Saanich council Monday rejected a recommendation from Coun. Nathalie Chambers to look into putting a moratorium on the cutting of Garry oak trees. (Black Press File).

Saanich axes proposal to spare Garry oaks

Staff are currently developing a comprehensive bio-diversity strategy

Efforts by a Saanich councillor to impose a moratorium on the cutting of Garry oaks and other native trees did not win the support of her colleagues.

Council voted 8-1 against Coun. Nathalie Chambers’ motion that asked staff to report back on the implications of a moratorium on cutting down Garry oak trees, with native tree species’ included in the assessment.

“Candidly, the likelihood of imposing a moratorium is low, ” said Coun. Rebecca Mersereau. While she echoed a common sentiment in praising the “intent and spirit” of Chambers’ motion, she questioned whether such a moratorium would have community support. She also said any work on the moratorium would divert staff resources from current work offering more comprehensive and permanent solutions.

RELATED: Saanich councillor calls for interim Garry oak protection from development

Staff are currently developing a comprehensive bio-diversity strategy that the previous council asked staff to develop after councillors had rescinded the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw.

Coun. Judy Brownoff — echoing earlier points from Coun. Karen Harper — said Saanich would receive that report before it would receive a report into Chambers’ proposed moratorium.

The public had heard earlier that any staff work into the moratorium would delay the work on the bio-diversity strategy by several months, and impact active and future development permits, as well as any work undertaken by senior spheres of government in Saanich.

READ MORE: CRD directors demand declaration of climate emergency

Monday’s vote can be read as a defeat for Chambers, who had announced last week that she would ask staff to bring forward the moratorium as well as ask staff to look at options for the “immediate implementation” of a conservation strategy that would protect the same ecosystems that the EDPA had previously protected.

This agenda re-ignited the conflict between supporters and opponents of the EDPA that had divided the community for several years, and Monday’s council meeting likely triggered a case of deja vu for many as council heard many familiar points that opponents and supporters of the EDPA had made in the past.

In the end, the EDPA-related portion of Chambers’ agenda never made it onto the floor for debate after receiving support but also criticism from the public.

Coun. Colin Plant found Chambers’ eventual motion “problematic” but was willing to give her a chance to have her motion heard.

Chambers, for her part, appeared surprised by the public reaction, when she apologized for her “abrupt” recommendation that appeared at the start of council’s agenda.

“But I don’t regret this recommendation,” she said. “Residents are demanding that I do something. Residents demand that we do something.” Citing support from First Nations, Chambers framed her recommendation as part of Saanich’s commitment towards reconciliation.

This said, she acknowledged that in hindsight, her proposal should have been been clearer in thanking the public for the feedback, before eventually tabling her failed motion.

After that motion, council approved a motion from her to receive the report by April. “Now [residents] know at the end of April a report is coming and the biodiversity strategy will be phased in,” she said.

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com

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