Friday, May 7, 2021

Woodlot conservation motion & temporary clear cutting by-law approved by Council

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent is set to launch a public consultation process on woodlot conservation, while exploring potential incentives for landowners and best practices across the Province.

At their virtual meeting on Monday, April 26, 2021, Council also voted in favour of immediately implementing a temporary clear cutting by-law, which was originally presented to Council on February 11, 2013.

The by-law is set to expire in 120 days, while Chatham-Kent begins the process.

“I’m confident that this new approach is a responsible way to start the conversation once again and the approach reflects what we learned from the 2013 discussions,” said Wallaceburg Councillor Aaron Hall, who entered the motion on Monday, after previously providing notice on April 19, 2021.

“This approach will allow our staff to gather the feedback and data, especially while looking at the new incentive program. I like the idea of having our staff diving into it and doing an analysis of the best practices across Ontario. Combined with the feedback from the public, this will provide Council with some new options and allow a Chatham-Kent stamp to be placed on it.”

Hall added: “I’m hoping everyone with an interest has the opportunity to express their views and ideas openly. The public consultation piece is an important element. The incentive program is fresh and new and will certainly provide some benefits that have yet to be explored.”

A total of 21 deputations on the topic were read by staff at the beginning of the meeting, many in support and a handful opposed to the idea.

“The Sydenham Field Naturalists views the ongoing destruction of forest cover in C-K as extremely alarming,” said Larry Cornelis, president of the Sydenham Field Naturalists, in a deputation read by staff at Monday’s meeting.

“Be the Council that finally takes the responsibility of protecting our natural heritage seriously. Together with conservation organizations, such as the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority, Sydenham Field Naturalists, Birds Canada, Ontario Nature, and the Chatham Kent Woodlot Preservation Group, we can work to find a solution for all.”

Jay Cunningham, president of the Kent Federation of Agriculture, said the “controversial issue of a tree cutting by law is once again rearing its ugly head.

“This bylaw is being heavily promoted by the same small group as before with the effective goal of taking away private property rights from farm woodlot owners without compensation,” Cunningham said in his deputation, which was read by staff on Monday.

“The 350 or so residents who signed the recent petition put forward by the bylaw promoters does not point to widespread support in a C-K. It must be noted that all woodlots are not of equal value or benefit, some are healthy, diverse and productive but many are not, having been ravaged by disease or poor management, any proposed incentive programmes must be targeted toward high quality woodlots.”

Cunningham added: “Chatham-Kent has some of the best and most diverse agricultural land in the world. If Council decides to put a tree cutting by-law in place, they will greatly inhibit a farmers ability to manage their land to the highest level in order to remain current and profitable. Agriculture is an ever changing industry, new and modern technologies have increased farmers tools and options for soil conservation.”

Some of the specific direction in Hall’s motion, directs Chatham-Kent staff to:

– Consider an incentive program, with the goal of preserving woodlots in the community and providing land owners with tangible and flexible options for being included in the program.

– Launch a full public consultation process with interested parties, including virtual meetings and opportunities for comment on the Let’s Talk Chatham-Kent portal.

– Conduct an analysis of best practices for incentive programs and woodlot preservation across Ontario.

– Revise and update, for Council’s consideration, both the current natural heritage policy and the by-law from February 11, 2013.

– Present to Council all summaries, findings, analysis, comments, feedback, updated policies and bylaws in a report with recommendations, within 90 days of this motion being approved.

South Kent Councillor Mary Clare Latimer requested that the motion be divided and voted on separately.

Ultimately, the motion was approved in its entirety.

“We’ve all heard different opinions and views on this issue,” Hall said.

“One thing I know is for certain, that no matter what end of the spectrum a person lies on with this issue… as I said earlier tonight, they have passion. I’d like to see us harness that passion and help bring it together.”

Hall added: “Instead of the ‘well, they are doing this’ or ‘they are doing that’… let’s help change that conversation, so we can all say ‘we do this and we do that’… together, unified and with a collective voice.”

Hall’s motion pointed out that Chatham-Kent has one of the lowest percentages of tree cover in all of Ontario and Council has already committed to addressing this by: committing to planting one million trees in four years, implementing an urban tree cover policy and analyzing Chatham-Kent’s canopy cover.

The full motion and the full temporary by-law can be viewed, here.

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