Confusion, suspicion reign in early stages of public consultation for Municipal Forest Reserve

North Cowichan’s launch of its much-anticipated public engagement on the future of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve stumbled badly out of the blocks this week, leaving citizens understandably confused and suspicious about the process.

At issue is who gets a seat on a 16-member Working Group being assembled to help guide the forthcoming public consultation on interim and long-term management of the forest reserve, also known as the Six Mountains.

March 6 is the deadline to apply to join the Working Group, with the express stipulation that “participants must be North Cowichan residents or represent a group/society/organization within North Cowichan….”

That seemed clear enough.

Then Megan Jordan, communications and public engagement manager for North Cowichan, pressed send on a group email this week to select stakeholders apprising them of the consultation process and suggesting they might want to apply to join the Working Group.

"As a stakeholder, with an interest in North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve, you are invited to apply to join a working group that will participate in the engagement on the future of our Forest Reserve,” she wrote.

Jordan refused to provide sixmountains.ca with a full list of stakeholders who have been approached to be part of the Working Group. “No, not at this point.”

Sixmountains.ca: “So the public process really isn’t that public at all then.”

Jordan: “The public process is extremely public. There’s a lot of transparency here. The stakeholder piece is just one very small piece. It’s an early opportunity to reach out to some people…and it’s not closed off by any means.”

Jordan noted that the stakeholder list was compiled in conjunction with University of B.C. forestry officials and consultants Lees and Associates of Vancouver, hired by North Cowichan to conduct the public engagement process.

Fortunately, sixmountains.ca managed to obtain the email list elsewhere.

I won’t share the specific email addresses, out of respect for personal privacy, but suffice to say there are some obvious problems. Among the individuals listed in the emails: Peter de Verteuil, chief administrative officer for the City of Duncan, which, last time I looked, is not located in the Municipality of North Cowichan; Tony Botica is a fuels management specialist with the province’s Coastal Fire Centre in Parksville.

Botica’s inclusion on the list is part of an obvious effort to incorporate as much forestry input as possible, including Mosaic Forest Management, Western Forest Products, Private Forest Landowners Association, and BC Community Forest Association.

And I foolishly thought this was an engagement process for the citizens of North Cowichan.

How commercial logging interests play out against the residents of our community — the ones whose protests resulted in the public consultation process — remains to be seen. 

Maybe it will backfire.

I earlier reported that TimberWest (since folded into Mosaic Forest Management) and the Crown corporation, Pacific Carbon Trust, finalized an agreement in 2013 that paid the timber company $6 million for a carbon-sequestration project, the largest of its kind on the BC coast. The company agreed not to log more than 1,000 hectares of its old-growth forests at dozens of sites on Vancouver Island for 100 years, including 50-hectare Koksilah Grove in the upper Koksilah River, which flows into the Cowichan River estuary.

That’s right, cash in the bank for not logging. What a concept.

Back to the emails controversy: I contacted Megan Turnock of Lees and Associates to provide some clarity and she assured me that despite the widespread distribution of the emails by the municipality, “only North Cowichan residents will be on the working group.”

She added: ”We are happy to add stakeholders to the list throughout the project,” noting that individuals can also sign up to receive project notifications through PlaceSpeak: https://www.placespeak.com/en/topic/6287-future-of-the-municipal-forest-reserve/

Larry Pynn, March 1, 2020

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