Highlighting the fact that more time is needed to receive more information on tree cover, Chatham-Kent councillors have agreed to extend the temporary clear-cutting bylaw until December 14.
This means tree clearing across Chatham-Kent has been halted for another 120 days as the municipality looks further into improving local tree coverage.
Staff had recommended the measure during last week’s meeting, along with directing the administration to prepare the terms of reference for creating a natural heritage advisory committee of council, to be considered at the September 27 meeting.
Wallaceburg Councillor Aaron Hall successfully lobbied for a temporary tree-cutting bylaw back in late April. At the time, council created a 120-day temporary ban on clear-cutting.
“I strongly believe that a temporary bylaw should be in place while we continue to engage, gather data and carry out this important conversation, all while striving for a long-term solution,” he said.
Council doubled down on the temporary element, adding another 120 days to the bylaw, following a recommendation by municipal staff.
The decision followed nearly two dozen deputations to council.
Councillor Melissa Harrigan called the upcoming tree report the “missing piece of the puzzle” before taking the next steps.
“I think we owe this to our community to take the time to do this right,” said Harrigan. “Allowing us to wait until we see this data and understand what sort of action the heritage committee could bring forward does demonstrate that as a council, we are willing to wait and make decisions that are long-lasting in our community.”
But Councillor Joe Faas said he didn’t support extending the bylaw, believing it would impact the relationship between the municipality and local farmers.
Councillor Anthony Ceccacci wasn’t quick to support both recommendations, expressing that he was on the fence regarding the issue.
“I am one of the councillors who are very much in the middle of the yellow aspect, where I see both sides, and I am on the fence,” said Ceccacci. “Very good points have been made on both sides.”
Councillor Michael Bondy, who supported both staff recommendations, expressed disappointment at how things played out leading up to Monday, noting some may have had the wrong impression.
“Tonight’s not the night,” said Bondy. “We’re just asking for an extension.”
The Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority is currently working on a report compiling tree cover statistics in Chatham-Kent, with expected completion in October.
“It’s an extensive study we’re doing,” said Mark Peacock, LTVCA Chief Administrative Officer, adding it will compare the tree coverage in 2010, 2015 and 2020.
Council members will consider the terms of reference for a Natural Heritage Advisory Committee of Council at the next meeting on September 27, 2021.
According to results from Chatham-Kent’s woodlot survey, more than 70 percent of the 1,286 respondents “totally support” woodlot preservation in Chatham and nearly another eight percent “slightly support” it.
However, 62 percent of participants did not own property featuring a woodlot, and 38 percent of them did.
Additionally, the report noted that when the survey closed, Ethelo conducted a “proprietary authentication process” to screen multiple submissions and submissions from non-residents.
These tests revealed a variety of suspicious attempts to undermine the survey results throughout the engagement period, showing an overwhelming majority of these attempts tried to skew the results against regulation, the report stated.
Brian Wright, a spokesperson for the Chatham-Kent Landowners Association, said people from Toronto and as far away as Australia were filling out the survey. He added the Landowners’ Association brought it to the municipality’s attention.
The survey also showed that the majority of the community voted in favour of educational programs, incentives and regulations in supporting healthy forests.
Chatham-Kent General Manager of Community Development, Bruce McAllister, said he believes further research is needed on the topic.
“We’ve heard from people on both sides across the political spectrum that suggested we take the time to do further research,” said McAllister. “The next step is working with the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority (LTVCA) to update the mapping of natural heritage in Chatham-Kent.”
The report recommends that a Natural Heritage Advisory Committee of Council (NHAC) be established.
“The purpose would be to facilitate further the exchange of ideas between Council and the public with respect to protecting natural heritage features and maintaining, restoring, and improving Chatham-Kent’s natural heritage system,” the report read.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News