North Cowichan is looking to hire an engagement facilitator to assist the municipality in creating a long-anticipated management plan for its 5,000-hectare municipal forest reserve.
The decision was made at a special council meeting on July 3 after a staff report was tabled which emphasized that community engagement and the planned forestry review process need to be coordinated and aligned.
The facilitator will be chosen after a request-for-proposals process.
Many in the community had been demanding for some time to have more say in management plans for the forest reserve.
Icel Dobell, from the Where do we Stand group, said that because of the divisive nature of the forest debate in North Cowichan, the development of a new forest management plan should be handled by professional non-partisan engagement specialists.
“We are gratified to hear experts from the University of B.C. say repeatedly that public engagement must come first before any plans are made,” Dobell said.
In February, council endorsed just the completion of existing 2018 forestry contracts and harvesting of blow downs from December’s windstorm in the forest reserve in 2019 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.
At the meeting held on July 3, council also agreed in-principle to a proposal from the University of B.C., the Coastal Douglas Fir Partnership and 3GreenTreeConsulting to assist in developing the forest management plan.
The work that UBC and its partners propose to do includes things such as recommending harvesting volumes, areas, and rotations, as well as the the feasibility of developing a forest carbon project.
The group will be expected to assist in the development of both long-term and short-term forestry management plans.
“This work needs to be done for the forestry review, whether or not it is UBC that does it,” said North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring.
“The next step will be for staff to develop a framework agreement with UBC to present back to council.”
Dobell said the Where do we Stand group is intrigued by UBC’S presentation on how the municipality can make as much money not logging through carbon sales as they would logging for timber.
“What could be better?” she asked.
Council also reviewed the last batch of blow-down salvage proposals in the municipal forest reserve from the windstorm in December at the meeting and decided to proceed with tendering contracts to complete blow-down harvesting for Mount Richards, Mount Sicker, and Mount Prevost.
But council decided not to proceed with blow-down harvesting on Osborne Bay Road and Babine Road.
For these latter two areas, council wanted to explore further whether harvesting in these sites is necessary at this time, given their location away from designated trails and the more limited extent of the blow down.
Blow-down salvage is already underway on Maple Mountain, Mt Tzouhalem, and Stoney Hill.
Dobell said that like all aspects of the forest debate, people are hearing alternative views that are not being being presented at the table about the best way to deal with blow-down trees.
“Only the industrial side is being put forward to council, with the work on Stoney Hill as example,” she said.
“We’re not happy with the patch clear-cutting method being used. Personally, I’m devastated by the number of live trees that have been logged. We feel all salvaging should be paused for the summer fire season to allow for public consultation.”
A press release from North Cowichan said the decisions made at the meeting were the culmination of months of discussion between council, staff, the forest advisory committee, the public, and outside experts regarding a forestry operational review and community engagement.
“While it has taken some time to get to this point, it has allowed us to have many conversations and hear from many members of the community on this issue before initiating action,” Siebring said in the release.
“It is council’s hope that we have a more robust process as a result.”