The North Cowichan Municipal Forest. (submitted)

Better to be proven wrong now than right later

When public consultation about the forests was paused, it was instantly named the “double pause”

Better to be proven wrong now than right later

Finally, I have time to plant the vegetable garden. I just submitted the last forest article and am about to start digging. On cue, the phone starts ringing, messages pinging, warning: council meeting — Councillor Manhas asking to resume logging during pause — No — Yes — Wait — Council voted against it — Yay council!

Oh no — What? They’re talking about ending the double pause.

And that was the end of the vegetable garden.

When public consultation about the forests was paused for 90 days, it was instantly named the “double pause” by some of us. Though COVID-19 was apocalyptic for people, the double pause was an extra reprieve for the community forests. That reprieve was going to give people time to figure out their lives, and nature 90 days to make itself heard. Ultimately, only a forest can communicate what it is directly: life. And what it’s not: a timber yard.

And it’s happening. People, young families especially, are entering the Six Mountains in prodigious numbers to find peace.

So on April 15, when council, with the best of intentions, began to discuss resuming public consultation, my heart sank.

Some councillors reasoned people are home with nothing to do, so we should ask consultants Lees and Associates whether meaningful online public consultation is possible.

Ted Swabey, chief administrative officer, warned, “If you ask a barber if you need a haircut, he’s going to tell you you need a haircut.” Also, he said the public may not see online consultation as meaningful.

I agreed. Although some people have time with nothing to do, I know people who are scared about how they’re going to survive and are trying to reinvent their lives.

There are people working in essential services.

There are people volunteering, driving food, planting food, transporting people.

There are single parents home-schooling their children, wondering how they’re going to pay for groceries.

There are people who can’t see their older parents, children and grandchildren.

There are people in despair, depressed, grieving.

When I ask people their opinions, most are overwhelmed — everything takes so much time. If they have free time, they need to do something for themselves to stay positive, like finger painting, hula hooping, pick-up-sticks, planting vegetables, walking in the forests.

Also, people are spending hours on FaceTime with loved ones and when they’re done — along with all the other things they must now do on the web — they aren’t going to have the energy to go back online to do public consultation.

I’m not saying online consultation won’t work, on a level, and that there are no opportunities. My concerns are the timing, challenges, and limitations.

I believe the first step in consultation must be understanding how a forest survives, such as: what are mycelium, root connections, living stumps, and the infinite life forms in the canopy? How to share the deepest understanding is a whole other article — it is about sharing as a community. We have many experts of many backgrounds. Do we really need consultants for this?

If digital consultation begins, the clock starts ticking, eroding the hours with Lees; if we find ourselves racing toward September when some logging may resume; if the process fails the regret will be small in comparison with the long term consequences.

So why hurry? We are in a historic moment. We have a rare opportunity to pause and to gage our changing values. Already we are witnessing extraordinary changes.

Beneath clear, clean blue skies, smog pulls back, horizons expand and so does imagination as people ask one another: do you smell the air?

What if we could rest in this state of awe and allow it to permeate a little longer?

Sometimes, to do nothing is the most powerful thing we can do;

Sometimes, to say nothing is the most powerful thing we can say;

When we are listening, the forests may reveal themselves;

Out of the darkest times, the truth may be heard.

And as far as time goes, though none of us may have time, time may have us, and one day it becomes clear: it’s not about time, it’s all about timing.

Icel Dobell

North Cowichan

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