Natural Heritage Committee still discussing next steps

By Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter The Ridgetown Independent News

While Chatham-Kent works toward creating a possible woodlot preservation bylaw, Chatham-Kent’s Natural Heritage Committee wants to move ahead with a bylaw to govern clear-cutting in the municipality.

Since the first meeting was held last November, the committee, which is made up of Chatham-Kent council members, has had a number of reports, surveys and deputations to help them form a woodlot bylaw. The committee has also heard presentations from officials with the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority and planning staff.

However, the committee has not been able to draft a bylaw to bring to the community in order for them to give their thoughts through a consultation process.

While last week’s meeting featured a rundown from staff on current tree-cover incentives and programs available for landowners, along with other information, some said that given its importance to residents, stakeholders, and the environment, it was time to move forward with the issue.

“It feels like we’re at a point where we need to decide what we want to do,” said committee vice-chair and South Kent Councillor Trevor Thompson. “We haven’t presented anything to the community because we haven’t made any decisions as a committee. It feels like we’re at a point where we have to decide what to do.”

Thompson entered a successful motion requesting the committee, composed wholly of members of council, to move to a “more defined approach moving forward,” with the councillor acknowledging there are many conversations still to take place.

Chatham Councillor Brock McGregor also entered a motion, which passed. He asked the committee to look into education, incentive and regulation tools and that staff return with details and options.

“It’s pretty easy to agree that the community is looking for something different,” said McGregor.

East Kent Councillor Steve Pinsonneault said he wished when they originally set up the heritage committee, there would be more involvement from the agriculture community as well as tree conservation groups.

“I think it should’ve involved these groups more than council members, to be honest, with a certain number of council members,” he said. “The incentive programs need to be addressed as well.”

Ultimately the committee decided to move forward with a specific framework and ideas to bring to the community to discuss and modify in the upcoming months. The next steps ahead will focus on education, incentives, and regulation. Councillors also added it is important to hear from the landowners in upcoming consultations as the committee moves forward.

The committee approved several upcoming meeting dates to deal with the clear-cutting issue. These meeting dates, which are scheduled on the same nights as planning meetings, are set for March 21, April 11 and May 16.