As Chatham-Kent’s tree cutting discourse enters a pivotal month the local conservation authority is hoping to clear up discussion on their role in the process.
“This is all about forest cover. A lot of people are confusing tree cover and forest cover,” says Greg Van Every, environmental project coordinator at the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority.
The group is currently conducting an analysis of forest cover in the county, a task they perform every five years. Pilots fly over Ontario taking aerial photos and package the information for the conservation authority to analyze. The data will be used by councillors when they debate a permanent tree cutting bylaw in August.
Environmental groups and supporters want local forests protected while farmers are arguing they have the right to do what they want on their own property, including clear cutting any forests.
‘Forest cover’ is defined as an area of mature growth trees at least half a hectare (5,000 square metres) in size and at least 30 metres wide. That means trees downtown, in your backyard, or the much debated ‘windbreaks’ that line farm fields are not included in the count.
“A lot of people are like ‘Why doesn’t it include that?’ At some point we had to decide on what it’s going to be. If we’re talking about forest cover, that’s considered forest cover,” says Van Every of the half hectare cutoff. He notes many farmers have expressed their displeasure at their windbreaks and other scattering of trees not being counted.
“If you’re talking about tree cover that’s a bit different and there was some discussion about doing some urban tree inventories. But we haven’t really got to that point yet.”
For now forest cover is what’s been requested by the municipality and a comparison to 2016 numbers will help show how the lack of a tree cutting bylaw in Chatham-Kent has impacted mature forests.
The region has one of the lowest forest covers in all of Ontario, believed to be only around three to four per cent.
Van Every says the LTVCA has no official opinion on how Chatham-Kent proceeds with a bylaw. “Our business is planting trees and stewardship and educating people on environmental things, we’re not in the business of patrolling woodlots.”
But he does point out some facts aren't in dispute.
“On one side people are thinking ‘oh they’re planting all those trees so that makes up for it.’ But if you think about it, planting a seedling doesn’t replace a mature forest,” says Van Every.
“It’s two completely separate things. There’s no way you’re going to replace an old growth forest that’s ripped down in minutes - which takes hundreds of years to develop - with seedling plantings.”
Van Every recommends the best approach takes all remedies into account.
“You need the bylaw and the tree planting to really improve things, that’s the key. A lot of people are looking at one or the other. But in reality you need both of those things to have a secure environment,” he says.
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent