Municipal update on forest consultation raises more questions than answers
Have you wondered what’s happened to the consultation process into the future of North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve?
You’re not alone.
It has been well over three years since council paused new logging in the 5,000-hectare forest reserve pending a public consultation process.
And now the potential is very real that the process won’t be completed by the fall municipal election.
On Wednesday this week, council will consider a staff report titled “Update on the Municipal Forest Reserve Review.”
Problem is, the document raises more questions than answers.
You’ll recall that the first round of consultation ended in February 2022 with a consultant’s report showing overwhelming public support for ecological values over logging in the forest reserve. (https://bit.ly/3NILNDR)
Those results then went to the UBC Partnership Group, which, in the second round of consultation, is putting together a series of management options for the forest reserve.
The public has not received any information on what those options might be.
The staff report updating the consultation process says the “UBC Partnership Group has experienced delays due to unforeseen personal circumstances within the UBC team and will be sharing the potential scenarios with staff in the coming weeks.”
It’s important to note that we’re running out of time not because of UBC but because of delays at municipal hall — yes, some the result of covid, but also due to council decisions (https://bit.ly/3wWskIZ) and indecision (https://bit.ly/3N1Kosi).
The staff report continues: “Before sharing these scenarios with the general public, the UBC Partnership Group will present them to the Forestry Advisory Committee for their feedback and comments before a final review by Council.”
Wouldn’t it be better for council to receive the scenarios first, and then farm it out to the Forestry Advisory Committee for comment?
The staff report makes no mention of a citizens Working Group (which played a key role in guiding the first round of consultations), having an opportunity to comment during the second round.
The update on the forest reserve follows a request from Rob Fullerton, co-founder of Where Do We Stand and a member of the Working Group. He says he was told Monday by municipal hall that the Working Group will, in fact, have input in the second phase.
Given ongoing delays “it is expected that public engagement will begin mid-summer,” the staff report says. “Generally speaking, public engagement during July and August is typically avoided. Fall 2022 also poses some timing challenges with the general local election slated for October 15, 2022.”
And what of the parallel consultation process ongoing with local First Nations behind closed doors?
The public hasn’t a clue what’s being discussed. All we know is that, it, too, has been seriously delayed.
Council signed a memorandum of understanding (https://bit.ly/2WxgarZ) with First Nations in August 2021 which stipulated the parties would hold their first meeting in two weeks, but that didn’t happen for months.
Says the staff report: “This working group continues to meet to share information in relation to the stewardship and use of the MFR….Feedback will be incorporated into the MFR review process when appropriate to do so.”
So, there you go. It’s a muddled situation. Let’s hope council finds some clarity on Wednesday and the public gets the answers it deserves.
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— Larry Pynn, May 30, 2022.