The less said the bet­ter

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey, richard@glen­gar­rynews.ca

Bal­ance. The term is so ver­sa­tile. It can re­fer to a bank ac­count to­tal, an ac­tion, a state of equi­lib­rium, or a life goal. We can lose our bal­ance; we can go off-bal­ance. We are told that we must seek bal­ance in our lives, achieve a healthy mix of work and play.

“Bal­ance” is also the lat­est term be­ing used to try to del­i­cately broach the very sen­si­tive topic of de­for­esta­tion.

“Govern­ments are chal­lenged with bal­anc­ing prop­erty rights and pro­tect­ing the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment that works to ben­e­fit us all,” reads a re­port Stor­mont-Dun­das-Glen­garry plan­ner Ali­son Mc­Don­ald re­cently sub­mit­ted to coun­cil mem­bers.

Be­fore farm­ers be­gin fir­ing up the chain­saws, re­mem­ber that there is not now, nor will there be in the near fu­ture, any se­ri­ous at­tempt by govern­ments to curb the right to chop down trees in Stor­mont-Dun­das-Glen­garry.

De­spite hand-wring­ing about un­abated for­est cover loss, and re­ports doc­u­ment­ing the im­pact of clear-cut­ting, there are no plans to limit tree re­moval in the three coun­ties.

In fact, many tree hug­gers are re­luc­tant to even men­tion tree con­ser­va­tion by­laws be­cause they fear jit­tery land own­ers may be pro­voked into raz­ing what­ever trees may re­main on their prop­er­ties. Do not in­cite farm­ers to kill more trees. It is un­der­stand­able that, if there are rum­blings that tree-cut­ting re­stric­tions might be im­posed one day, that prop­erty own­ers are go­ing to clear as much land as they can now.

No­body has the right to tell peo­ple what they can do on their own land. Most of the land is pri­vately owned, so even if there was even a mod­icum of po­lit­i­cal will to curb de­for­esta­tion, govern­ments would be pow­er­less.

Ob­vi­ously, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, coun­ties and the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment will not usurp prop­erty rights.

Plus, with the new pro­vin­cial Gov­ern­ment For The Peo­ple de­ter­mined to gut any “green” poli­cies left over from the dreaded Lib­er­als’ reign, clear-cut­ting will be per­mit­ted, if not ac­tively en­cour­aged, for at least the next four years.

But clearly, this is not a good sit­u­a­tion, as we are re­minded in the fi­nal re­port of the For­est Con­ser­va­tion Work­ing Group (FCWG), which was set up by South Na­tion Con­ser­va­tion (SNC) to fol­low up on sug­ges­tions made by the Agri­cul­tural For­est Cover Com­mit­tee (AFCC) in 2017.

Like the AFCC, the FCWG meekly sug­gests that some­thing could be done. The group rec­om­mends that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties be “en­cour­aged” to con­sider tax breaks for the own­ers of forested land, and that “mu­nici- pal­i­ties con­sider tree con­ser­va­tion by­laws” and fi­nance new for­est cover ini­tia­tives.

De­for­esta­tion will not be­come a hot is­sue in the cur­rent run-up to the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions.

Yet the re­port may pro­vide some talk­ing points for the few mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil can­di­dates who might raise the vote-los­ing sub­ject.

No can­di­date is about to stick his or her neck out and pro­claim the need for a tree con­ser­va­tion law. But other seem­ingly harm­less ideas may be safe to ref­er­ence. For ex­am­ple, the FCWG calls for a bilin­gual com­mu­nity cam­paign, us­ing bill­boards to pro­mote for­est con­ser­va­tion and tree plant­ing. No­body could op­pose “free tree” days. And in­for­ma­tion is al­ways a good thing.

“With the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion oc­cur­ring in Oc­to­ber 2018, there is a need to in­form new coun­cil­lors on the sta­tus of for­est cover in the SNC ju­ris­dic­tion, the im­por­tance of for­est con­ser­va­tion, and the need for fund­ing sup­port to pro­tect and in­crease tree cover. An in­for­ma­tion pack­age will be cre­ated for new coun­cil ori­en­ta­tions which will in­clude in­for­ma­tion on the sta­tus of for­est cover and rec­om­men­da­tions for pro­tect­ing and in­creas­ing for­est cover,” the re­port reads.

Can­di­dates ought to be all right if they make the manda­tory cluck­ing sounds about vague terms such as sus­tain­abil­ity and the en­vi­ron­ment. But any ref­er­ence to tree con­ser­va­tion rules would be fraught with po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal blowback.

Trees have be­come a del­i­cate topic. Talk­ing pub­licly about the need to save trees is akin to try­ing to fell a widow maker, dan­gling pre­car­i­ously over a hy­dro line, near a house, in a rain­storm. Last year, an at­tempt was made to start a di­a­logue. “We feel it is time to be­gin a conversation about the place of forests and trees in North Glen­garry,” said a group of cit­i­zens try­ing to per­suade North Glen­garry to en­act a for­est con­ser­va­tion by­law. Of course noth­ing hap­pened. At the same time, the AFCC noted in its 2017 re­port, “Agri­cul­ture is the most pre­dom­i­nant land use in Eastern On­tario and is a huge eco­nomic driver in the re­gion. The in­stru­men­tal role that lo­cal agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity plays in our econ­omy ne­ces­si­tates the high level of col­lab­o­ra­tion re­quired to ad­dress the man­age­ment of forests.”

Since govern­ments and crop pro­duc­ers aren’t about to take a tree-friendly stand, the so­lu­tion is ob­vi­ous.

Like trees? Start plant­ing.

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