Is there room for compromise on the municipal forest reserve?
The Citizen is to be commended for printing so many letters concerning the current and future use of the municipal forest reserve. The letters have been interesting with good arguments put forth. It is good to see a mix of opinions supporting the two sides in this debate. There are those who want a pause to any future logging, and there are those who want to continue the timber harvesting practice currently in place.
I would like to add my two cents worth by suggesting that a compromise between the “pausers” and the “loggers” might be possible. Some have suggested an immediate moratorium on logging in the forest reserve, but this would be disruptive to municipal staff and local contractors. My suggestion is to stop logging only in the parts of the forest reserve that are of high value for recreational use and that are most visible from the valley floor. These parts would roughly be Mt. Tzouhalem, Mt. Prevost, part of Maple Mountain, and Stoney Hill. The extent of these areas would be around one-third of the total forest reserve and might be considered the basis of a new municipal park reserve. Logging could continue on the remaining two-thirds of the forest reserve while the debate proceeds in the community and in council on the future of municipal logging.
Times have changed in the Cowichan Valley since logging on municipal land began. Recreational use of the forest land has a much higher value these days to both residents and visitors. People want to walk and ride on trails in forests that will mature and grow more beautiful in the decades to come. A legacy for our grandchildren. Little management is needed as these forests get older. An older forest is not unhealthy. It is naturally fire resistant and is the preferred home of many birds and animals.
This is not to say that harvesting of trees is wrong. It is clear to most that the forest industry is still vital for the economy of Vancouver Island. The work carried out by our municipal forestry department has been a model of modern logging practice. The fact is, however, that many people don’t want this practice to continue in the parts of the municipal forest that have or could have high recreational value. Some don’t want to see logging activity on our local hills that is visible from the valley floor. And others don’t want cut block style logging to continue at all on municipal land. But is there room for some give and take?
It may be that logging only a portion of the municipal forest as I have suggested would be uneconomic. This would have to be evaluated. A full, external audit of the forestry department operations over the last 10 years or more should be done to get an independent review of the financial picture. What has the return from logging the municipal forest reserve really been to date? What would the return be in the future if a third of the reserve was protected for recreational use only? If the long term financial return looks to be too low with more limited logging, perhaps a multi-year wind down of this municipal department should begin. If logging was to be continued, it could be done by private contractors. With normal attrition of the municipal workforce over time, I am sure that current forestry staff could find jobs elsewhere with North Cowichan, or could be employed supervising contract loggers and developing park infrastructure in the areas I have mentioned.