"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mundy Forest must be for the people

Mundy Park (Photo: City of Coquitlam)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that there was little potential for controversy in relation to a forest-management plan for Mundy Forest, which is the subject of a press release issued today by the City of Coquitlam.
However, the plan was actually the subject of some rather intense discussion, initiated by yours truly, at Council-in-Committee's meeting on Monday afternoon.
My concern was centred squarely on the vision for the forest, specifically on whether the management plan would see actions taken to protect and enhance the forest primarily in
the name of “ecological integrity” or rather--and, more properly, I feel--for the enjoyment of the people of Coquitlam, for whom the forest, and the park itself, is a fabulous amenity..
I spoke to the issue at some length on Monday afternoon because my examination of staff documents involving the plan did, in fact, reveal a shift in the focus towards a Nature-first approach, something with which I most heartily disagreed because I believed it could lead to increasing exclusion of people from the park. We needed a balance, I said, in which a healthy park existed so that the people of Coquitlam could enjoy it to its fullest.
Mundy Park (Photo: City of Coquitlam)
In the end, I received a firm declaration from the acting GM of Parks, Recreation and Culture that the plan would reflect a more balanced approach than what was indicated in a key document that had sparked my investigation and ultimate presentation to committee. And that’s good.
So, if you’ll bear with me, I’ll walk you through the research I did and the conclusions I reached. First, from a report to committee dated March 4, 2013 (but actually presented to council in committee on March 11, 2013), comes this important vision statement:
‘The forest in Mundy Park provides tremendous benefits to the community, which are directly linked to the health and aesthetic qualities of the forest. Without a comprehensive Forest Management Plan (the "FMP") there is the risk that the pressures the Park faces such as insect and fungal pest infestations, wildfire, windstorms, invasive plant infestations, and unsanctioned uses may erode or eliminate the benefits residents currently enjoy.
Note, the emphasis here is on keeping the forest healthy so the citizens of Coquitlam can continue to enjoy the ‘tremendous benefits’ to the community that are linked to the health and aesthetic quality of the forest.  This, I believe, is the correct and proper vision.
But now, let’s look to Attachment 2 of Monday’s report, dated Aug 22, 2013, where we read about the mandate of the community focus group. I quote bullet three:
“To provide input on and support recommendations for the preservation and enhancement of the forest in Mundy Park and the benefits it provides for the community.”
Note the “and.” It’s important, and it represents a slight shift in focus. Let me explain. If this sort of statement were to adhere to the vision laid out last March, this “and” should have been the phrase “in order to” – as in “To provide input on and support recommendations for the preservation and enhancement of the forest in Mundy Park in order to provide benefits for the community.” But, with this new “and,” we see the focus shifting away from the original vision – that a healthy forest is needed to provide benefits to the citizens, to one in which the health of the forest (moreover, the “preservation and enhancement” of the forest) is a goal unto itself, and is merely a complementary goal to that of the benefits a healthy forest can provide to the community. This shift isn't particularly worrisome by itself, but took on new significance when read in relation to a more recent report.
Indeed, the whole vision thing gets particularly troubling with the staff report we considered on January 20. Look to page 3 of the main body of Monday's report, and we find the original vision sliding even further out of sight. Here, we read:
The key objective of the Forest Management Plan is to maintain the ecological integrity of the Park by allowing natural process to occur, with the intention of accommodating sensitive recreational uses while allowing the forest to reach the climax stage of maturity.”
Mundy Park (Photo: City of Coquitlam)
Get that? Where we started out by describing a vision that clearly stated the main reason for having a healthy forest was for the benefits to be derived by the citizens of Coquitlam, we now have a vision that declares the main reason that we intend to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to better manage this forest is – not to better serve the public – but, rather, to protect the forest’s “ecological integrity” [something, by the way, that I consider an impossibility in an urban setting] while merely "accommodating" use by the citizens – and only “sensitive” recreational uses at that.
I must note here that the Diamond Head Consulting report, which summarizes ideas coming from a workshop with the Community Focus Group, contains different wording yet again – including a Draft Vision Statement that is more in line with council’s original intent. This report is appended to the January 20 staff report.
But, regardless of that Draft Vision Statement wording, what’s important is how staff interprets and puts into action the wording. And, given the interpretation on page three of Monday’s report– where “sensitive recreational uses” are merely to be accommodated -- I feared that staff may be headed in a direction that is not in line with either council’s or the advisory committee’s intentions.
With all this explanation complete, I then told committee that, if we are going to spend all this time, effort and money, our primarily vision should be to maximize the benefit that this expenditure will deliver to our citizens. This is the view of Mundy Park that is held by the vast majority of Coquitlam residents, I'm sure.
Indeed, it would be a regrettable waste of taxpayers’ money if we proceed with a Forest Management Plan whose primary goal is to enhance impossible-to-achieve “ecological integrity” at the expense of protecting and improving the park so that the benefits to the residents of Coquitlam can be maximized.
I argued that we should return to the original vision, the one that received clear support from council and is reflected in the Community Focus Group’s Draft Vision Statement. I said that we needed to spell out very clearly that the goal of spending this money is not to foster a healthy urban forest primarily for its own sake, but rather so that it may continue to provide the tremendous benefits that it currently provides to the Citizens of Coquitlam.
And, in the end, I received very firm assurances that public use and forest protection/enhancement would go hand-in-hand, and that the forest would not be treated as some sort of pristine ecological preserve from which people would be excluded. And thank goodness for that!


  1. Thanks, Terry!

    Keep up the good work.

  2. I spent quite a few hours over the past weekend researching all this, and was pleased that my work bore fruit!

  3. Excellent work Mr. O'Neill - Mundy Park should be " if we are going to spend all this time, effort and money, our primarily vision should be to maximize the benefit that this expenditure will deliver to our citizens."
    I walk our dog in the park daily and I concur with your stated point of view!