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Freedom-of-information request provides insight into stakeholder involvement in the Municipal Forest Reserve consultation

For the second time, I've had to resort to a freedom-of-information request to the Municipality of North Cowichan to find out more about the consultation process for the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve.

The municipality is — with reservations — pushing ahead with a virtual consultation process due to social-distancing requirements related to COVID-19, and that’s going to include an on-line questionnaire for residents to answer.

A total of 20 “stakeholders” are also being interviewed by Lees & Associates consultants, but until now we’ve been kept in the dark on who that might be.

I received one FOI document — a table detailing a wide cross-section of stakeholders ranging from forestry to conservation groups.

Seeking clarification from Megan Jordan, the municipality’s communications and public engagement manager, she explained that an X directly next to 16 of the stakeholders on the list meant that they have already been contacted by Lees.

Another four will be added shortly, bringing the total to 20. Other stakeholders can ask to be added to the list but only for regular email updates on the process.

The 16 to make the cut are as follows (presented exactly as listed on the table): Chemainus Residential Association; Maple Bay Community Association; Quamichan Residential Association; Crofton Community Centre - residents association; Chamber of Commerce - Duncan; Tourism Cowichan; Six Mountains Ecological Society; Cowichan Valley Naturalists/Mt Tzouhalem Ecological Reserve/Natures Trust BC/Cowichan Stewards; Cowichan Land Trust; Nature Conservancy of Canada; BC Community Forest Association; Catalyst Paper Mill; Mosaic Log Sort - Crofton and Chemainus; Local Forestry Union United Steelworkers?; Cowichan Works; Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society.

I am sure there will be some raised eyebrows at the list, including the inclusion of the Catalyst mill, the forest union, and Mosaic in helping to determine the future of our community forests — which, as I previously reported, employed as few as 10 direct full-time jobs last year, including two municipal staffers.

I realize that consultation is a delicate balancing act, especially during a deadly global pandemic that prohibits public meetings. For residents, it’s critical to become engaged, remain focused, and ensure a conservation vision prevails for our forests.


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