The contentious issues around whether North Cowichan should continue logging in its 5,000-hectare municipal forest reserve or switch to carbon offsets to cover the revenue lost by not logging are not expected to be discussed anytime soon.
While the long-delayed public engagement process to help develop a forestry plan for the MFR is expected to begin again in October, council was informed by Lees & Associates, the firm chosen by the municipality to be its community engagement facilitator in the process, that the options of logging or not logging and using the MFR to attain carbon offsets won’t be up for discussion for some time.
Lee & Associates’ Megan Turnock told council at its meeting on Sept. 22 that there is still a lot of uncertainty around this question.
She said that to determine the cost implications of either option is too complex at this time.
The municipality’s forest department had anticipated a deficit of $592,000 for 2021 alone due to the fact that council decided to cancel logging plans for the year while the forestry review was underway.
That revenue from harvesting in the MFR has in the past covered all of the municipality’s forestry-related expenses, but many in the community are anticipating that the same amount of revenue, or even more, could be attained by offering carbon offsets from the trees in the reserve without the requirement of logging at all.
Mayor Al Siebring acknowledged that there are multiple scenarios to the issue.
He said he recognizes it’s not a simple subject, but feels it’s imperative that the municipality give the community all the information it has on the subject during the public-engagement process.
“That way we can say that, based on all the data available, here’s the potential of what can happen if we do this or that, or a blend of them all,” Siebring said.
“To completely remove the discussion about revenue [from the MFR in the public-engagement process] doesn’t do anyone any favours. It’s going to put the question about the credibility of the process in the minds of the public.”
But Lee & Associates’ Erik Lees said it’s still early in the process and that, after more consultations and engagement with the public, and further research, council will receive a comprehensive set of recommendations from the the UBC partnership group, which is also assisting with the forest review, that will inform the municipality of its choices around different scenarios.
“At this stage, we’re gathering information about people’s values in the community and not necessarily comparing logging to carbon offsets,” Lees said.
“All that will be in the mix but, ultimately, this will come back to you in a couple of months for your consideration.”