A del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween rights and trees

The Glengarry News - - Front Page - BY RICHARD MAHONEY News Staff

The con­tin­ued loss of for­est cover in Stor­mont-Dun­das-Glen­garry “has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate long-reach­ing im­pacts for now and the fu­ture.”

Yet, since most of the land is in pri­vate hands, gov­ern­ment’s role is lim­ited in any ef­forts to counter the ef­fects of de­for­esta­tion, which is dif­fi­cult to ac­cu­rately quan­tify, and some of which by­passes reg­u­la­tions.

Those are some of the con­clu­sions con­tained in a re­port pre­sented to SDG coun­ties coun­cil mem­bers by coun­ties plan­ner Ali­son McDon­ald, who noted, “Govern­ments are chal­lenged with bal­anc­ing prop­erty rights and pro­tect­ing the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment that works to ben­e­fit us all.”

With mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions tak­ing place in Oc­to­ber, any con­crete steps will be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the new coun­cil. How­ever, the con­sen­sus among mem­bers at­tend­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion was that plans should start now on the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions.

“Be­cause the for­est cover is­sue is com­plex and far reach­ing, staff are look­ing for coun­cil’s di­rec­tion on what op­por­tu­ni­ties it should fur­ther ex­plore, as many of these op­por­tu­ni­ties have sig­nif­i­cant bud­getary and staffing im­pacts,” reads the re­port from Ms. McDon­ald, who also chairs the For­est Con­ser­va­tion Work­ing Group.

The doc­u­ment out­lines ways to deal with a num­ber of prob­lems that are con­tribut­ing to de­for­esta­tion.

One of the is­sues is that some lo­cal de­vel­op­ers in­ten­tion­ally clear land prior to fil­ing plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions. “This ap­proach cir­cum­vents re­quire­ments to pro­tect wet­lands and en­dan­gered species. This also avoids po­ten­tial re­for­esta­tion re­quire­ments (where the ap­pli­cant pays to re­place lost for­est cover).”

Prop­erty own­ers who clear large tracts of land are not be­ing as­sessed ap­pro­pri­ately be­cause the Mu­nic­i­pal Prop­erty As­sess­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (MPAC) does not ac- tively iden­tify re­cently con­verted land.

This de­lay in re­assess­ment “po­ten­tially in­cen­tivizes mar­ginal land clear­ing” be­cause there is no fi­nan­cial penalty, or leaves cleared lands in a “half­way state,” since there is no in­cen­tive to clear and ac­tively farm the prop­erty.

Sim­i­larly, MPAC does not have a mech­a­nism to quickly iden­tify and re­assess prop­er­ties that have been re­for­ested.

Farm prop­erty own­ers are ex­empt from pay­ing prop­erty taxes on the first 20 acres of forested land they own.

Out­dated data

Ex­perts have de­ter­mined that a min­i­mum 30 per cent for­est cover is re­quired to main­tain a healthy, sus­tain­able ecosys­tem.

A for­est cover anal­y­sis com­pleted in 2014 con­firmed that SDG had a 29 per cent for­est cover.

For­est cover map­ping, up­dated ev­ery six years, will not be re­freshed again un­til 2020.

“Lo­cal ob­ser­va­tion in­di­cates for­est cover loss is ac­cel­er­at­ing since the last im­agery was flown in 2014. Note this 2014 im­agery was used to cal­cu­late the cur­rent for­est cover in SDG, and, it is widely rec­og­nized that this

value un­der­es­ti­mates the cur­rent amount of for­est in the County. The County is lack­ing up-to-date in­for­ma­tion on for­est cover, which would help to sup­port de­ci­sion mak­ing,” the re­port ad­vises.

Only 4.5 per cent of the land in the three coun­ties is pub­licly owned; SDG owns 1.2 per cent. Pub­lic own­er­ship of en­vi­ron­men­tally sig­nif­i­cant lands is the most re­li­able way to main­tain a min­i­mum level of for­est and nat­u­ral cover, the re­port ob­serves.

Since most of the forests are on pri­vate land, “Prop­erty own­ers bear most of the re­spon­si­bil­ity for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and of­ten face po­ten­tial ex­pense or lost de­vel­op­ment rights due to re­stric­tions. Rec­og­niz­ing the need to strike a bal­ance be­tween the en­vi­ron­ment and landowner rights, there is a need for pri­vate landowner in­cen­tives as part of an over­all for­est con­ser­va­tion strat­egy. Eco­nomic in­cen­tives can en­cour­age and as­sist landown­ers in main­tain­ing and en­hanc­ing for­est cover on pri­vate lands.”

How­ever, many prop­erty own­ers do not take ad­van­tage of re­for­esta­tion in­cen­tives. Some own­ers are “un­com­fort­able”

with the cost of draw­ing up a man­aged for­est plan, while oth­ers are sim­ply not aware of the ben­e­fits avail­able.

Eco-gifts

“The County has suf­fi­cient fi­nan­cial ca­pac­ity to es­tab­lish a fund to se­cure lands within SDG that are best con­served in a nat­u­ral state. These lands would be man­aged and pro­moted for recre­ation and tourism and form part of SDG’s for­est man­age­ment pro­gram. Ideally, this ac­qui­si­tion pro­gram would con­sult with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity to iden­tify mar­ginal lands that could be pur­chased, main­tained and/ or re­for­ested. An eco- gift pro­gram could also be man­aged in tan­dem with this ac­qui­si­tion pro­gram,” the re­port says.

SDG is steadily los­ing forests as a re­sult of con­ver­sion to agri-

cul­tural uses, forests be­ing cleared for in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment and ag­gre­gate ex­trac­tion, of­ten in ad­vance of the en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies that en­sure best man­age­ment prac­tices are fol­lowed, coun­cil mem­bers were told.

Gaps

Clear­ing land does not re­quire any ap­proval from a gov­ern­ment body.

Not all forested lands within SDG are con­sid­ered sig­nif­i­cant un­der the coun­ties of­fi­cial plan; not all de­vel­op­ment re­quires ap­proval un­der the SDG plan­ning regime.

To ad­dress this “gap,” a re­search project could be un­der­taken to present op­tions to the county and staff could work with provin­cial of­fi­cials to en­force the En­dan­gered Species Act for cases of “bla­tant mal-

prac­tice.”

A site al­ter­ation by-law could be em­ployed to pre­vent the re­moval of trees in cer­tain ar­eas and en­sure best man­age­ment prac­tices are en­forced along wa­ter cour­ses and in wet­lands.

Her­itage in­ven­tory

The county has not done a full and thor­ough as­sess­ment of the nat­u­ral her­itage sys­tem, which would iden­tify sig­nif­i­cant fea­tures and key nat­u­ral cor­ri­dors and their link­ages with other fea­tures and ar­eas.

Lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, neigh­bour­ing coun­ties, and con­ser­va­tion author­i­ties are in­ter­ested in a col­lab­o­ra­tive Nat­u­ral Her­itage Study, which would take one to two years to com­plete and likely re­quire the ser­vices of a con­sul­tant. The as­sess­ment would in­clude pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.

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