North Cowichan rejects Manhas proposal to resume logging in forest reserve in response to coronavirus

North Cowichan council on April 15 rejected a dubious motion by councillor Tek Manhas that would have resumed logging in the Municipal Forest Reserve despite the fact that a public consultation process on the logging issue has barely begun.

 

During budget discussions, Manhas showed he is no visionary on the forest file and is out of touch with the rest of council and the citizens of North Cowichan. Clearly, he sees the forest reserve as a potential revenue source with little or no consideration of the greater diversity of values, including viewscapes, recreation and ecology.

 

Manhas comes from a forestry background. During the last election, he told me that he “grew up in a home that prospered from the forest industry as my grandfather began working in the industry back in 1921 in the Cowichan Valley and my father worked for Mayo Lumber Company and Doman’s.”

 

At the April 15 council meeting, Manhas argued that the COVID-19 pandemic also represented an economic crisis and that a renewal of logging for 2020 would provide jobs “as a benefit for everybody.” 

 

What short-sighted nonsense. Manhas would do better to visit the reserve for himself and witness the legions of citizens currently drawn to a living forest for their physical and mental well being. The few full-time logging jobs pale in comparison. 

 

Ultimately, his logging proposal represented an insult to every resident of North Cowichan who has faith in the public consultation process into the interim and long-term management of the forest reserve — management that must include the option of not logging at all as the highest and best use of our forests.

 

Full marks to the rest of council for shooting down Manhas’ ill-conceived motion. 

 

But the comments of Chief Administrative Officer Ted Swabey proved to be the most surprising. Swabey has expressed support for continued logging in the past, but on Wednesday clearly came out against logging while the consultation process into the “highly charged” forestry issue remains outstanding.

 

“In my opinion, considering logging is not a good idea now,” he said.

 

That really left Manhas in his own special zone of self-isolation.

 

On March 18, North Cowichan announced that public consultation into future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — also known as the Six Mountains — had been suspended for 90 days due to the coronavirus outbreak.

 

Led by councillor Rob Douglas, council April 15 passed a motion urging staff to go back to consultants Lees and Associates to see whether it is possible to resume some form of consultation, including virtual options. 

 

Swabey warned against asking Lees, saying: “Remember, if you ask a barber if you need a haircut, he’s going to tell you you need a haircut.” 

 

He added there is a risk the public will conclude that the consultations are not meaningful. “We’re sort of in a holding pattern on this sort of thing….

 

“Logging doesn’t make sense and doing the engagement doesn’t make sense on such a complicated topic. My recommendation is we stay the course and don’t do either.”

 

Icel Dobell of the grassroots watchdog group, wheredowestand.ca, also cautioned against a virtual consultation, saying younger people especially in North Cowichan are still not fully aware of the forest issues. “It would be wrong to carry on before people know,” she said. “Let’s have an open conversation.”

 

Council has promised residents a “deep and meaningful public engagement on the highest and best use of the forest” with “many different opportunities to engage.”

 

Council earlier stopped new logging of the forest reserve pending a two-phase engagement process for an interim forest management plan covering the period Sept. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021, and a long-term management plan beginning on Jan. 1, 2022.

 

How the coronavirus may change those deadlines remains to be seen.

 

— Larry Pynn, April 16, 2020

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