Fines for illegal activities in North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare municipal forest reserve could soon be significantly higher.
North Cowichan’s committee of the whole passed a motion at its meeting on June 8 which recommends that people who are responsible for some of the most severe infractions in the MFR, including illegally harvesting logs, face the possibility of receiving a whopping $50,000 fine under the Offence Act, the maximum fine allowed in the Community Charter.
In addition, where an offence is determined to be continuing, each day would be a separate offence and the perpetrator could face multiple fines.
Currently, the maximum fine on conviction for illegal activities in the MFR that can be sought is $2,000.
North Cowichan decided to review its penalties for offences in the MFR after several instances in which trees have been illegally cut down.
Shaun Mason, the municipality’s forester, said that although North Cowichan doesn’t often prosecute bylaw offences under the Offence Act, which he said is the most severe type of enforcement available to the municipality to deal with such issues, it may be the best avenue to pursue as it would allow North Cowichan to seek higher fines to cover the damages and replace the trees that have been cut down.
“However, the burden of proof is high [under the Offence Act], and the municipality is not guaranteed to receive the fine amount requested if successful in prosecution,” he said.
Mason said the purpose of his report on the issue and the recommendations is to better align North Cowichan’s fine amounts to the severity of the illegal activity being carried out in the MFR.
“Staff hope that by increasing the fines, we will further deter the illegal activity staff is seeing now, and prevent it from recurring in the future,” he said.
North Cowichan forestry staff and others began seeing trees illegally cut down in a number of small and separate areas of the MFR around Chemainus, as well as on Mount Prevost, Mount Sicker and Stoney Hill, over the last several months.
In April, after the latest illegal logging was discovered, Mayor Al Siebring suggested that the thefts could be related to skyrocketing lumber prices and warned that anyone caught poaching trees from the MFR could face criminal charges.
Fines for other offences in the MFR, including a number connected to an increase in camping activities in the reserve, could also be increased if council decides to follow the committee’s recommendations.
The fines for having open fires when restricted, or having an open fire that creates a hazard, could increase from $100 and $200 respectively to a maximum of $1,000, and camping where prohibited could rise from $100 to $500.
Mason had recommended that the fine for destroying or defacing signs in the MFR increase from $200 to a maximum of $500, but Coun. Kate Marsh convinced the majority of the committee to recommend that the fine be increased to a maximum of $1,000.
“Signs, particularly in forests, are a symbol of values, and some of these values people may not agree with and that’s their prerogative, but the fact is that defacing a sign on someone’s property is quite a violation,” she said.
“It says something about their values and I don’t think it’s something I want to be gentle about. You can access the MFR, but if you deface signs, you’re going to pay for it.”