By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Members of the Chatham-Kent Landowner’s Association say they will continue the fight against the adoption of a tree-cutting bylaw in Chatham-Kent.
The new group, most of whom are members of either the Kent Federation of Agriculture or the Christian Farmers Federation of Chatham-Kent, is turning up the volume.
According to East Kent farmer Brian Wright, the association will continue to lobby against restrictions in relation to private woodlots.
“We do not support any kind of bylaw,” Wright told The Voice. “We think the municipality should focus on the natural heritage strategy. It was working.”
On April 26, Chatham-Kent council passed a temporary tree-cutting bylaw put forward by Wallaceburg Coun. Aaron Hall, prohibiting the clear cutting of woodlots for a 120-day period.
It’s set to expire Aug. 24.
The legislation defines a woodland or woodlot as an area of land more than 0.2 hectares, or half an acre, with density of forest based on the size of the trees growing there.
The subject of tree conservation in Chatham-Kent has polarized the community for years, pitting landowners and farmers against environmentalists and conservation groups.
The municipality sits at the heart of the controversy, tasked with finding a solution that will appease both sides, while protecting the environment and the rights of property owners.
As part of the tree-cutting issue, Chatham-Kent initiated a public engagement process in June, hiring an outside company to oversee an online platform designed to allow citizens to voice their concerns. It closed July 9.
A public engagement meeting on Zoom, attended by about 55 people was also held.
But dissension remains.
Critics on both sides of the issue are saying the public engagement process is flawed. The landowners association is saying people from outside Chatham-Kent were allowed to take part in the survey.
Comments from afar skew results, Wright said, adding he heard people from Toronto and even Australia put their views forward.
Also, he said the survey questions lean towards the environmentalist viewpoint, rather than taking in the concerns facing farmers.
Wright said landowners are upset they weren’t consulted when the survey was developed.
“The survey we believe is very biased and pro bylaw,” Wright explained.
The timing of the survey’s launch was also poor, he added, as it occurred at the height of the busy planting season.
Wright points out farmers are excellent stewards of the land, adding it should be up to the owner how they manage their property.
It’s easy for folks to criticize when it doesn’t affect their livelihoods, he noted.
“Honestly, until they’ve walked in our shoes, they don’t really know,” Wright said. “None of us are telling other people how to make money, or to restrict what they do with their property in any way.”
The KFA currently has between 1,800 and 1,900 members, Wright said, and he believes about 1,700 of those are against a tree-cutting bylaw.
The KFA issued an official statement recently stating it is against the bylaw, adding the organization is in support of the municipality’s natural heritage strategy developed by staff seven years ago.
Hall, who has participated in all steps of the engagement process, said Monday he’s heard negative comments about the effort from both sides.
“The results cover the full spectrum of opinions,” Hall said. “People have strong opinions and strong views.
“We need to keep our ears and minds open,” he added.
“That’s healthy and we need that.”
Hall said the diversity of opinion will help council in the decision-making process.
“We need to find a Chatham-Kent solution,” he said, adding a new approach could include financial incentives for woodlot owners.
Chatham-Kent and Essex County are the only two municipalities in Ontario currently operating without a tree-cutting bylaw.