By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A vigorous public engagement campaign regarding tree cutting and woodlot conservation in Chatham-Kent is underway.
At the June 14 Chatham-Kent council meeting, a new online platform called Ethelo was unveiled. Its state-of-the-art approach allows residents to complete a survey and have their say on what has been a historically controversial issue.
The municipality is also reaching out through conventional mail to 6,000 stakeholders.
Bruce McAllister, general manager of community development for Chatham-Kent, said the aim is to offer all citizens a chance to provide feedback.
“Given the importance of the subject to council and the community, we wanted to make every effort to bring awareness to this engagement,” McAllister told council, “and allow the possibility of the community to provide input.”
In addition, a virtual town hall meeting on the issue will be held on the Zoom platform on June 29 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
McAllister said the Zoom meeting will feature breakout groups to address various issues and stakeholder concerns.
On April 26, council adopted a temporary bylaw that halted clear cutting of bush or forest on private lands for a period of 120 days.
A number of conservation initiatives in the municipality, including the C-K Woodlot Preservation group and ReLeaf Chatham-Kent, are encouraging the public to take part in the survey, with the ReLeaf group even offering prizes to those who participate.
Eight years ago, when council proposed the idea of a Chatham-Kent tree-cutting bylaw, many landowners and farmers clamoured to clear cut woodlots and bush before a bylaw could be enacted.
It led to a spike in deforestation and the loss of natural habitat across the municipality.
However, council abandoned the bylaw idea, agreeing instead to allow members of the Kent Federation of Agriculture to monitor woodlots.
But critics say the approach hasn’t worked, with farmers continuing to clear woodlots in order to plant crops.
Chatham-Kent bears the distinction of having the lowest forest cover in Ontario, with only around 3.5 per cent of its bio-diverse Carolinian forest still remaining.
It is also one of the few municipalities without a woodlot conservation bylaw.
All of the information regarding the public information campaign and survey can be found online at letstalkchatham-kent.ca. Online input will be accepted until July 9.