A group of Willoughby residents say they are deeply troubled by the removal of a section of second-growth forest on a property near their homes.
Among those voicing concerns is David North, a resident who lives near the forested land at 21198 Smith Cres.
North said he is confused about why a section of the forest, commonly known as Tara Farms, would be coming down, when the 56-acre property is located in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Instead, he said, he would like to have seen the property, which he characterized as the “Stanley Park of Langley,” turned into a proper park and conserved.
Another Willoughby resident, Oleg Klenin, who lives on 76 Avenue, said it was the “wild forest” that initially attracted him to his home beside the property. Klenin explained he is particularly upset about the logging because he said he has seen numerous species of wildlife in the forest, including owls.
“We want to stop it (the cutting) and save the remaining forest,” he said.
Legally, however, under Right to Farm legislation, the owner of the property — Tara Ridge Estates Inc. — is permitted to clearcut the land, if the work is being done for the purpose of farming.
To date, the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) has not received an application to exclude the property from the ALR, nor has the Township received any development applications, said Ramin Seifi, Township general manager of engineering and community development.
The Township has made inquiries to the landowner, who said their intent is to use the property for farming, Seifi added.
Tara Ridge Estates is co-owned by the same person who owns Marcon, a development company based in Langley. Several calls to Marcon, asking for comment, were not returned.
SPECIAL STUDY AREA
Both the Willoughby Community Plan and the Township’s Master Transportation Plan identify a new road that would connect 208 Street to 212 Street through the middle of the property.
The Northeast Gordon Estate Neighbourhood Plan also labels the property a “special study area,” with the potential for future changes to land use designations.
“All that means is that we don’t know what the future might look like for this area and, as such, we plan to look at it in more detail some time in the future and determine what the appropriate land use might be,” said Seifi.
“Keeping in mind that … the ALC will have to agree with what we decide needs to happen, if it’s anything other than farm use.”
Tony Pellet, South Coast regional planner for the ALC, confirmed that with respect to the Langley property, the commission has “no concerns in terms of the environment; that’s not our concern,” he said.
“Our concern is whether, in fact, the land is just being scalped and left in stumps … because that’s not helpful to agriculture.”
In response to the public objections, Seifi said Township staff plans to take a look at the property and present council with their findings in the near future.
In the meantime, members of local environmental groups are also expressing concern about the removal of trees from the property.
In 2004, the Langley Environmental Partners Society (LEPS) identified the Tara Farms property in their Willoughby Habitat Status Report, as a “very large forested area that would be ideal to conserve.”
According to their study, this property was the largest forested area in Willoughby, and one of the “few natural stands of broadleaf trees left in Langley.”
It contained a mixed forest with trees ranging in age from 80 to 100 years old, and high diversity of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, including Cooper’s hawks, pileated woodpeckers and Bewick’s wrens.
“It is very important that this area be preserved and linked through corridors to the other patches around it, as it will act as a reservoir for many species,” the report states.
Kirk Robertson, board member of Watchers of Langley Forests (WOLF), noted that the property was labelled “a site worthy of protection” as far back as 1993 in a WestWater Research Centre report.
“This is something that the Township has been aware of for 23 years, at least. And it’s extremely disappointing that in all that time, the Township has never taken a leadership role in seeing that this property was conserved,” he said.
Story continued below
While the Township of Langley does not have any measures against tree cutting on ALR land, the City of Surrey has taken a different approach.
In Surrey, a tree cutting permit is required for all agricultural land and land zoned for agricultural use, regardless of whether it is in the ALR, said Nadia Chan, manager of trees and landscaping with the City of Surrey.
If the tree removal is for agricultural purposes, an arborist report must be completed, as well as a sworn affidavit by the owner declaring that the tree removal is for agricultural purposes and that farming cannot occur anywhere else on the property, except where the trees are.
And if a watercourse runs through the property, or the site is identified as environmentally sensitive, there are further requirements.
The Township is under different constraints than Surrey, said Ramin Seifi.
He notes that the Township is one of four “regulated municipalities” under the Local Government Act, meaning that any bylaw they may try to enact that would affect Right to Farm legislation or the ALR, must also be approved by the provincial government — something Surrey is not obligated to do.
“Our ability to prohibit the removal of trees in the ALR is limited,” Seifi said.
“In fact, I would say that we don’t really have any control and that it is up to the ALC to regulate that because of the fact that … we don’t have a bylaw.”
This limitation is something Councillor Petrina Arnason would like to change.
She would like to work with the provincial government, local environmental groups and the agricultural community to create legislation that would allow for protection of properties like Tara Farms, without inhibiting farming.
“I think that there are ways that we can structure some kind of policy around this,” Arnason said. “Because, as I have said repeatedly, I don’t believe that, from a policy point of view, that the Township does not have any control or remedy over farming that could very well negatively effect the rest of the Township. That just doesn’t seem reasonable, and I know that we have to strike the right balance between making sure that farmers can still farm.”