Consultation about our Six Mountains Forest should be suspended

The path we have embarked on as community was supposed to be collaborative; so far, it’s not.

Consultation about our Six Mountains Forest should be suspended

Where Do We Stand (WDWS) has recently expressed concerns about the public consultation process into the future of our Community Forests being conducted online during summer holidays and amidst lingering fears about the deadly global pandemic. We have addressed our concerns in a recent article, Public Consultation: The Stacked Deck (available at wheredowestand.ca and in the Cowichan Valley Citizen).

We are now officially and respectfully asking council to suspend the process in order to rethink and reset.

We have gone over the draft engagement materials sent to us by the consultants Lees and Associates and have deep reservations, however our concerns go far beyond the draft survey and draft Discussion Guide. Even if Lees were to suddenly understand what our community has been asking for and what council promised — transparent, deep, broad consultation with public input — even if Lees was to change direction now to include education and consultation with diverse forest experts (biologists, ecologists, conservationists) there is insufficient time to pull it off before the arbitrary deadline looming in the first week of August. Furthermore there in insufficient time in the three weeks given for the public to digest all the information.

Lees was hired in November. It’s the middle of July and public consultation has not begun and we are about to be sent a survey to fill out. Suddenly we are in a race against an arbitrary deadline.

In fairness to Lees, we lost three months of consultation due to the COVID-19 pause. We’re not getting the three months back. I don’t understand why. What I can tell you is that without the education we asked for we are about to be presented with a survey that I personally believe is a waste of our tax dollars and valuable time.

This process is not what we envisioned; so far it is not a visionary path unfolding.

For a while WDWS went quiet. We wanted to believe Lees was about to engage our community in a profound journey of discovery into the forests. We envisioned Lees leading us onward and upward to a high level of inquiry and discourse.

We prayed for a visionary on the team to inspire us, to draw us out, to coax from us the highest possibilities of imagination, visualization, creativity, curiosity — the stuff of an enlightened path our children’s children’s children would thank us for.

We hoped Lees would introduce themselves to our community as servants of the process, here to listen to us and to superimpose nothing upon us in the beginning from on high, and nothing at all from a biased perspective such as from the forestry department. (Much of the draft Discussion Guide reads as if it has been lifted from the municipality website.)

We envisioned what we would have done — we believed Lees would put out a simple, open, inclusive invitation to the whole community to come one, come all, submit your concerns, comments and questions about the future of the forests; submit what you believe is important, what you don’t understand and want to know more about, the experts you want to hear from, and name them if you have any suggestions.

The exact opposite has been happening. Public consultation is racing ahead in the ways these things do where there is no visionary at the helm. The process lacks inspiration and feels secretive.

On July 7, at a council meeting open to the public, arguably the most important public event of the forest consultation process took place with almost no one’s knowledge. Before council the University of British Columbia forestry experts delivered their carbon report, providing long-awaited answers to critical questions. (Bottom line: we can make as much or more money not logging than logging our backyards. See ncfcp.com). Neither the muni nor Lees advertised in the media to ensure the public knew about the meeting, had a chance to listen to the discussion live and ask questions at the end.

Our community has proven itself to be hungry for education about the forests. This has been expressed at council meetings where hundreds of people showed up and at the Six Mountains public forest event at the Performing Arts Centre — which Lees cited as an example of our community’s commitment. If the July 7 meeting had happened pre-COVID-19 without public outreach there would have been a public outcry.

When there’s an important meeting on the forest reserve, we want and deserve to know about it well in advance through the media.

So WDWS is reaching out to the community and council to put out information most people don’t know about. (Council does not get to watch the Working Group meetings, which are not recorded; the minutes do not represent the whole story.)

The path we have embarked on as a community was supposed to be collaborative; so far, it’s not.

The beginning of consultation defines the direction we will take, whether we chart a shallow or deep and broad course. So WDWS is asking for a pause.

Icel Dobell

Where Do We Stand

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