Moving to British Columbia five years ago I would never have thought I would be so passionate about the forests that surround my home. We are in a time of ecological, economic and social change that needs public engagement and collaboration. We need you to help us request the local government to call for a pause of logging in the North Cowichan Municipal Forest Reserves. To do so allows us to find out Where We All Stand.

Over the last several years, and still, as a  writer and photographer specializing in the eco-tourism field I travel across Western Canada. A journey of experiencing the passion other communities have for their natural outdoor areas. I capture the stories they tell and share them with others so they may one day experience it for themselves.

Now it is my turn to share the benefits that eco-tourism has played in the region I call home, the Cowichan Valley. I have hiked, run or mountain biked through all of the North Cowichan Municipal Forest Reserves. During that time immersed in the forest I have found the unique beauty that makes each forest unique from the other.

The last 3 years I have spent serving as a Director for the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society. Time well spent intimately getting to know the forest, working to improve the trail system for all and understanding the economic opportunities the forest can provide in a sustainable manner. 

My efforts of sharing my experiences and information for the pause and consultation is so that we have synergy with the brand new Parks and Trails Master Plan. (a plan that was extensively developed through public consultation I might add) To take that synergy with consideration for the Official Community Plan (OCP) and the Climate Action & Energy Plan (CAEP) that council just voted to revisit and update.

By taking the Parks & Trails Master plan along with the OCP and the CAEP we can lastly integrate it vast information being gathered by the Cowichan Watershed Board.  Information that is further supported by CRVD Watershed Protection bylaw.  Clearly there is a need to all work together with a larger and more transparent scope of professionals, organizations and the public if an effectively managed forest is to be reflective of the regions future needs and visions.

We could have a forestry management plan that the entire province could look up to. Maybe we could even have a revised forest plan through the public consultation process that wins council an award. Exactly like they did as The Municipality of North Cowichan was awarded the Community Energy Association’s Community Planning and Development Award in 2013.

Let us now look at the information that forms my desire to request a pause for consultation of the North Cowichan Municipal Forest Reserves. First though take 5 minutes to watch the video that our group, Where Do We Stand created to immerse you into the local forests. Discover the Cowichan Valley in all her beauty. 

Watch the movie. Sign the petition.

North Cowichan is unlike most BC municipalities with so much preserved public land, unique opportunity to capitalize on this, tell the story and grow the benefits of a natural forest. We are in a very fortunate position for our fellow residents with the 5000 hectares of Municipal Forest Reserves set aside in 1946. 

As example of public desire and comparison, Cumberland residents (on their own as a non-profit) constantly fundraise to buy private lands for the public  “Cumberland Community Forest“. Cumberland community completely transformed from resource based to outdoor based recreational eco-tourism economy. Another example is the Cranbrook Community forest where locals lobbied and worked hard to have 2000 hectares of forest protected and now is a major draw for residents and travellers alike. 

Outdoor enthusiasts travel world wide to experience our mostly intact forests, not through clearcuts. Our mixed forests of endangered Gary Oaks, threatened Coastal Douglas Firs, unique Arbutus, hemlock, alder and stunning red cedar over rocky bluffs with Salish Sea vistas are so rare.

Current residents benefit with better quality of life and new residents moving here because of our natural assets. In 2016 the CVRD completed their community satisfaction study.  85% percent each support the development of strategies for climate adaption and alternative energy, and 82% support developing strategies for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. (parks & trails) This forward thinking desire can not be achieved without reviewing the Forestry management plan of the Municipal Forests.

Ladysmith just released their 2018 Economic Development Strategy report stating hiking and primarily mountain bike trail development within the nearby forests is a priority.  The investments are estimated to generate $650,000/yr in economic activity for the town. 

Lake Cowichan just completed $100,000 study with Tourism Vancouver Island and Community Futures Cowichan showing how important the forest assets for trail development are to the towns sustainable future economic health and diversity.  “The Cowichan Lake Region Tourism Action Plan is a regional collaboration of western Cowichan communities to seize the economic opportunity from the increasing demand for tourism experiences in the Region. It will specifically focus on what Tourism Products and Infrastructure are required to develop tourism into a sustainable economic driver, by creating jobs, incenting new business start-ups and expansions and lengthening the tourism season.”  This 2018 study through research data stated that on Vancouver Island that for every 1000 trail visitors there is an economic affect of $235,000 and for the region creates 1.6 jobs and an income of $66,000 (indirect & direct)

North Cowichan Municipal Forest Reserves
Results of the Lake Cowichan Trail Impact Study

Efforts of groups like the CTSS (Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society) are improving asset base of the local trails while gaining massive international exposure of trail systems through digital and print publication, videos and social media reach.  Learn more about what the CTSS is about from where they started to where they are going; Tapping into the flow in North Cowichan thanks to Cycling Magazine Canada.

A major achievement of the CTSS they lobbied the BC Bike Race organization to be awarded as the Day 1 segment of this famous international race. Based on 2014 study and only looking at the race participants on race day the benefit is over $40,000 economic activity (Event brings over $3.5 million to BC in spending) . That does not include pre race visits by the BCBR group or participants, nor does it include media, spectator and event staff spending during event stop or the expenditures to feed and transport 1000 individuals during the stop.

Statistics show 80,000 visitors per year on Mount Tzouhalem and 35,000 on Maple Mountain, this number is rising faster each month. We are seeing the parking lots full event throughout the winter months which has never happened before. Being stewards of these amazing forests shows more and more people moving here for quality of life as outdoor enthusiasts. They are also traveling here from the island, across the province, across the country and of course from around the world. 

The smartphone app Trailforks which is used by countless mountain bike riders to track their rides show that only 15% of riders visiting live within 30km radius of Duncan. They are spending money at local businesses from bike shops to breweries and gas stations to restaurants.

There Over 175 sanction or recognized trails in Cowichan region. Trailforks database shows 112,416 globally recognized trails in their system. Our regions very own “Double D” on Mt Tzouhalem is ranked #255 in world, an amazing testament to the beauty and quality of trails in the region. A massive asset we can be proud of and also leverage economically.

Study after study shows the massive impact of trail activity to a region. Pinkbike put together a fantastic comprehensive article on all the studies out there. https://www.pinkbike.com/news/economic-impacts-of-mountain-bike-tourism-2016-update.html  The Squamish study on just Mountain biking showed $10 million per year of economic activity, Kamloops was $3.5 million, study after study says the same result on the rise of eco-tourism. The average outdoor enthusiast is 25-44 yrs of age and greater income over $80K/yr. Mountain biking travellers typically spend 3-5 days in a spot and spend $60-100 per day per person. For average combining hiking and cycling spending is $37-$100. 

It is also worth noting that there is a low cost investment by a municipality for high returns for eco-tourism. When you compare arena based sports at $149/user or field sports at $18/user to trail users at an average of $0.18 per user the net benefit vs capital outlay is massive.

Watch the movies. Sign the petition. Attend the council meeting, December 19 at 1:30 pm (click here for meeting details). We are requesting a pause in all logging of the North Cowichan Municipal Forests to allow time for public consultation on the future of our six public municipal forest reserves.

Thank-you for being part of the stewardship and future of our forests.

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