Watershed management groups on P.E.I. have come out against a proposal to allow more harvesting of trees near streams and rivers.

Currently there is a 15-metre buffer zone around waterways where tree cutting is not allowed, the same as for farming, except in rare cases where the province grants an exception. Last week Ira Smith of the P.E.I. Woodlot Owners Association argued before a legislature committee the buffer zone was not necessary.

"We question the need for a buffer zone similar to that required for farmland," said Smith.

"There is no risk of chemical contamination from agriculture operations, and these buffer zones provide almost no environmental benefit."

The P.E.I. Watershed Alliance disagrees, and has written a letter to the government outlining why the buffer zones should stay in place.

"The value of buffers really benefits everybody in society here on P.E.I.," said Shawn Hill, executive director of the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance.

"There'd be nesting wildlife, there'd be pollinators, birds, bird life. There's a lot of different critters that require these areas for nesting and they're pretty sensitive."

Smith argues the buffer zone removes a significant portion of land from the economy, and that not harvesting trees can cause its own problems.

"Trees, if they're not harvested, at a certain point in time they're going to fall into the brook, they're going to cause flooding, they're going to cause a lot of damage. You've got to remove them through time," he said.

Hill doesn't buy that argument.

"Trees have been falling in the forest and in buffer zones for millions of years and we've never needed to clean them up, so I question the need to clean them up now," he said.

The committee that heard the arguments of wood lot owners and the watershed alliance will now take the debate to the legislature.

For mobile device users: Should the restrictions on cutting trees near streams and rivers on P.E.I. be eased?