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North Cowichan to debate ecological impacts of recreational trails

North Cowichan councillor Christopher Justice is asking council to investigate the ecological impacts of recreational trails in the municipality, be they for mountain bikers, hikers, or horse enthusiasts.

“Trails in our forest landscapes…can have both positive and negative impacts on natural ecosystems,” Justice writes. “At present we have little understanding of the extent or magnitude of the impacts of trails on North Cowichan’s forest ecosystems.”

Among the concerns: fragmented habitats; site degradation due to changes in drainage patterns and compaction of soils; and both humans and dogs negatively affecting wildlife.


At this Wednesday’s council meeting, Justice will propose a motion that the Biodiversity Protection Policy project be expanded to:

— Assess, through literature review and consultation with experts in other jurisdictions, the potential risks and impact of various types of trails and trail use ­­- including but not limited to hiking, downhill and cross-country mountain biking, equestrian, and off-leash dog walking - on wildlife, soils, ecology, vegetation and water.
— Develop general criteria and guidance for recreation and trail planning and management in our forest areas.
— Identify where trails and specific recreational uses either are or are not appropriate given ecological sensitivities.
— Identify needed mitigations to existing trails, if and where necessary.

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North Cowichan’s Biodiversity Protection Policy seeks to identify, restore and protect “significant ecological assets.”

The Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society has proposed the development of sanctioned mountain bike trails on Mt. Richards, an idea that has its share of supporters and detractors, Justice said.

In March, council agreed to forward the proposal to the municipality’s economic development committee for review. previously reported on public concerns about unauthorized mountain bike trails on wildflower meadows on Mt. Richards’ west side — an area Justice would like preserved for its ecological values.

Councillor Chris Istace, an avid hiker, mountain biker and former director of the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society, said Monday he plans to support Justice’s motion.

Istace said he believes in “sustainable trail development and maintenance,” recognizing that “some areas may not be suitable for any trails at all” due to ecological, biological or cultural considerations.

UPDATE — May 23 statement from Mayor Rob Douglas: “Council endorsed a Notice of Motion regarding the Ecological Impacts of Trails, which will involve supplementing the Biodiversity Protection Policy that is currently being developed, by assessing the potential ecological risks and impacts of various trails and trail use; developing general criteria and guidance for recreation and trail planning and management in our forest areas; identifying where trails and specific recreational uses are appropriate given ecological sensitivities; and identifying needed mitigations to existing trails, if and where necessary.”

(Photos: unauthorized mt. bike trail on Mt. Tzouhalem; spray paint on hiking trail on Maple Mt.; Christopher Justice.)

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