By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Despite being on the books for over a year, further action on Chatham-Kent’s woodlot preservation bylaw will fall to the next council.
At its July 25 stay-at-home meeting, council opted to push the issue ahead by approving a motion put forward by Wallaceburg Coun. Aaron Hall in a 15-2 vote. Hall is the councillor who initially pushed for just such a bylaw more than a year ago.
The new motion calls for the work of the Natural Heritage Committee of the Whole to pause, and directs staff to prepare a report on what has been done to date.
In turn, this summary will be presented to the new council before the end of 2022.
In his comments, Hall said carrying the work forward and getting the new council up to speed quickly is essential.
“The direction also provides flexibility to the new council to go in a direction they see fit,” Hall explained.
A thorny issue for the past decade, woodlot preservation has pitted farmers and rural landowners against many who wish to protect trees.
The original motion, introduced by Hall in April 2021, was met with resistance by members of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and applauded by environment groups such as the anonymous Raging Grannies.
Earlier this year in March, council agreed to halt all action until a third-party mediator could be hired to help move the bylaw process forward.
However, no one responded to the municipality’s request for proposal for the position.
The responsibilities of the mediator as they were laid out in the RFP included determining if more information was needed, to see if further stakeholder input was needed and to prepare a framework for a woodlot preservation bylaw.
Bryan Boyle, who facilitated a similar process in 2013 which resulted in the creation of Chatham-Kent’s Natural Heritage Implementation Strategy, declined to take the job that Ontario Federation of Agriculture members had recommended him for.
North Kent. Coun. Jamie McGrail said that while she agrees with putting the woodlot preservation issue on pause, she’s worried nothing has been done to address not being able to find someone to mediate the process.
In addition, Hall’s motion calls for the NHCOTW’s information to be linked to the election’s candidate page, so everyone running for office can easily access the large amount of data.
The motion also calls for the election for a new chair and vice-chair of the committee.
Currently, Hall and South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson hold the positions respectively.
The temporary woodlot preservation bylaw that prohibits clear cutting will remain in effect until it is officially altered by council.