Software delay could hold up tree cutting bylaw decision

·4 min read

A delivery delay is holding up a highly impactful tree cover analysis in Chatham-Kent.

The Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority was set to conduct a digital survey of the county’s trees, an undertaking that occurs around every four years. Chatham-Kent has one of the lowest percentage of tree coverage in the province, believed to be around just three to four per cent.

The exact number is especially impactful this year as the data is set to be an essential piece of evidence when council debates adopting a tree cutting bylaw later this year.

“Any consideration by council as to how they’re going to manage woodlots in the future, council and all stakeholders would want to know what type of tree cover we have right now and has it gone up, down, or stayed the same since the last time the analysis was done,” says Chatham-Kent CAO Don Shropshire.

But the survey hit a roadblock when the software needed to aerially count the trees was delayed. Considerably in fact; Shropshire says the program just arrived about three weeks ago.

He says it could be several more weeks before the numbers are in.

In the meantime a temporary tree cutting bylaw enacted at the end of April is set to expire Aug. 24. Council is due to receive an update in August, partly focusing on the results of a public consultation survey, but it’s unclear if the conservation authority’s analysis will be ready by then.

Councillor Aaron Hall, who introduced the temporary bylaw, says the tree cover analysis is an important piece of the puzzle but not a sole deciding factor. “The direction and the motion wasn’t hinging on that. I understand it’s related and it’s a piece that would help us have a fulsome view of it all… It’d be great to have that information.”

Other pieces include letters from the public, a virtual meeting, investigations into best practices for woodlot preservation and an incentive program as well as a public survey that recently concluded.

But with just two meetings left before the bylaw expires, if council decides potential missing information, such as the tree cover analysis, is needed to make a decision another temporary bylaw could be on the table.

“I think that’s an option we could look at if we don’t have everything in place… That could be something that we could do to bide a little more time,” says Hall, though he adds “I’m anticipating that we’ll be able to get that information before then.”

Shropshire and Hall both addressed the survey, particularly concerns from both sides of the debate over the questions having some bias to them. “Those concerns were expressed by people that were… on the side of protecting private property rights and not wanting to have restrictions on how they manage their woodlots and also other people that had an environmental orientation where they were wanting to protect woodlots and preserve them,” says Shropshire.

“The direction we received from council was to go out and consult to determine if there was going to be a municipal bylaw that would restrict the management of woodlots… what type of incentives should be considered so that a property owner with a woodlot would not have to bear the entire cost of protecting the woodlot. If it’s a public benefit it’s a public cost,” says the CAO.

Hall says the criticism shows the survey worked. “I know some people were concerned that it was kind of misleading or biased. But it was from both sides of the spectrum so to me that just means that it was absolutely not.”

“If we were overwhelmingly getting comments and feedback from one side then I’m sure everybody would take a closer look and be like what’s going on here, what’s wrong with this. But when you’re hearing it from both sides I think that’s a way to spark engagement and to get people’s genuine views out there,” he says.

“One thing I’ve found with this whole issue is there’s a wide spectrum of views, but no matter where people land on the spectrum there’s a lot of passion with the people that are interested in this,” says Hall. “I’m happy with the amount of engagement and responses from the public to take part in this process. That’s what we needed and that was a big element of the motion to ensure that the public had the opportunity to have their say.”

Shropshire says the National Heritage Implementation Strategy adopted by Chatham-Kent in 2014 will also be up for discussion. “If it’s working that sets them (council) on a certain course. If there’s concerns about the changes over the last four years then council will have to consider different actions,” he says.

Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent

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