the future of the public properties.
A notice of motion by councillor Christopher Justice asking council to stop the municipality’s logging plans in the Stoney Hill forest reserve area, one of the six areas that make up North Cowichan’s forest reserve, until a community discussion is held on the issue, was also part of the meeting’s agenda.
After listening to the delegations for several hours, Justice said he’s proud to be a member of a community where people with different viewpoints can listen to each other respectfully.
“I think we should consider a pause in the logging to listen to our citizens and the professional experts among us,” he said. “Starting a dialogue would show that we are willing to listen and learn.”
But Coun. Tek Manhas asked that the vote on the motion to pause the logging in Stoney Hill be postponed until the new council’s strategic plan for the next four years is completed, expected within weeks, and a staff report on the issue is tabled.
Coun. Debra Toporowski said a lot of issues have to be weighed before she’s prepared to vote on pausing logging.
“I think we need to gather more information on this, take a tour of our forest reserve and check some of the figures that were brought up by some delegations today,” she said.
Icel Dobell, a member of the Where Do We Stand group that has been advocating for the pause in logging, said group members were disappointed that council didn’t address any of the comments and requests made by citizens about the need for a pause and public consultation with experts.
“In fact, several times it was said that the only problem here is that our government needed to ‘educate’ us about what a great job they are doing,” Dobell said.
“Given the intelligent comments made, this felt condescending to a lot of people when they were leaving and venting their frustration. We are also perplexed that there was no follow up discussion and no comment made about a pause in all logging in the forest reserves. We had more than 1,200 people submit their support for our cause on our website.”
Darrell Frank, North Cowichan’s former municipal forester, said North Cowichan’s forest reserves are currently being used for recreation and some food production at no cost to the municipality’s taxpayers due to the logging that takes place there.
“If we pause logging, it will cost the municipality about $1 million a year in new taxes, about a three per cent increase, to cover the shortfall,” he said.