Was motivated by money, says Chatham group
CHATHAM — Chatham-Kent farmers banded together and successfully persuaded their municipal council to finally repeal the region’s “temporary” clear-cutting bylaw that only affected local farmers. The Sept. 25 meeting included 17 presentations — divided between supporters and opponents of the controversial bylaw — before councillors voted 9-8 to drop the three-year-old regulation.
Among those imploring council to repeal the bylaw was Jim Brackett, head of the Chatham-Kent Property Rights Association Inc., a farmers’ group that formed after the bylaw was put into place in 2021.
“Everybody in Chatham-Kent had an exemption to the bylaw, from housing to industrial … except farmers,” said Brackett, who also noted many acres of trees lost to accommodate the new St. Thomas battery plant.
The quashed bylaw applied to forests of half-an-acre of more. They couldn’t be cleared for farmland unless an arborist decided a forest wasn’t viable based on a formula that recognized tree coverage. Brackett said the bylaw was also opposed by the Kent Federation of Agriculture — of which he is a director — and the local Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and the Grain Farmers of Ontario. The groups worked together as “United Farm Voice” and the property rights organization acted as the “tip of the spear” in the latest push to overturn the bylaw, according to Brackett, a retired Blenheim beef farmer and cash cropper.
He said it was municipal staff that really wanted the bylaw after council declared a “climate emergency” in 2019 as an opportunity to get green-initiative funding. “They needed to demonstrate to the provincial and federal governments that they are doing something.”
By eliminating the bylaw the municipality will rely on a natural heritage implementation committee — first formed in 2013 — to take a more collaborative approach to the land-clearing issue. Brackett said the farmers’ groups look forward to participating in that process.
While Chatham-Kent is reported to have 3.5 % tree cover, he explained that this is a misleading figure because it doesn’t include the canopy in various public parks, fence rows and in the municipality’s urban areas. He also insisted that there isn’t a great demand by farmers to clear land anyway. But he added that the option must remain available in a province that currently loses 319 acres daily to development and at the same time has an official goal of boosting food production 30 % by 2032.
Environment Canada encourages a minimum 30 % forest coverage. Forest covers 66 % of Ontario, according to the Ontario government.