By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
A Shrewsbury resident is lobbying to change Chatham-Kent zoning laws in an effort to save more trees in the municipality.
Ken Bell, a member of the Great Lakes Community Eco Initiative, launched a Save our CK Forests petition on change.org a few weeks ago and has now reached more than 1,400 signatories.
The petition calls on the municipal government to protect Chatham-Kent’s natural habitats and the wildlife corridors that connect them.
Bell’s main request is that council and administration rezone all significant woodlands over two hectares to Open Space designation for the purpose of conservation. Currently, they are designated for agricultural use, a loophole that was never remedied since amalgamation, according to Bell.
“It’s like a loophole that’s existed for a long time,” he said. “Right now, the way things are is that a woodland or a bush is from a zoning perspective the same as a blank agricultural field, and they’re not. So when a forest is torn down by a landowner, for corn or something, according to planning there is no landscape change. Even though it is pretty obvious that it is.”
Bell said the zone change would force any potential landowners to go through a zoning application process which would allow for more transparency and a greater say for the public to have in conservation.
“I would say a few small landowners do a lot of damage. But most farm owners are good stewards of the land,” Bell said.
Chatham-Kent’s existing tree canopy cover is 3.4 per cent, according to municipal documents for the CKPlan2035.
“As a result, there remain many areas in Chatham-Kent where tree planting can be expanded to increase the tree canopy cover to achieve the community’s desire for one million new trees,” the 2035 plan states.
This is not the first time Bell has helped to bring this type of initiative to council.
From 2012 to 2014, many trees were cut down for farmland as commodity prices soared, prompting a group of concerned citizens to propose a tree-cutting bylaw. Instead council passed a Natural Heritage Strategy in 2014.
“The policy council implemented did not address deforestation, so it has continued on a lower level,” Bell said.
Bell said there are several woodlands currently under threat in East Kent where contracts have already been signed, which prompted him to try again. This time he is going about it through rezoning, believing that another attempt at a tree-cutting bylaw would fail.