Seeing Cowichan Forests Beyond Trees

Seeing Cowichan Forests Beyond Trees

A Cowichan Forest photo: Steph Cottell

During this socially stressful time of humanitarian emergency, nature carries on and the Cowichan Community Land Trust (CCLT) wants you to know about our latest project: ‘Seeing Cowichan Forests Beyond Trees’.

       As a result of the E & N Land Grant of 1887, the Cowichan region is almost entirely privately owned. Recognizing this, the 2015 Conservation Strategy of the Coastal Douglas-fir Conservation Partnership identified the protection of forests on private lands as a priority. This project explores how best to implement and promote that vision in the Cowichan region.

      The Cowichan region has historically had a resource-based economy with forests being valued mostly for timber. There is a public awakening to the notion that forests can be much more than tree farms and that new, ecosystem-based management models for privately owned land can facilitate a more comprehensive vision of forests. The science tells us that forests:

  • support healthy watersheds, vital to salmon populations and other wildlife as well as human communities.
  • cleanse and oxygenate the air.
  • stabilize slopes, attenuate runoff, and help groundwater recharge.
  • are essential to the Coast Salish people who depend on healthy forests for a variety of traditional uses.
  • are a valuable tool in fixing and storing carbon to counter climate change.
  • provide spiritual benefits, recreational opportunities, attractive scenery, and are a calming amenity for local communities.
  • provide non-timber forest products such as fruits, berries, mushrooms, nuts, salal, game, fish, medicinal plants, and a range of barks and fibres that have economic value.

          We are aware of North Cowichan’s ongoing reappraisal of municipal forest practices at the behest of citizens. In concert with this public process, there is a comparable recognition that privately owned forests can be ecologically managed.  We embrace the view that forests are more than trees waiting to be logged or land slated for development; they are inherently valuable for all the multiple benefits they provide. This new thinking requires a change in our organization’s role, as well.  In the past, land conservation efforts of the Cowichan Community Land Trust (CCLT) have focused on places valued for rare and unique ecological features, recreational values, or because of individual or community attachment to the land.  This project explores the potential for CCLT to protect land in perpetuity solely for its forests and their myriad of unsung benefits.

           Heather Pritchard, Registered Professional Forester and ecosystem-based planning specialist has joined our team to help us deliver this timely project. Through research, interviews, consideration of work in other jurisdictions, and public consultations, the project will work to expand public perceptions of forests while identifying and prioritizing available privately owned forest land for conservation, stewardship, and restoration. We will examine the current limitations and barriers to private forest conservation, stewardship, and restoration and collaborate with local partners to help reduce those barriers.

       Some of the plans we had for community engagement and work-shopping over the next few months are shifting to align with the evolving COVID situation. However, we are well underway with research, planning, and conversations that can be conducted remotely. We are eager to hear from owners of private forest lands in the Cowichan region, as well as from anyone within the community who has an interest in the project. Work on the development of virtual platforms for community participation is underway to provide opportunities for sharing ideas and perspectives about local forest conservation.

          This initiative is funded by the Vancouver Foundation Systems Change Grant Program, and we are very grateful for their unflinching support in these uncertain times. Be well, everyone, and please take a moment to think about forests beyond trees.

For more information, please contact: