Westward Independent

North Cowichan’s Forest Future

by Westward Independent
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North Cowichan (N.C.) stands out among municipalities due to its ownership of 5000 hectares of forest.

Over the past 30 years, N.C. has successfully managed this forest, generating approximately $1 million annually while allocating approx $500k for maintenance which gives the program a reserve fund. The forestry department also contributed to local fundraisers by donating cords of wood, maintaining the allure of the ‘six mountains’ as a cherished tourist attraction.

In 2019, a decision was made to cease all logging activities pending a survey and report from UBC consultants. This report explored various options ranging from continuing logging as usual to halting it entirely in favour of utilizing the forest for carbon credits. Despite the high cost of the survey, public engagement was disappointingly low. Nonetheless, the online survey purportedly indicated that the majority favoured option 4 – no logging, opting instead for carbon credits.

Subsequently, the forestry program’s budget shifted from surplus to deficit, burdening taxpayers. The reserve at the end of 2023 stood at $230,490, resulting in a $112,000 deficit with projected 2024 expenses far exceeding income. This raises questions about the relevance of taxpayer input, particularly in light of consultations with local First Nations, whose preference for carbon credits could potentially veto logging plans.

Recently it seems the council and N.C. residents will be further halted in their decision over the forest’s future as Chief Cindy Daniels of the Quw’ustsun Nation states “After generations of having been excluded from decision making related to our forests, Cowichan Tribes through the Quw’utsun Nation, is in discussion with the Municipality of North Cowichan to develop a co-management framework regarding the Municipal Forest Reserve (MFR). While this work is underway, N.C. will suspend all new decisions or initiatives related to the MFR. Ongoing forest-related work such as fire marsh mitigation, dangerous tree assessment and removals, storm clean up, silviculture activities and invasive plant management will continue as required. Cowichan Tribes, along with other Quw’utsun Nation communities, is looking forward to working more closely with N.C. to take up our stewardship responsibilities, within our ancestral territories.”

Furthermore, concerns arise regarding potential conflicts of interest with Cllr. Toporowski’s dual roles in both North Cowichan and Cowichan Tribes, particularly as she joins committees like the Natural Resource Committee for the tribes, and her recent nomination to run for the NDP provincially. Residents of North Cowichan are understandably anxious about the implications of such affiliations on decisions concerning the forest reserve’s future.

The fate of North Cowichan’s forest reserve hangs in the balance, influenced by complex dynamics involving financial viability, Indigenous consultation, and potential conflicts of interest. Residents await clarity on the path forward with a mix of anticipation and apprehension.

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