North Cowichan should take leadership role on environment, consultant report urges
North Cowichan should seize the moment and take a leadership role on environmental policies and regulations, a consultant’s report for the Municipality recommends.
The Diamond Head report says “opportunities for leadership” include management of invasive species, protection of trees within the urban containment boundary, bylaw enforcement, and improved protection and restoration of ecosystems and their connectivity.
“Protecting biodiversity usually includes the protection of a diversity of habitat and ensuring that they are connected together,” says the report, which is on the agenda for Monday’s special council meeting.
The Municipality should act to prevent pre-emptive land clearing associated with subdivisions, since, under current regulations, “land clearing often occurs years before the land is developed,” the report says. “This can lead to unnecessary tree clearing in cases where development does not proceed, or where sites are left bare for long periods of time.” Erosion and proliferation of invasive plants can result.
North Cowichan may also want to consider developing a Community Forest Strategy, providing “a clear vision, goals and performance standards” for the management of its community forest, including consideration of a tree bylaw.
“Trees are a fundamental element of most terrestrial natural areas,” the report continues. “Protecting them helps to ensure that natural ecosystems are also protected.”
The Diamond Head report notes that many municipalities choose to provide additional measures for watercourse protection over and above provincial laws. “Most of these municipalities are in the Lower Mainland, providing North Cowichan with the chance to be a leader in this on Vancouver Island.”
The report observes that municipal staff have described “ongoing challenges with enforcement of bylaws, particularly as it relates to development and property maintenance.” Updated or new regulations should provide staff with “adequate provisions to enable their enforcement.”
The report says restoration of disturbed areas or areas taken over by invasive plants is critical for ensuring the long-term health of urban natural areas.
“Clear restoration guidelines would help homeowners and developers understand what is expected of them to maintain the integrity of natural forested and riparian areas that are within or adjacent to their properties.”
In 2020, Council directed staff to prepare a high–level report that provides an inventory of North Cowichan’s environmental protection policies and recommends a process for strengthening those policies as part of the Official Community Plan update.
Council urged that the report include: prevention of unauthorized land clearing; maintenance of natural hydrological functions and erosion prevention; prevention of nutrient/pollutants getting into storm drains and natural watercourses; noxious and invasive weeds; Garry oak ecosystem protection; wildlife habitat protection; urban forest enhancement; greenways protection/creation; and pesticide/herbicide use.
(Larry Pynn photo: invasive Scotch broom on Maple Mountain)
— Larry Pynn, Feb. 21, 2021