Cowichan Valley Regional District.

Cowichan residents urged not to burn yard waste

Regional district suggests embracing alternative disposal methods

The Cowichan Valley Regional District is encouraging people to avoid open burning on their properties and embrace alternative ways to dispose of yard waste to support the health of Cowichan Valley residents.

“With the increased frequency that residents are exposed to wildfire smoke during the summers, it is extra important that we do what we can to reduce the exposure to smoke pollution in the winter,” said CVRD Chair Aaron Stone. “We know that wood smoke has negative health impacts and we want to encourage residents to use alternatives to open burning.”

During the fall and winter, the air quality in the Cowichan Valley deteriorates with the increased use of woodstoves and smoke from outdoor burning. While woodstove use and backyard burns are common in other areas, the valley topography and unique winter weather conditions often traps smoke.

The air contaminant of greatest concern in the Cowichan Valley is PM2.5, which refers to particulate matter that is less than 2.5 microns in diameter. PM2.5 is released to the air when woody debris is burned. PM2.5 is linked to lung and heart diseases, including asthma and heart attacks.

“The Cowichan Valley region has higher rates of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and asthma compared to the rest of Vancouver Island and compared to B.C. overall,” said Dr. Shannon Waters, medical health officer with Island Health. “This makes us more vulnerable as a community to the effects of outdoor burning and woodstove smoke. Every bit we can do to reduce PM2.5 in our community can help to contribute to improved health overall.”

In addition to chipping woody debris, residents can drop off yard waste free of charge at CVRD recycling centres. Residents may also want to try ‘leaving the leaves’ on the ground or in garden beds, as leaves provide a place for overwintering by pollinators and other beneficial garden bugs.

For those unable to avoid burning, it’s critical to check the venting index. The BC Venting Index is a scientific measure of atmospheric turbulence and winds. When the venting index is rated as poor or fair it indicates stagnant atmospheric conditions and smoke from backyard burns and woodstoves will not disperse. Instead, it will remain close to the ground, negatively impacting the health of the people who live there.

Burning when the BC Southern Vancouver Island Venting Index is rated good is a condition of the CVRD’s Smoke Control Regulation Bylaw.

Under this bylaw, burning in the CVRD’s nine electoral areas is only permitted from October 15 to November 15 and March 15 to April 15; only untreated natural wood prunings and branches can be burned and leaves and green debris are not permitted; burn piles may not be larger than two metres square and must be located at least 10 metres from all property lines; and burning can only occur between 7 a.m. and sunset of the same day.

With the Cowichan Valley’s unique topography and weather patterns, residents should be aware the venting index is rarely rated good in the fall and winter. It is therefore best to make alternative plans to burning wood debris.

The CVRD has a wealth of material related to regional air quality on its website, including the daily Southern Island Venting Index and a real-time air quality map of the Cowichan region. To learn more, visit To report an illegal burn, contact CVRD bylaw enforcement by email at or call 250-746-2655.

The City of Duncan, Town of Ladysmith and Town of Lake Cowichan do not permit open burning at any time of year, and the Municipality of North Cowichan has its own burn restrictions. Residents who live in CVRD member municipalities are encouraged to contact their municipality for more information.

Cowichan Valley Regional DistrictEnvironment