The incentives to remove trees from the Agricultural Land Reserves are counterintuitive to climate change and need to be revisited, says a local champion of sustainability.
Director Adam Taylor of Habitat Acquisition Trust, which documented the loss of 300 hectares of Saanich tree canopy from 2006 to 2011, says ALR rules overlook the importance of trees and natural areas.
“There needs to be incentives within the ALR to preserve tree cover, in addition to the incentives in the ALR to remove it,” Taylor said. “As long as trees remain, they’re paying higher taxes.”
The news of 4,900 trees coming down from Allen Vandekerkove’s Saanich ALR property – 12 hectares – along Watkiss Way spurred many responses this week, such as Taylor’s.
The way the ALR rules are now, if a herd of sheep is on two hectares and the other 15 hectares of that ALR farm is forest land, the farmer is encouraged to clear cut the trees to qualify for the reduced farm tax rate on all 17 hectares, Taylor added.
“That’s a broken system. In terms of climate change, trees are carbon sponges and it’s going to take 60 to 100 years to replace those trees as the effective carbon sponges that they are now.”
The Vandekerkhove property is not going to have a global impact, but it will have a regional one, according to Taylor, who isn’t commenting on Vandekerkhove’s decision.
“In general, [HAT’s] concern with the ALR is it’s not just protecting farm land but encouraging natural areas transition into farmland for no particular agricultural reason,” said Taylor.
“When you lose a big chunk of trees that’s a large amount of natural water retention gone.”
The natural wetland neighbouring the Watkiss Way property will accrue a great amount more water, an issue that View Royal would then have to engineer a solution for.
“Certainly, the Agricultural Land Commission needs to recognize the value of tree cover.”