The reality of what clearcuts on Mount Prevost look like in 2020. (submitted)

A call to action — the survey

Public consultation is clearly not unfolding as the public had envisioned.

A call to action — the survey

First, the good news: the University of British Columbia team reported at the Forestry Advisory Committee meeting last week that in addition to the inestimable recreational, health, and ecological benefits of the municipal forest reserve, North Cowichan taxpayers could potentially make as much or more money through carbon offsets than by logging our Six Mountains.

The UBC report is excellent; we paid for it with our tax dollars, and we, citizens and council, deserve to see it directly online without interpretation by consultants and staff — but this may not happen.

The system lacks transparency. Forestry Advisory Committee meetings take place when citizens and council are working and are not recorded and posted on the municipal website for those to watch at a later time. Even council cannot access these recordings.

Public consultation is clearly not unfolding as the public had envisioned.

As I write this, we are told that the public gets just three to four weeks for consultation on an interim management plan for the forests. That includes a survey from which the consultants, Lees and Associates, will then extrapolate what the public wants before delivering their verdict to council in September.

How can anyone figure out our community’s attitudes on such a profound and complex subject as our forests in a short online survey? They cannot.

As individuals and a community we need access to all information before making up our minds on our Six Mountains — Prevost, Sicker, Richards, Maple, Stoney, and Tzouhalem. And that hasn’t happened yet.

UBC spelled it out: public engagement is intended to foster a “deeper understanding of local forests,” such as sensitive ecosystems, water quality, timber revenue, recreation, and other weighty matters. Only with a high level of education and consultation can it be determined what kind of management options should be examined.

Moreover, we need to see our forests first hand to understand why this landscape is the most endangered in British Columbia and deserving of protection. In other words, we need the “broad and deep” education we asked for.

Where Do We Stand is also concerned about issues of fairness, balance, and transparency throughout the consultation process, including appointments to the citizens’ Working Group (whose meetings are closed) and those stakeholders chosen for interviews by the consultant.

All of this is taking place during the peak of summer, when citizens are on holidays and concerns remain about the deadly coronavirus. This is a poor time to ask citizens to dedicate themselves to a consultation process. It also begs the question as to who is going to educate our community on alternatives such as carbon credits versus industrial-biased forestry methods.

There are other aspects to the consultation process that are troubling. We’ve been told there is a 5,000-word cap on written submissions to the consultant. Not per person — but in total. That is clearly inadequate, and falls far short of the fulsome process we have been promised.

After all, 900 comments were appended to our community petition alone asking for a pause of logging, in 2018/19. Will the concerns of these and other individuals now be silenced under the current process?

After the consultant’s report, council will then decide whether to log, in one form or another, during the second stage of consultation.

The option not to log (unless proven to be absolutely critical, such as for public safety) must also be put forward.

This brings us back to the UBC findings that North Cowichan can make as much money by not logging our backyards, our watersheds, our home. Again, the report by UBC should be available for the public to watch directly without interpretation.

What I heard is that our community forests are worth so much more standing than shipped offshore to be sold back to us as two-by-fours. In the next few days we’ll find out what information will be made available to the public through the consultants and we will see the survey.

Please watch the Citizen and subscribe to WhereDoWeStand.ca for updates.

Icel Dobell

Where Do We Stand

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