By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Kent Federation of Agriculture has launched a petition calling on the municipality for better representation when it comes to the rules surrounding tree cutting and woodlot preservation.
According to a recent press release, the petition is asking for a renewed formal consultation process to be led by a non-biased third party.
According to KFA president Jay Cunningham, the group is appealing to Chatham-Kent’s Natural Heritage Strategy Committee of the Whole to hire a third party to oversee the process.
“We don’t believe we had an adequate amount of consultation that’s going to allow us to present our side of the discussion,” Cunningham said.
He went on to say the KFA has data and statistics that could “dispel and correct the misinformation that’s out there.”
Cunningham said he wants to see representatives from all sides of the issue to meet face-to-face and “set down and have a discussion.”
“We would like to see the municipality hire a third party and gather all those who are interested, including us, the tree huggers and others to present their information directly in an unbiased manner.”
The KFA has taken issue with the municipality’s consultation strategy, which involved an online questionnaire that was managed by an outside company.
The organization is critical of the survey’s “accuracy and validity,” adding that many viewed it as “biased in its wording and therefore unacceptable.”
Last month, the NHS committee made the decision to depart from the status quo, recognizing a need for change regarding the way the municipality handles woodlot management.
On Feb. 14, council opted to pass two motions that will enable the committee to make changes if it so desires.
Committee vice chair South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson put forward the first motion following a presentation from staff outlining a “decision tree” framework.
The decision outlined four paths council could choose, with the first to take no action regarding the subject of privately owned woodlots.
Thompson’s motion calls for the committee to “work toward a more defined approach” that will see further discussion to allow for another round of community consultation with stakeholders, to ensure they have a hand in the drafting of any proposed changes.
Chatham-Kent’s current temporary bylaw on tree cutting is set to expire April 30.
The next meeting of the committee will be held March 21, after council’s regular planning meeting.
Another meeting is planned for May 16, which Cunningham said denotes a “clear lack of understanding for the agricultural industry” as it’s right in the heart of planting season, making farmers unavailable.
“It just shows the disconnect,” he added.
Cunningham said 91 per cent of Chatham-Kent’s land is mainly owned by farmers and represents 61 per cent of the land base.
Plus, he said, agriculture is the largest industry in Chatham-Kent.