A few times a year, someone in the anti-tree cutting groups raises their voice and bombards papers with letters to the editor as bush land next to or near their property is cut down and the process of returning land to agriculture begins. Farmers are called every name in the book, accused of thinking only about money, getting bigger and not caring about trees, the environment or nature. Well, here we go yet again, but this time there is a bit of a twist.
It started with Theresa Bergeron of Winchester/South Mountain, a couple of months ago and the usual name calling and multiple letters. Admittedly this was a little different as she is married to a dairy farmer and has her own farming business, raising Angora goats.
Next was an announcement by the South Nation Conservation Authority (SNCA) that they had formed a committee comprised of 22 individuals (17 producers and 5 from the 16 municipalities in their watershed) to make recommendations regarding “the management of forests on agricultural lands.” Called the agricultural forest cover committee, an oxymoron if ever there was one, it is aimed only to control farmers from clear-cutting. Not developers, commercial enterprises, new homeowners or municipalities, just farmers. They are expected to present their recommendations by the end of April and then approach their municipal governments for assistance in implementation. They noted that farm groups have always been concerned with conservation and will happily participate and comply, etc, etc.
In late March, a public meeting on forestry, edible trees and woodlots was held in Alexandria and enjoyed a turnout of 75 to 80 people. Again, the comments were about how farmers have always been conservation minded and will surely join with them in solving the problem of clear-cutting. Do you see where this is going?
Obviously pointing fingers, name calling and demanding bylaws hasn’t worked well enough to stop farmers. So the latest idea is the soft, honey-coated sell. Farmers are good, caring, conservation minded people who just need the good sides of a bush lot pointed out to them and they will surely quit clearing and not contest tree cutting bylaws.
In August 2014, South Glengarry council prepared a brief due to two complaints and, instead of allowing the issue to die, it was recommended to be included in the next strategic planning session where it could be addressed away from the public ear. Nothing more has been publicly mentioned about it . . . yet. But if the SNCA’s committee is successful in having the bulk of their municipalities pass bylaws against tree cutting, you can bet South Glengarry is ready to follow suit.
So it appears that many farmers see the smoke on the horizon . . . and it isn’t that of a backyard barbecue! Never have I seen so much bush being cut and piled in all my life. Huge swaths are coming down — standing today, leveled in a week’s time, and all because, with the SNCA organizing the fight, farmers can see the writing on the wall. In the near future, it will take applications, surveys, ecological studies, authorizations and permits to cut even a fence line, let alone acres of land.
No matter if you own the land, pay taxes on it, already have acres of managed forest on your farm or desperately need the extra land to grow crops, it will be a major process to get permission to cut and clear. Some even suspect that clear-cutting will involve a fee per acre as a deterrent.
So farmers are clearing land, the trunks and branches piled in windrows to be burnt when dry and the roots left to rot in the ground — easier to pull out later.
Many had no intention of clearing the land just yet nor of so much land but they’ll be damned if they will take the chance and have to ask permission to manage their own land and business.
Never have so many trees been felled due to so few anti-clear-cutting activists. It is amazing what a small group can do.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.