The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Chapter of the Ontario Woodlot Association hopes to get a dialogue going with South Nation Conservation’s Agricultural Forest Cover Committee… and the sooner the better.

The SDG Chapter wants to make sure that the interests of tree managers are fully represented in the committee’s final report, expected this fall. That shouldn’t be too difficult because in its interim report, the committee has acknowledged the 64 SDG woodlot owners as important stakeholders in the discussion.

The interim report recognizes the need to ensure a strong and vibrant forest cover. Rather than imposing intrusive bylaws, the committee feels the goal can be achieved through best management practices, education and outreach, and stakeholder engagement.

The woodlot owners say the initial report doesn’t go far enough and discriminates against trees as a crop by suggesting top land classes should be held for food and feed production, leaving only marginal land to forestry and environmental protection.

Owners are becoming increasingly alarmed about the rate of clearcutting in the area and feel aggressive counter action must be taken.

That action could range from municipally imposed restrictions on tree removal, to a general ban on such activity. So far, the six municipalities within the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry represented by the chapter have shown a reluctance to intervene.

Woodlot owners understand that reluctance, says Elaine Kennedy, president of the SDG Chapter. Most tree cutting is undertaken by farmers looking to expand cropland, and her members feel the same reluctance to step in the way of them increasing their incomes.

“But action must be taken,” she adds, noting that the region is below forest cover recommended for a healthy environment and there’s no end in sight. The water table may be high this year, but in a drought, healthy widespread forests and wetlands are the sponges conserving water resources.

To help bring attention to their concerns, the SDG Chapter plans to meet with various municipal councils. Meanwhile, those municipalities are hoping the Agricultural Forest Cover Committee will relieve some of the pressure against clearcutting. Almost all of the committee’s members represent the agricultural community.

The clearcutting issue represents quite a pileup of interests and approaches, and it’s going to be tough grind to sort it all out to everyone’s satisfaction.