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History shows Municipal Forest Reserve has survived calls for privatization, conversion to residential housing

Homes on the slopes of Mt. Prevost, Maple Mountain and Mt. Richards ‘might become quite desirable’

Last month, I wrote about a professional forester’s report to North Cowichan council in 1952 that recommended Christmas trees be planted across the Municipal Forest Reserve.

https://bit.ly/3CJhIkz

Given public response to that article, I did a second dive into the forest reserve’s history, which, over the decades, has included calls for privatization and use for housing.

A two-paragraph reference in the Island Digest of Victoria’s Times Colonist in September 1952 reads: “F.J.G. Johnson, provincial forester and forester for North Vancouver, offered 'not less than $50 per acre’ for 10,000 acres of North Cowichan forest reserve on behalf of British and B.C. interests.

“A council committee will interview the minister of municipal affairs and department of lands and forests to see if a long-term lease can be arranged.”

Johnson is the same forester who wrote the January 1952 report for North Cowichan on Christmas trees.

A November 1959 post, also in the Times Colonist, quoted an article from the Cowichan Leader that discussed potential options for the forest reserve.

“Apart from possible attractive offers, the council would do well to keep in mind two principles: sale of merchantable trees now to the highest bidder and the general goal of private ownership of as much municipal land as possible,” the article reads.

“The alternative to single ownership of forest reserve would be multiple ownership, through division of the reserve into many available smaller tree farms to be developed singly by their owners, who would buy the land outright from the municipality.

“Sale of such lands could take place to large companies at a later date if private companies considered it worth their while and the small owners wished to sell.

“Land inaccessible a few years ago can now be reached fairly easily by modern road machinery. This fact will do much to encourage the transfer of municipal land to private ownership in the future.

“Homes on the slopes of Mt. Prevost, Maple Mountain and Mt. Richards are no longer in the class of pipe dreams and might become quite desirable within 20 years.”

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In May 1981 an article in the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle lamented the fact that the forest reserve had been “mined” and that the “annual harvest by five woodlot operators under contract to the municipality has gone on for some 20 years, virtually unchecked.”

That sort of logging had “reduced the land to a point where there is the potential for disease, wildfire, a diminishing genetic base and a declining economic value.”

Of course, the forest reserve was not privatized or converted to housing.

In January 1982, North Cowichan posted a job ad in the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle looking for a full-time professional forester, preferably with at least 10 years experience in coastal second-growth forests.

“Must be willing to work some flexible hours and reside in the Cowichan Valley area.” The job was described as being “of interest to those individuals currently earning $35,000/year.”

Today, the future of the Municipal Forest Reserve continues to evolve.

The UBC Partnership Group has presented council with four potential scenarios — two based on logging and two on conservation — for future management of the forest reserve.

The conservation options are predicted to earn millions more in revenue from carbon credits than logging over 30 years.

Citizens are urged to fill out an on-line survey by Jan. 31.

Visit https://bit.ly/3CojbMU .

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— Larry Pynn, Jan. 13, 2023

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