North Cowichan is anticipating a budget shortfall of around $150,000 in 2019 due to council’s decision on Feb. 15 not to allow new logging contracts in its forest reserve this year.
At a special meeting, council considered options for forestry operations within the municipal forest reserve in 2019, and endorsed just the completion of existing 2018 forestry contracts and harvesting of blow downs from the windstorm in December.
Mayor Al Siebring said council decided to minimize logging in the municipality’s 5,000-hectare municipal forest reserve 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.
“I expect more public involvement and advice from experts and local First Nations in these decisions,” he said.
“We have not had much input into strategies regarding our forest reserve for the last 20 years so this a good thing.”
Council asked staff for a detailed review of North Cowichan’s forestry operations in its forest reserve late last year after the municipality began hearing from citizens interested in these activities.
But in the meantime, it is required by law to adopt a budget and set tax rates by May 15.
To do this, council needed to make the decision at its meeting on Friday about 2019 forestry operations, which affect this year’s budget.
It’s expected that the $150,000 shortfall this year will be offset by around $25,000 from the Forestry Reserve Fund and $125,000 through budget savings that staff will recommend.
It was announced at a council meeting on Feb. 4 that council is considering raising municipal taxes by up to seven per cent in 2019, largely due to plans for hiring new staff and changes to its logging agenda in the forest reserve, among other issues.
“Today’s discussion achieved something that all local governments strive for, which is significant public interest and participation, conducted in a respectful and thoughtful way,” said Siebring after Friday’s meeting.
“We thank everyone who has provided input on this complex topic, and we know there are more discussions to come.”
At its meeting last week, council also adopted a revised terms of reference for its forest advisory committee and decided to expand its membership to include a registered professional biologist, three community members, and representatives from local indigenous groups.
The expanded committee’s mandate will include a full review of forest management practices and short and long-term recommendations.
Icel Dobell, a member of the Where do We Stand group that was formed to protect and preserve the municipal forest reserve, had asked at the meeting that one of the members of the advisory committee be a professional with expertise in eco/alternative forestry methods which would bring a new and broader perspective to the committee.
She also asked that, with so many complex issues and opportunities to explore, the advisory committee should meet more than once a month.
“Many people are encouraged by staff and council’s commitment to ‘public consultation, input, openness, collaboration, accountability, and transparency’,” Dobell said.
“To this end, we encourage the municipality to engage a consultant who can lead us to this process in consultation and collaboration about our forests.”