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Organized opposition growing for any type of tree-cutting bylaw in Chatham-Kent

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An organized opposition to any type of tree-cutting bylaw in Chatham-Kent is starting to gain momentum.

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Bothwell-area farmer Brian Wright, a spokesperson for the recently formed Chatham-Kent Landowners Association, said the new group is “very opposed” to a woodlot bylaw.

He said the association — mainly comprised of area farmers — supports a natural heritage strategy that was approved by Chatham-Kent council in July 2014, noting that document had input from farmers.

“That policy was working,” Wright said. “It’s not taking away our rights.”

Earlier this month, the Kent Federation of Agriculture also publicly shared its opposition to any kind of tree-cutting bylaw from the municipality. The federation also voiced its support for the natural heritage strategy.

In late April, council approved a temporary woodlot bylaw aimed a preventing clear-cutting of land due to concerns about low tree cover in Chatham-Kent. The bylaw called for a period of public consultation, including an online community engagement process that wrapped up on Friday.

Wright said there’s a perception by some that farmers want to clear-cut every piece of bush in the county.

“That’s not true at all,” he said. “Most farmers are not there to clear-cut their land.”

Noting he has 80 acres of woodlot on his own farm, Wright said he had no intentions of clearing the trees.A

“When it’s managed properly and logged properly, you can generate a pretty good income from that,” he said.

Wright noted there are times when a farmer has “junk land” that needs to be cleaned up.

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Wright said his neighbour recently cleared a bush area that a professional forester deemed worthless, adding that land is now being farmed.

“But at the same time, he’s reforested 40 more acres in another area,” Wright said.

Pointing to the skyrocketing home prices in Chatham-Kent, Wright said the cost of farmland has also grown significantly over the years. If someone buys a farm that includes a 10-acre woodlot, they pay the same $15,000 to $20,000 per acre for that bush area as they do for the arable farmland.

Wright also pointed to conservation measures farmers have taken in the past few decades to implement no-till and minimum tillage practices, which requires considerable investment to save the soil.

Wallaceburg Coun. Aaron Hall, who made the motion for the temporary woodlot bylaw, said “the public consultation piece of the motion that was very important” because of the wide range of views on this issue.

“We need to hear the passion because that’s what rings true,” he said. “No matter where people sit on the spectrum, they’re all passionate about this and that’s obvious.”

Hall noted that other parts of the motion include a possible incentive program to preserve woodlots and a review of best practices used in other Ontario communities.

“I think every single person on council should keep an open mind and wait until we get the information,” Hall said.A

The councillor added he is looking forward to seeing the staff report to help council make an informed decision on this issue.

eshreve@postmedia.com

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