Lambton politicians want to strike a balance between trees and farming

Lambton County councilors want to strike a balance between the needs of farmers and the need for trees.

Lambton County councilors want to strike a balance between the needs of farmers and the need for trees.

High commodity and land prices may be driving farmers to clear woodlots to make better use on their property and that has some Lambton County politicians worried.

The issue came up at a county committee meeting where two different farmers asked to cut down a total of 30 acres of woodlots. In the end, the committee allowed one of the farmers to cut 4.5 acres and another to remove 6 acres. Each of them will pay to replant the equivalent number of trees for about $31, 000 in total.

After the discussion, St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold voiced concern about what he sees as a trend of more farmers looking to expand their land base.

“With the price of commodities and the price of land…it is hard to convince these folks that they shouldn’t go out and plant corn and beans and sugar beets on it because they see (woodlots) as land which is not returning an investment,” says Arnold. “It’s driven by commodity prices and the price of farm land.”

Arnold says the same thing happened in the 1980s when farmers were trying to hang onto their farms.

“That 10 acres of land that you can’t use is an awful stretch on the pocket book.”

Arnold says the county needs to take a long term look at how it deals with requests to remove woodlots. “What is the direction of our woodlots? Is the county going to become more aggressive in planting woodlots?

“Unless you have public land to plant on them where are you going to plant them? We have to have a plan,” says Arnold.

Councilors agreed there needs to be a comprehensive look at the issue. “We want to respect our agricultural partners, we want to enable them to be successful,” says Sarnia City/County Councilor Bev MacDougall who has long advocated a tree planting program. “We need to bring our goals in perspective.”

“There needs to be a long term strategy,” agrees Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley adding the county committee makes decisions but “we never really find out what happens” to the tree cover across the county.

Dawn Euphemia Mayor Bill Bilton says the county needs to look at the problem or face the same situation Chatham-Kent is in. That municipality is considering a woodlot bylaw and farmers are working to clear their land while they still can. Bilton says acres of land just across Lambton Line has “disappeared this winter; you can’t believe what they did. It made what I would say is an ‘H’ of a mess.”

County staff will prepare a report on the issue for councilors to discuss in the next few months.

– Heather Wright