Megan Turnock and Erik Lees, from Lees & Associates, presented the public engagement plan for the management of the municipal forest reserve to North Cowichan’s council on Jan. 29. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Public engagement on North Cowichan forest reserve begins this month

Consulting firm presents engagement plan at North Cowichan council meeting

North Cowichan intends to reach as many people and stakeholder groups for input as it can as the municipality works toward short and long-term strategies for its municipal forest reserve.

Representatives from Lees & Associates, the firm chosen by the municipality to be its community engagement facilitator in the process, revealed its engagement strategies at the council meeting on Jan. 29.

Lees & Associates’ Erik Lees said a main goal of the community engagement strategy is to satisfy council’s mandate that it “go broad and go deep” in gathering input from as many different people and groups on the issue as possible.

“We’re taking it seriously and we’ve come up with a thorough and rigorous approach,” he told council.

“It may not be perfect, but we won’t let that stand in the way of it being good.”

Many in the community had been demanding for some time to have more say in management plans for the municipally-owned 5,000-hectare forest reserve.

Last February, council endorsed just the completion of existing 2018 forestry contracts and harvesting of blow downs in the forest reserve in 2019 until experts are tapped for their input and the public has been thoroughly consulted on what people want for the future of the public properties.

The new short-term management plan for the MFR is scheduled to be implemented on Sept. 1, 2020, and the long-term one is expected to come into effect in Jan. 1, 2022.

The public engagement plan covers methods of engagement, a detailed timeline for public engagement, and discussed talking with local First Nations on a government-to-government level on management strategies.

Lees & Associates’ Megan Turnock said a variety of means will be used to connect with the community as the engagement strategy unfurls.

They include online surveys, pop-up events, phone interviews, workshops, public meetings, mail-outs, the use of social media and the municipality’s website, and council updates.

Turnock said the engagement will be in two rounds, with the first kicking off this month.

The first round will explore the full range of public values, concerns and aspirations for the MFR.

The second round, scheduled to begin in the fall of 2020, will study the results of the feedback from the first round with the public and stakeholders, and identify the preferred future management options for the long-term management plan.

The long-term management plan is scheduled to be presented in the winter or spring of 2021.

The full engagement plan can be found on pages 141-161 of council’s agenda for the meeting.

Coun. Christopher Justice asked which of the challenges in developing the management plan do the consultants think will be the most difficult.

Lees said the hardest part will likely be getting input from those who don’t normally give opinions on issues.

“There are those with real passion in the silent majority, but they don’t like getting involved,” he said.

“That’s why we intend to have so many different types of community engagement.”

The engagement process will kick off this month with 10 stakeholder phone calls conducted by Lees and Associates, and an open call for members of the public to join a working group.

Mayor Al Siebring said he’s “thrilled” to get the engagement project underway.

“We have seen lots of community interest in our forests,” he said.

“We are in a very unique position, being the only municipality in Canada to own forest reserve land, and our residents have shown they are very invested in the outcome of this engagement.”

Siebring said that over the coming year, there will be many opportunities for the public to provide input on the future management of the MFR.

“Be sure to keep an eye on [North Cowichan’s] website for updates, and participate when and wherever you can.” he said.

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