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Ontario forestry reforms worry conservationists

Consultations so far focus on forest industry, First Nations

Big Pic © Mallory Vanier

Published by Ecolog.com
January 29, 2020

A long campaign by Ontario’s forest industry for provincial government action may be about to pay off. Over the month of December 2019, the Ontario government posted a series of policy proposals on the Environmental Registry of Ontario, all in support of a new forest sector strategy that is still only in draft form.

The organization Ontario Nature was sufficiently alarmed by the sum of the policy proposals that it has established a letter-writing campaign to warn Natural Resources and Forestry Minister John Yakabuski not to promote industrial logging at the expense of biodiversity.

The Ontario Forest Industries Association (OFIA) did not respond to EHScompliance.ca newsletter’s request for an interview, but its position is made clear in several documents published on its website.

In OFIA’s 2019 pre-budget submission [http://www.ofia.com/images/PDFs/OFIA%202019%20Pre-
Budget%20Submission_PC%20-%20FINAL_Jan17.pdf], dated January 17, 2019, it presents a graphic showing that, of the 45 million hectares of managed Crown forests in Ontario, only 100,000 hectares were harvested annually — roughly 0.2 percent. Ontario could do so much better, it claims.

Neighbouring Quebec harvests twice as much. And Finland, admired globally for its environmental stewardship, harvests almost five times as much as Ontario despite having only one-third the land mass.

The culprit? The OFIA points to policy barriers that limit access to forests and hamper growth in the sector, as well as a lack of competitive and accessible energy, stumpage, labour and transportation systems.

Among legislative barriers, the forest industry takes dead aim at species protection laws, notably Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007 and the federal Species at Risk Act, particularly the section 11 authority to enter into conservation agreements with provinces.

The OFIA has long urged Ontario to remove the duplication between the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994 and the Endangered Species Act, 2007, to make a regulation under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 specifically for the forest sector, and to reject “unworkable” conservation agreement and emergency protection orders from the federal government.

It may get its wish. Among the many forest-related proposals currently on the Environmental Registry of Ontario is one [https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-1020] that “would no longer require duplicative authorizations or a regulatory exemption under the [Endangered Species Act, 2007] for forest operations conducted in Crown forests in accordance with an approved forest management plan under the [Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994].” The argument under the proposal is that protections under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994 are equivalent to those under the Endangered Species Act, 2007.

On its face, that doesn’t sound unreasonable, concedes Julee Boan, boreal program manager at Ontario Nature, in an interview with EHScompliance.ca newsletter. The protections under the two statutes are roughly equivalent, but only because Ontario significantly weakened the Endangered Species Act, 2007 with an amendment in Bill 108, the More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019, that allows the temporary suspension of protections if “the temporary suspension will not jeopardize the survival of the species in Ontario”. That’s a much lower standard than before, when a forest operator would have to show an “overall benefit” to the species.

“The issue with species at risk is that you can’t just mitigate impact. You need to be actually working to recover,” says Boan.

What Ontario has done, in effect, is weaken the Endangered Species Act, 2007 in order to make its protections equivalent to those under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994, says Boan.

It’s the interplay between the draft forest sector strategy [https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-0880] and the other forest-related proposals that gives Boan pause. The draft forest sector strategy reads like a piece of good public relations, Boan says. It lays out the problem, but offers only vague prescriptions in response.

“There are lots of things we could agree on, like innovation and education and technology. We’re all aware of trade barriers,” says Boan. “But what I’m afraid of is that it’s paving the way for some really substantive changes,” that will lock down more forests for industrial use and deny access to conservationists. There are plenty of factors that contribute to Ontario’s comparatively low forest harvest, she says, but many of them are market factors, not regulatory impediments.

In an interview with EHScompliance.ca newsletter, François Dufresne, president of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Canada, says the draft forest sector strategy’s goal of doubling Ontario’s forest harvest from 15 million m3 per year to 30 million m3 per year is not necessarily problematic. The draft forest sector strategy says it can be done without compromise to forest sustainability.

Dufresne says the important piece will be how it’s implemented.

“Stakeholder engagement is key,” says Dufresne. “The government has to listen very carefully to what other parties, other than the forest industry, have to say before finalizing this plan.”

Probably more than anything else, that’s the foundation of Boan’s concern. In the lead up to the development of the draft forest sector strategy, the government held a series of town hall meetings across Ontario, says Boan. “It was an invite-only session,” she says, and organizations like Ontario Nature were not on the invitation list.

The various Environmental Registry of Ontario postings bear that out.

“Industry has been engaged throughout the development of the strategy to ensure the current gaps and issues in the sector were considered and addressed,” states the posting for the draft forest sector strategy. “In August 2019, two meetings were held with industry stakeholders. A draft document was provided to industry representatives for feedback, which has been incorporated. Our stakeholder outreach strategy includes email and letters sent to municipalities, First Nations, industry leaders, including businesses with innovative uses for wood products,” states the posting.

Boan says the face-to-face consultations engaged around 200 people. Everyone else in Ontario could have their views heard through an online survey. “I think it was around 120 people” who responded, she says.

As of January 31, 2020, the letter-writing campaign Ontario Nature is supporting had added 3,278 to the number of people expressing their concerns to the Ontario government.

Dufresne says that developing a new forest sector strategy now presents Ontario with a unique opportunity. FSC Canada is implementing a new forest management standard in 2020, one that Dufresne calls “a game changer”.

Ontario, which harvests a relatively low percentage of its available forests, is well-placed to take advantage of the standard, he argues, being among the first “to put on the ground a long-term strategic orientation for forest resiliency in this province.” It would require adding a woodland caribou recovery plan, and requiring the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples.

FSC Canada believes its new forest management standard would give Ontario forest products a competitive advantage, open markets and lead to more well-paying jobs in Ontario’s forest sector.

On the Environmental Registry of Ontario on January 31, 2020

Ontario’s Forest Sector Strategy(Draft) [https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-0880] — The draft strategy is intended to support existing businesses and help create more opportunities and prosperity in northern and rural Ontario while ensuring high standards of sustainable forest management.

Proposed revisions to the Forest Manuals regulated under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994 [https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-0715] — This is a proposal to revise the Forest Management Planning Manual, the Forest
Information Manual, the Forest Operations and Silviculture Manual, and the Scaling Manual under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994.

The changes would modernize and streamline requirements, and reduce workload, time and costs in the preparation and implementation of forest management plans.

The forest manuals will be made consistent with legislative requirements for species at risk, following the Bill 108 amendments, removing the requirements that would have applied to a forest management plan if it was proposed to be a section 18 “overall benefit” instrument under the Endangered Species Act, 2007.

Proposed revisions to Ontario’s Independent Forest Audit Regulation under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994 [https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-1006] — The proposal would provide for an audit to be carried out in each management unit at least once every 10 years rather than every five, and allow the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to extend the 10-year audit period in order to achieve any of a range of objectives.

Discussion paper: Developing strategic direction for managing forest pests in Ontario [https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-1005] — The discussion paper proposes establishing strategic, risk-based direction to enhance the province’s response to forest pest outbreaks, help protect forest health and improve resiliency of Ontario’s forests.

Proposed changes to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994 [https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-1020] — This is a proposal to eliminate duplicative authorizations or a regulatory exemption under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 for forest operations conducted in Crown forests in accordance with an approved forest management plan under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994.

by Mark Sabourin

Reprinted with permission.