With no logging planned for North Cowichan’s municipal forest reserve in 2021, council has decided to use funding from its forest reserve fund to cover the lost revenue in the budget for the year.
The municipality’s forestry department is anticipating a deficit of $592,000 for 2021 due to the fact that council had decided to cancel logging plans for the year while the forestry review on the future of the 5,000-hectare forest reserve continues.
In a report to council, Don Stewart, North Cowichan’s director of parks and recreation, said that revenue from harvesting in the forest reserve has in the past covered all of the municipality’s forestry-related expenses.
“No planned harvesting in 2021 does eliminate direct harvesting costs and reduce some other forest management costs, but silvicultural obligations and service level expectations [related to land management and access] remain relatively constant for 2021,” Stewart said.
“Every effort has been made to reduce forestry operating costs in the preparation of the 2021 budget through savings where possible. Any permanent change to staffing levels to further reduce forestry-related expenses will be contemplated in future budget years, if required by the outcome of the forestry review … and once the future-state service levels in relation to the municipal forest reserve and forestry-related activities are better understood.”
Stewart said that balancing the 2021 budget, as mandated for local governments under legislation, will require either using the forest reserve fund, increasing taxes or some other combination.
He said if logging were to be suspended indefinitely upon conclusion of the ongoing review in 2021, the forest reserve fund has only enough money to offset the forestry-related costs for approximately two more years at the current level of operations.
Stewart said that if council decides to continue to use the fund to cover costs in the forest reserve until it is conceivably used up in the coming years, other funding sources, or a significant reduction in service levels concerning the forest reserve, will need to be considered.
He also cautioned council that while using the funding from the forest reserve fund is a viable option for 2021, continuing depletion of the fund in future budget years will present a risk to the municipality in the event of a forest fire within the forest reserve.
Stewart said staff have submitted a grant application to the FireSmart Community Funding and Supports Program to conduct “treatment prescriptions for the identified high-risk areas and critical infrastructure” in the forest reserve that may include some logging opportunities in the forest reserve.
”A summary of the treatment prescriptions results will be presented to council for consideration in the third quarter of 2021,” he said.