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Forestry revisions put over until 2020

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Updating Norfolk County’s forest conservation bylaw has been put over until 2020.

Norfolk council indicated on Nov. 19 that a revised bylaw could be adopted at its final meeting of 2019 Dec. 17. However, the Dec. 17 agenda containd public feedback on the proposed changes but no staff report and no recommendations on a path forward.

“This topic will be dealt with in the new year once staff prepares a report making recommendations on the new bylaw,” Bill Cridland, Norfolk’s general manager of community services, said in an email.

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Adam Biddle, Norfolk’s supervisor of forestry, has asked for more time.

In a note to council Dec. 10, Biddle said the proposed changes are significant, require more time to study, and should be reviewed by individuals and groups with a stake in Norfolk’s forest cover.

“The proposed draft bylaw is vastly different than the current forest conservation bylaw,” Biddle says.

“As such, a review and comparison to the current forest conservation bylaw would require a fairly in-depth assessment.”

The current bylaw was adopted in 2006. Biddle says updating it would be helpful given the legislative and policy changes that have occurred at Queen’s Park over the past 13 years.

Simcoe lawyer Nate Kolomaya introduced a proposed bylaw at the Nov. 19 meeting. Kolomaya says the current bylaw is flawed and needs streamlining.

Standing with Kolomaya was Brett Schuyler, former chair of Norfolk’s agricultural advisory committee. Schuyler provided input and was key to promoting provisions which bring Norfolk’s forestry management in line with “normal farming practices.”

The farmer-friendly document that resulted has set off alarm bells in conservation circles.

“We respectfully request that (the current) bylaw remain until a thorough and transparent consultation process has taken place – one that provides the time needed for research, discussion and includes an opportunity for input by all stakeholders and interest groups,” Kristen Bernard, the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s program director in Southwestern Ontario, said in a letter to Norfolk council.

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“The draft bylaw is substantially different from the current one, particularly exemptions that would allow for the clearing of woodlots with no permits and minimal prior notice in accordance with normal farming practices.”

The 173-member Norfolk Woodlot Owners Association has also weighed in.

“It is concerning to our board that no effort was taken to contact us regarding the proposal of a new forest bylaw,” president John deWitt said in a letter to the county.

“This proposed change in policy has a direct impact on our entire membership, which represents a significant portion of Norfolk County’s forest resource owners.”

Norfolk property owner Tom Bradstreet of Lynedoch is disturbed by provisions that give farmers a free hand to manage their woodlots.

“The language in this section seems to allow for unlimited clearing of land by a farmer as long as that land is owned by the farmer, is put into agricultural production within three years, and is done so following normal farming practices,” Bradstreet says in his letter to the county.

“I believe this language is problematic in that it opens the door for any farmer, farm business, or landowner who meets the criteria to clear land without any requirement to compensate the county or the community at large for the loss of a valuable natural resource.

“We have all seen the pictures of Norfolk County from the 1920s and 1930s where uncontrolled clearing of land led to desertification. It would be devastating to this community for that to happen again.”

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