By Jan. 31, North Cowichan wants to hear our thoughts about the future of the municipally owned forest on mounts Sicker, Prevost, Richards, Tzouhalem, Maple, and Stoney Hill. If you go to www.connectnorthcowichan.ca/MFR, you’ll find the details.
I’d like to propose that the entire forest becomes an outdoor college, in a partnership with VIU, First Nations, and forest/ecology non-profits. Such a college could offer a variety of courses including ecologically sensitive forestry, ecological restoration, Indigenous history and traditions, wilderness survival, forest ecology, mountain-bike trail design, nature schooling for children, nature writing, art and photography, philosophy, open-air meditation, personal fitness, and the use of botanicals in healing.
In any given week there might be a choice of courses that included hiking and learning. Some courses might be taught weekly; some might last a week, with overnight camping. Some might last a year, with international students living as guests in the community. It would generate educational revenue, which would spread through the earnings of teachers, rental incomes for student hosts, and visitors spending in local businesses.
To enable the best experience, various trails could have waystations added where people could learn about the Indigenous history of the land, and the relationships between trees, plants, mosses, fungi, mycorrhizae, and the many forest creatures. There could be outdoor classrooms where school teachers would bring their students to learn surrounded by nature.
There might be a year-long course on ecoforestry, which would include work to encourage old growth forest characteristics and restore deciduous woodlands. There might be a year-long course on Indigenous traditions, which could include medicine-making from native plants, and the understandings shared by all Indigenous people that there is a deeper harmony through which all life is connected. Think of the friendships that would be formed, the new understandings that would be gained.
In North Cowichan’s municipal forest reserve survey we are being asked to choose one of four options: status quo with continued logging, reduced harvest, active conservation, or passive conservation. A college like this could flourish if people supported Option 3: Active Conservation.
We need to think big, for we have gotten our world into a terrible mess. Between 1970 and 2016 we and our machines have wiped out 68 per cent of the world’s mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, and it’s still going on. Surely, we owe it to nature — and to our children and grandchildren — to give something back.
Guy Dauncey is a local author, and president of the Yellow Point Ecological Society