By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
After a couple of years on simmer, the polarizing issue of tree conservation in Chatham-Kent is back.
At a recent council meeting, East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault, said he will bring a notice of motion forward Sept. 25 to remove the temporary tree-cutting bylaw adopted by council in the spring of 2021 and reinstate the Natural Heritage Strategy that was in place since 2014.
Pinsonneault said there’s a problem with the tree cutting bylaw that prohibits clear cutting of woodlots as it has no end date, pointing out the Natural Heritage Strategy approach worked well and covered the issue until the bylaw came into effect.
“It’s been two-and-a-half years,” Pinsonneault said in reference to the bylaw. “The can keeps getting kicked down the road. The ag community wants to know what’s happening. They can’t do anything…everything is in limbo.”
Pinsonneault pointed out that farmers are “good stewards of the land,” caring for their properties responsibly, as many rural property owners work with the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority to plant trees on marginal farmland.
A contentious subject in Chatham-Kent for the past decade, rules around tree cutting and woodlot preservation have divided members of the community, with many calling it a rural/urban issue. Input on the matter drew an unprecedented strong response from both sides from a public survey on the C-K website. A host of deputations on the issue were also made to council.
Following the meeting, Wallaceburg Coun. Aaron Hall said he was going to bring a notice of motion forward the council planning meeting Sept. 18 for consider at the Sept. 25 regular meeting.
Hall, who is chair of the Natural Heritage Strategy committee of the whole, is asking council to begin a “clearly illustrated path forward” on the municipality’s natural heritage work.
The councillor said it will be “open and rooted in transparency,” supported by the work done during the last term of council.
Hall called in an important issue for the community as it represents a “wide spectrum” of views from across Chatham-Kent.
“It’s essential for our council to be diligent and to show leadership to all residents in our community, and ensure we are following best practices on how to properly tackle these important and challenging issues,” he said.
Hall also pointed out that council recently gave unanimous approval to the 2023-27 strategic plan, which includes ensuring environmentally sustainability.
Those in favour of allowing farmers to manage their woodlots without municipal interference include the Kent Federation of Agriculture, the Chatham-Kent Landowner’s Association and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.
Support for a bylaw includes the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, the Ontario Woodlot Association and the National Farmers Union.
The motion for a 120-day temporary tree bylaw was brought forward by Wallaceburg Coun. Aaron Hall in April 2021. It has subsequently been extended to the present day. A National Heritage Strategy Committee of the Whole of council was also formed to address the issue.
Prior to adopting the temporary bylaw in 2021, Chatham-Kent was one of only two municipalities in Ontario without a tree-cutting bylaw, and it bears the distinction of having the lowest natural forest cover in the province at only 3.5 per cent.