By Ed Hand
ALEXANDRIA — Clear cutting is dividing the residents of North Glengarry as the township grapples with its draft bylaw.
“I haven’t navigated such a touchy subject since I’ve been on council,” says deputy mayor Carma Williams.
She expects council to sit down one more time to finalize the wording before going out for final public consultation. “I hope to have (the bylaw) in place for this summer.”
On one side of the aisle is the agricultural community, which sees the bylaw as an invasion on its property rights. On the other side, environmentalists see the damage done from clearing large blocks of land.
In its current form, the draft bylaw would require a permit to clear cut at $50 an acre to a maximum fee of $500. The application would require a 30 day notice before clearing land. The proposal would not impact a property owner taking down a tree or two. Municipalities across the province have been introducing new clear cutting bylaws which Williams says her council looked at. “North Glengarry is a bit different than those other communities. We need to create a bylaw that addresses our issues compared to those more urban environments.”
Pete Bock, with Glengarry Neighbours, a local group with more than 100 members, said: “We were seeing some real aggressive behaviour, things like trespassing and theft.” It was not uncommon for someone clear-cutting to move on to a neighbouring property and start cutting, he said.
Bainsville dairy farmer Walter Oeggerli conceded the by law was “a difficult discussion to have.” With agricultural land prices going through the roof, farmers are looking to take advantage of wooded land they already own, he said. For him, it’s about private property rights. “It’s easy to impose your will when it’s not in your own backyard.”
Graeme Davis is the forester with the County of Simcoe,which has had some form of bylaw since the 1970s. “It’s called the forest conservation bylaw and it was last updated in 2008. The request for the regulation came from woodland owners looking for leverage from commercial harvesters.”
Commercial logging is a substantial business in that area. Williams is adamant that this will not be a bylaw to stop the practice of clear cutting but to regulate it. “This bylaw will not be attractive to speculators.”
The issue of “random speculators” has dogged the township for years. Williams explains the practice as someone usually from outside the municipality who buys up land and clears it without any remediation for the land or ethical and safe disposal of waste. The proposed North Glengarry bylaw has been a balancing act for Williams. “We’ve worked closely with all stakeholders and in particular, the agriculture community.” The last public consultation was held online due to the pandemic, but Williams found it wasn’t effective. “We will need to meet in public with a limit on the number of people depending on COVID restric tions.” Time is of the essence for Williams. “We need to start regulating sooner rather than later.”