“We are farm proud and forest friendly.” That’s a sign held up by Andrea O’Rourke, an East Kent farmer, at the March 25 council meeting. Her photo adorns the front page of The Chatham Daily News today (March 26).
At that meeting, council narrowly voted against a proposed six-month moratorium on clear cutting in Chatham-Kent, a municipality with a paltry 3% (and declining) forest coverage. This comes a long two months after the idea was initially proposed by Wallaceburg Coun. Sheldon Parsons. The hold on clear cutting was intended to be put into place while municipal administration looked into the feasibility of developing and enacting a tree-protection bylaw.
Most farmers behave just like O’Rourke’s sign says. They are excellent stewards of the land. But it’s not those folks about which the rest of us are worried. It’s the few proverbial bad apples that can spoil the whole darned tree that concern us. Well, rather than spoil the tree, they’d just as soon cut it down, and all other trees nearby.
Those are the people who spent the past two months destroying their woodlots. They were busy with hatchet, axe and saw from the moment Parsons first brought his proposed temporary clear-cutting moratorium to council in late January — where it was sent back to administration “for more information.” That move essentially sent certain landowners running for their chainsaws. rushing to eradicate woodlots before council could consider putting a ban in place.
The municipality ultimately gave them a two-month window to deprive us of hundreds of acres of forest coverage before the issue would come to council for a vote.
This rush to clear cut may have been ignored by some members of council, but others paid attention. The Delaware Nation Chief Greg Peters on Friday strongly expressed concerns to the municipality over all the clear cutting going on around the Moraviantown borders. The people of Moraviantown are concerned the deforestation will impact their ability to hunt and fish, as the deforestation is taking place on “some of the traditional territories for both the Lenape, and Chippewa,” according to Peters.
“The clear cutting of forest in the region is having a direct impact on our inherent and aboriginal right to hunt and fish, rights which are entrenched in the Canadian Constitution,” the Delaware Nation chief said in his letter. “It saddens our people to see trees being bulldozed down, as this is an affront to our spirituality and beliefs as Indigenous Peoples of this land.”
Nine councillors ignored that message. Two of them, Jim Brown and Steve Pinsonneault, are the East Kent representatives — essentially political neighbours to Moraviantown — on council. Not a very neighbourly decision, but one that instead is an attempt to curry votes for the next election rather than do what is best for the municipality as a whole.
Granted, there is a conflict of ideals here. And speaking of conflicts, it appears some may have quietly been ignored.
Municipal councillors are supposed to recuse themselves from voting on an issue if they are potentially in a position of pecuniary conflict of interest. In other words, if they or someone close to them stands to be financially impacted in any way by the decision, they aren’t to take part. The only councillor to do so was Wallaceburg’s Jeff Wesley, citing his employer, Union Gas, as the reason, as he believes it could be impacted by the decision.
What about the farmers who sit on council? Were they in conflict? Even if they have no woodlots to speak of on their land, do any of their parents or children own land that stood to be impacted by the proposed moratorium? If there was a chance the ban on clear cutting would have impacted land prices for them or immediate loved ones, then, yes, they should have declared a conflict of interest.
How about realtors? If you broker the sale of farmland, then you certainly shouldn’t have voted on this issue as a councillor.
Yet Wesley was the lone person to declare a conflict.
Meanwhile, municipal staff are still plugging away on a tree-protection bylaw. They believe it will take about six months to prepare to bring before council. For rural residents in C-K, don’t be surprised to hear the buzzing of chainsaw in your area for months to come.