North Cowichan will take a look at just how much forested lands are in its Agricultural Land Reserve.
The issue was discussed at the council table on Sept. 6. after concerns around the increasing amount of the land that is being used for commercial wineries in North Cowichan was raised in a letter to council.
The letter, from community activist Peter Rusland, asked that the municipality lobby the Agricultural Land Commission, whose jurisdiction the ALR comes under, and the provincial government to exclude the clearing of forests for vineyards, which is seen as a farming use by the ALC and allowed in the ALR.
Rusland also requested that council deny any permits for developing wineries on forested private land.
“Wine is not food but simply an optional beverage, in many folks’ opinion,” he said.
“It’s ironic the ALC’s virtue is protecting precious farmland, yet forest lands can be lost in the mix…I realize council’s wishes may be legally trumped by the ALC.”
Rusland was referring to the expansion of the vineyards of a number of wineries in North Cowichan into forested lands, particularly in rare coastal Douglas-fir zones that are only found on southeastern Vancouver Island, and other nearby areas.
Despite North Cowichan’s lack of jurisdiction over ALR lands in the municipality, Coun. Christopher Justice asked if it’s in the best interests of the community to convert land into vineyards that is currently forested with a rare forest type that North Cowichan is interested in conserving and regenerating.
“At a time when we’re concerned about food security, should we be using our limited farmable land for wine production?” Justice asked.
“There’s some vision of Cowichan as a wine-producing region that’s good for tourism and that’s a beautiful vision, but for other people, cutting down forests to produce what is essentially a mono culture is tantamount to razing Amazon forests to raise beef cattle. So for some it’s a beautiful vision but, for others, it represents the worst we are doing to this planet.”
Justice asked staff how much of the ALR is currently forested, and pointed out that it may not be much of an issue in North Cowichan if there’s not a lot of forested ALR land.
Mayor Rob Douglas suggested the matter should be referred to North Cowichan’s new agricultural advisory committee, which is expected to be established in the coming months, but Rob Conway said investigating how much ALR land is forested would not be a big project for staff and he’ll report the information to council when it’s ready.
Justice said he’d consider making a motion for referral to the agricultural advisory committee depending on the information on the issue that Conway will provide.
But Coun. Bruce Findlay said if a property is private land, then the landowners can do what they like with it as long as the proper zoning is in place.
“It’s none of our business,” he said.
“It is a beautiful vision for vineyards and what they do for tourism in this valley and I think that’s fantastic. I’d be interested to see how far this goes forward in the agricultural advisory committee, but I think it’s just not our place regardless how much we love the trees.”