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North Cowichan publication of article raises concerns of undue municipal influence in forest consultation

North Cowichan has published an article ostensibly to encourage public participation in a consultation process on the Municipal Forest Reserve — but which comes off as a plug for status-quo logging.

The article, published in the December issue of the Cowichan Valley Voice, raises questions about the impartiality of the Municipality in the final stage of consultation on the critical forests issue.

Entitled, ‘It’s time to think about forestry management options,” the article is credited to Barb Floden, manager of communications and public engagement for the municipality.

But it is Ted Swabey, Chief Administrative Officer, who owns it.

“Yes, I reviewed this before we published it as part of the Forestry Engagement,” he says. “Its purpose is to encourage public to participate in the survey and the engagement sessions to assist Council with its decision regarding the future use of the Forest Reserve.”

Remember, Swabey is the same person who strongly urged the previous council to keep logging the forest reserve.

In December 2018 emails obtained through freedom-of-information, Swabey famously said, “We do not clear-cut as a harvesting practice.” (See clearcut atop Mount Prevost; expect a lot more if status-quo logging continues.)

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Swabey also advised council to preserve the “logging mandate,” arguing that logging the forest reserve is “part of our cultural makeup.”

A lot has happened since then.

The public in the first phase of the consultation process made it abundantly clear that conservation of our forest reserve — not further logging — is where our culture now lies.

To what extent Swabey has changed his own views is unknown. But the article published in the Valley Voice is fraught with problems.

The opening sentence says people who recreate in the forest reserve have probably not “realized that, in addition to being a stunning landmark or world-class recreation amenity, the mountains are also a working forest.”

Quite the opposite is true.

Clearcuts and logging roads are obvious to anyone who visits the forest reserve. That’s how we got to this point. The “stunning landmark” that is referred to in the article is exactly what citizens are fighting to protect — from the sort of Municipal logging that has occurred in the past.

In the article, North Cowichan credits itself for “implementing sustainable forestry management practices such as providing environmental consideration for watersheds and viewscapes, public education….”

The term sustainable is highly subjective, depends on one’s objectives, and needs defining.

For example, is the current annual allowable cut of 20,000 cubic metres sustainable for the ecology of our coastal Douglas-fir forest — the rarest forest type in BC?

The BC Forests Ministry is among more than 40 conservation groups and various levels of governments seeking to protect the coastal Douglas-fir forest — home to more than 153 species at risk, according to the UBC Partnership Group’s recent presentation to council.

As for "public education,” the fact is, citizen knowledge about the MFR was severely lacking in 2018 until residents — concerned about increasingly visible logging on the landscape — began to protest and discovered, lo and behold, that they owned the MFR and that it wasn’t private at all.

While a lot of the column space is dedicated to the supposed benefits of status quo, almost nothing is said about the other three forest-management scenarios proposed by UBC — and certainly not that carbon credits earned from the two conservation scenarios would far and away exceed logging revenues over 30 years.

As the second and final phase of public consultation on the forest reserve continues, let’s hope the Municipality stops what appears to be meddling and allows the people to make an informed choice.

(Ted Swabey photo courtesy of Cowichan Valley Citizen)

Visit sixmountains.ca to learn more about the consultation and how you can get involved.

— Larry Pynn, Dec. 7, 2022

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