So.....in the spirit of 'better late than never", below is what I said at Council about Echo Heights. BTW, if you ever want to hear for yourself what a Council member says on any issue, all of our Council meetings are streamed live -- and left on the website for you to watch at your leisure.
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Having been accused in the Chemainus local press of not trying to convince my colleagues to save 100% of Echo Heights (inexplicably by someone who was in the room when I spoke) -- I tell you folks -- sadly, the press can very often be misleading -- which is very disappointing to me because I think people have a right to make their own judgments based on the facts and I can tell you, not only are we mandated by law to be transparent, but the current NC Council is dedicated to better communication with the public.
So do your part and make it easier (and cheaper) for us to tell you what's up. If you would rather listen to what I said in support of saving Echo Heights, click here and if you don't want to listen for a couple of hours, go to 1:35 minutes. If you want to listen to everything that was said about Echo Heights at that meeting, start at 40 minutes into the tape. (yes, it was a long discussion) The staff report is valuable for background and begins at 54:34 minutes.
"I appreciate the work that has been put into the report, and all the work that has been done in the previous years on this little forest dubbed ‘Echo Heights”. After sitting at this table for a year and a half, I more fully understand the need to sometimes develop municipally owned land to pay for projects the community wants so as to keep taxes affordable.
We do have to balance development and conservation. We owe it to those who will come after us to use our resources wisely to both keep it affordable to live here and protect the natural environments that make it desirable to live here.
How do we decide what is balanced in the case of this particular forest?
I’ve come to know only too well the financial pressures on North Cowichan. Pressures to provide services and not raise taxes. To do more with less. To support growth while preserving our natural assets. To attempt to address a failing economy and a rapidly changing climate. To do our part to create a sustainable region for all who live here. So many pressures. Sitting in this chair is not an easy job and there are few easy answers. Each of us around this table want what’s best for this municipality and its citizens -- though we may differ on what we think that is.
And the staff’s recommendation of 80/20 seems on the surface of things to be a balanced one. One that I seriously considered supporting.
For me it keeps coming back to the fact that Echo Heights is a recovering
Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem. The CDF Biogeoclimatic Zone you might remember, comprises a tiny 0.3 % of the Province’s entire land area. And its mainly here, on the East Coast of Vancouver Island.
Old-growth Coastal Douglas Fir forests once dominated the shores of the Salish Sea, from Campbell River to Victoria. More than 99 % of them have already been lost to human development. For our seaside towns and villages, for the railroad and road systems that span the east coast of the island. For the farms and estates that populate our coast. For our single family homes on large lots with views.
We are already way out of balance on the CDF zone and if you’ll forgive me, it has gotten the short end of the stick.
At around 54 acres, Echo Heights forest is small but rich. Besides Douglas Fir (some 60-80 years old), it has Garry Oak meadows, a sizeable wetland and a rocky outcropping. All in all four Environmentally Sensitive Areas. The taxpayers of North Cowichan are the stewards of this little forest. The people of the west coast are the stewards of the CDF zone for the whole world.
Because our west coast is the only corner of Earth that has this ecosystem and its almost all gone.
The Douglas firs are beautiful and rare – and vital to our whole region, for water capture and storage, drought protection, carbon storage and oxygen release. Moreover they’re home to more than 200 plant and animal species, many endangered. Just days ago the Victoria Times Colonist reported on efforts to reintroduce the Western Blue Bird to the Cowichan Valley, a bird once common here, but whose numbers have declined since the 1950’s because of the shrinking Garry oak habitat. Until last year, Western Blue birds had not nested on Vancouver Island since 1995 and were considered locally extinct.
And the Garry oak meadows – BC’s rarest ecosystem -- occur only in the Coastal Douglas Fir zone.
For decades, North Cowichan residents have enjoyed Echo Heights as a nature park, turning deer tracks into unpaved trails, posting small signs, providing maps and guest books, bringing school and college classes.
For centuries, the Penelakut Nation has held the area sacred -- a prayer station on journeys into the mountains, and one of the area’s richest sources of natural medicines.
The Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments all have policies to do everything they can to preserve these endangered Coastal Douglas Fir eco-sytem.
Currently zoned for development in the Official Community Plan Echo Heights has been slated for development for decades. Of course the OCP, like all our thinking, has changed a lot over time.
The latest version has a whole section – (2.2) "Guard Our Environment" – with the objective, "Protect local ecosystems and … restore the natural environment to maintain biodiversity, ecological health and integrity."
It pledges that "community growth … will be directed to areas with the least environmental sensitivity," and singles out the Coastal Douglas Fir Zone, vowing to seek opportunities to protect it.
Only 0.5% of the land base formerly occupied by CDF forest is now composed of "older forest" (greater than 120 years old). Some of the trees in this particular forest are 80 years old now.
To me, the pendulum has clearly swung so far toward “development” that we can never have true balance for this once abundant eco-system -- it's too late for balance. Now we must push back, saving our remaining rare and endangered forests, and their unique ecosystems, large or small, whatever stage of recovery they’re in so they can survive.
This thinking is supported by the recently adopted Climate Action and Energy Plan. The 8th recommendation of The Plan is to increase North Cowichan’s forested area. A large percentage of the Ideascale participants (about 56) mentioned preserving Echo Heights as a forest as an action on climate. Increasing tree cover improves the capacity for natural stormwater management, improves air quality, (something we have heard is often poor in the Cowichan Valley) reduces heat island effect and encourages habitat creation. Increased tree cover also has the potential to attract carbon offset investment.
Some will say its prudent to develop on the already disturbed areas and that is a point of view I have given serious consideration to. I can see the arguments for that position.
But as this report points out, there are a total of 65 acres of land currently undeveloped for housing that are now zoned for future development in Chemainus. At the densities we are encouraging, that is a lot of homes. Many in Chemainus will feel the loss of the forest surrounding Hermit’s park as the Artisan developments build out.
A community increases in value in my opinion when it has lots of green space, and not just parks but natural green space. The disturbed area of this forest could be brought back over time and remain a home for the 200 plus species that thrive in that biogeoclimatic zone. We have the opportunity to create a lush CDF forest with thriving Garry Oak meadows within walking distance of downtown Chemainus. So, after hours and hours of thinking about true balance from human disturbance in relation to the endangered, precious and rare Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem -- hours of thinking about the future needs of Chemainus and the financial situation of this municipality, weighing it all out with an open mind my heart still tells me to support option 1. (saving 100%)
As Harvard Business School economist John C. Sawhill has said, “In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.”