By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
East Kent farmer Mona Natvik thinks it’s a shame Chatham-Kent is “so far behind” when it comes to protecting its forests.
With the municipality having the lowest tree cover in all of Ontario, Natvik said a tree-cutting bylaw is needed because so few are left.
“We need to protect what is still standing now.”
Natvik was among the speakers who took to the podium in Tecumseh Park in Chatham on Saturday. The event was billed as a Forest Defenders rally to protect the remaining woodlots of Chatham-Kent.
Around 80 people attended the gathering – loosely organized by the local Raging Grannies group.
A total of six speakers voiced their concerns, some as private landowners, with others representing local environmental groups.
Two First Nation representatives were also on hand to offer their support. Winona Kuwayatakenhas joined activist Ken Bell to offer a First People’s land dedication, and Pat Noah of the Lenape Nation spoke about conserving the Earth.
Natvik, who ran for council on the tree-cutting bylaw issue back in 2014, grew up near the Clear Creek nature preserve.
The 800-acre parcel of Carolinian forest, slated to be cut down and farmed more than a decade earlier, was saved largely by her brother Mathis.
Her sibling negotiated with the landowners to hold off on the clear cut, while a group fundraised to help the Nature Conservancy of Canada purchase the land.
Thanks to a sizeable anonymous donation, Natvik said the land was saved and today stands as one of five large swaths of what remains of the Carolinian forest, a bio-rich ecosystem found only in southern Ontario.
It was later turned over to Ontario Parks.
Natvik said she tells the story, not to praise her brother, but to say the issue shouldn’t have occurred in the first place.
“It would have been entirely permissible at the time to clear cut the area,” Natvik said. “It shouldn’t take the effort of an individual to stop it.”
Natvik, a high school teacher who is in the process of taking over a family farm, said she worries about the future and the effects of climate change, which why she speaks out.
Through the years, her family has chosen to preserve woodlots while farming their property.
“We could have cut down the forest and we could have been wealthier people today,” she explained.
Natvik said she doesn’t have much confidence in the Chatham-Kent council to protect forests.
Al Jackson, the rally’s emcee, told the crowd preserving nature is cultural.
“I think that a lot of this has to do with culture and values,” Jackson said. “ You can’t regulate culture and values. What you can regulate is behaviour and action.”
He went on to say the tree-cutting bylaw is being opposed by the powerful business of agriculture and “paid lobbyists,” adding the industry can’t be trusted to police itself as outlined in the Natural Heritage Implementation Strategy.
“It’s like giving crooks the keys to the bank,” Jackson said.
Denise Shephard of the Sydenham Field Naturalists said current strategies aren’t working, adding widespread clear cutting will commence like it did in 2014, if a bylaw isn’t passed.
Green Party candidate Mark Vercouteren also spoke to the crowd about the importance of woodlands.
Although all were invited, no elected officials from Chatham-Kent attended, although Wallaceburg Coun. Aaron Hall sent his regrets.
The Raging Grannies supported the gathering in song, adapting the lyrics of popular classics such as Hey Jude to the woodlot preservation issue.