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North Saanich tree-cutting underscores need for ALR changes, says activist

Bobby Arbass says more needs to be done to protect wooded ALR properties
A local environmentalist says more needs to be done to protect ALR properties - like the one in the 11000-block of Rosborough Road - from logging. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

An environmental activist is calling for legislative changes prohibiting the inappropriate use of farmland for development.

“Wooded (Agricultural Land Reserve) lands are being purchased by people with development interest as a way to advance real estate development,” said Bobby Arbess. “That is an inappropriate use of the ALR designation.”

Arbess, who has been involved in several local environmental groups and causes, made these comments after the owner of a 3.17-acre property in the 11000-block of Rosborough Road, a quiet side-road near Deep Cove Elementary School, cut down an unknown but likely substantial number of trees.

The property lies entirely in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) with a zoning of rural-agricultural and Kim Grout, chief executive officer of the Agricultural Land Commission, told Black Press in early fall that nothing in the legislation governing the ALR prevents the removal of trees as part of agricultural use.

The property owner had signed an affidavit in early July to verify that his purpose for cutting or removing trees is of an agricultural nature, according to North Saanich staff.

According to North Saanich Mayor Peter Jones, the owner plans to use the property as a riding ring. According to Arbess, the owner told neighbours that he plans to build a home and a riding ring for his wife on the lot. Black Press has reached out to the owner for comment and confirmation.

RELATED: Coalition concerned with loss of trees on North Saanich property

Arbess acknowledged the property owner was playing by the rules.

“The problem here are the rules themselves,” he said. “You have an antiquated system of colonial law that has allowed the (ALC) to leave it to municipalities to decide whether they are going to apply tree protection bylaws on ALR land. So the exemption from tree protection (bylaws) on ALR land is really at the heart of the problem.”

This aspect needs to change, he said in pointing to local efforts by former North Saanich councillor Jack Thornburgh.

“We are in a climate emergency and also we in the Capital Regional District have an extremely low rate of (utilizing) ALR land for local food security…we need tougher restrictions that encourage more use of our ALR land for actual food production.”

Larger issues also loom.

“We are in an era of reconciliation, where climate and ecological emergency is largely the result of a system of colonialism that has disregarded the natural world to the same degree it is disregarded Indigenous people, who are the traditional caretakers of the land,” said Arbess, when asked why the property has generated so much attention. “The status quo of just buy it, cut it, build on it and sell it, to hell with whoever the First Nations are, is no longer acceptable.”

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