When the Government of Ontario announced the finalized Forest Sector Strategy last week, it begged the question – when a forestry strategy falls in the forest, does anybody hear?
Despite the Province lining up a queue of logging companies and affiliates to state their resounding support, the Forest Sector Strategy received almost no mainstream media coverage. Why? Because it wasn’t news. The Forest Strategy is virtually identical to the draft we responded to seven months ago. At the time, we spoke out about our concerns. We asked our supporters to call on the Province to do more for conservation, more for wildlife, and more to support Indigenous communities seeking greater protection of their ancestral lands. In total, 32,000 emails were submitted to Minister Yakabuski. Many of our members and supporters denounced the inadequate, invite-only public consultation, and the assumption that logging in the province could be almost doubled without negatively impacting waters, wildlife and non-timber values. See, for example, the letter sent by Ontario Nature’s Youth Council.
Our ask was simple: Will the government share the forest? With the massive surplus of forest that has not been logged over the past 10–20 years due to market factors, will the government support Indigenous and local communities that are moving forward with conservation initiatives? Will the government commit to protecting more habitat and non-timber forest values? Or will it use the Strategy to further an agenda of environmental deregulation? Their answer is apparent in the changes already underway (or approved) that lengthen the time between independent forest audits, and “remove red tape” by exempting the forest industry from the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act and Endangered Species Act.
Our calls to share the forest have been ignored in lockstep with the erosion of public input that’s fundamental to a healthy democracy. Last month, Ontario’s Auditor General stated that the province was “not compliant” with the law by passing major amendments to environmental legislation (Omnibus Bill 197) without meeting legal requirements for public consultation, as set out in the Environmental Bill of Rights. Last year, the Auditor General reported that half of the proposal notices posted by the Natural Resources, Municipal Affairs, and Energy and Mines ministries on the Environmental Registry “did not adequately describe important aspects of the proposal, such as the environmental implications.”
As the province’s environmental watchdogs, we must demand, louder than ever, that our voices be heard. We continue to need your support. In the upcoming weeks, we will be exploring how Ontario Nature and our supporters can take our concerns to the marketplace. We have also launched a legal action against Omnibus Bill 197 to defend the health and prosperity of communities and the environment.
Julee Boan is Ontario Nature’s Boreal Program Manager. Based in our Thunder Bay office, she works collaboratively with local conservation groups, First Nations, and industry to seek environmentally responsible approaches to economic development in northern Ontario. She has a Ph.D. in forest sciences with research focused on mitigating the impact of industrial logging on woodland caribou.