On Sept. 22, the Environmental Commissioner’s Office (ECO), proclaiming to be the province’s “independent” environmental watchdog, released their annual report. The timing of the report certainly raised some eyebrows, as it was released earlier than any other ECO Annual Report in the last five years, seemingly to coincide with a controversial decision by the provincial government to pass its special-interest-backed Far North Act.
In addition, the content of the report and the accompanying media release cause significant concerns as to where the ECO is sourcing their information.
In fact, the ECO report/media release, which includes several unsubstantiated allegations against the forest sector, can be viewed as more reflective of the “campaign science” we have come to expect from special interests and professional panic merchants living in southern Ontario, as opposed to the real science and credible information required to develop responsible public policy.
Of particular concern is the incorrect and extremely inflammatory statement made by the ECO in their media release which says “caribou have disappeared – and never returned – wherever we have built roads and logged in the last 150 years.”
Had the ECO done their homework, they would have realized that as early as 1996, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) observed caribou have been re-using previously harvested forests near Lucy Lake and documented their findings in a publicly available study titled Caribou Winter Habitat in the New Forests: Lessons from Lucy Lake.
More recently, the MNR’s own data shows caribou using areas actively managed for forestry around South Allely Lake, an area located further south than the range established for caribou in the 1950s.
MNR survey results from areas in northwestern Ontario, which has been managed for forestry for decades, show that caribou populations are stable.
All it would have taken to obtain this type of information is a simple phone call to the Ministry of Natural Resources, well within the realm of the feasible for a government-funded office with a staff of 20 and an annual budget of approximately $3 million. Instead, the ECO chose to take an erroneous position that is deeply established within the ranks of southern Ontario anti-industry special interests.
Even an attempted rebuttal of a recent OFIA media release by the executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada – who is listed as a key contributor to a document outlining how anti-industry special interests were able to control the development of the Endangered Species Act – along
with a colleague from Trent University casts doubts on the ECO positions, acknowledging that “woodland caribou can cope with some disruption of the forest.”
This is not surprising given that caribou have evolved in a landscape that has historically been dominated by frequent and often large-scale natural disturbances – namely, fire.
In fact, it is Ontario’s move to a forest management system that emulates natural disturbances, with additional mandatory provisions for wildlife, that has allowed the forest sector to successfully manage for species like caribou.
The Lucy Lake study, which the OFIA obtained from the MNR, clearly states that “the area is being used approximately 40 years after harvest,” concluding that the study “supports the notion that new forest can become available as winter habitat in approximately 40 years,” whereas “estimates of the time required to attain suitability for winter habitat after fire go as high as 55 years.”
Sustainable forest management in Ontario is governed by a platinum-standard, world-class regulatory framework that is built on credible science and information.
Under this regulatory framework, Ontario’s sustainable forest sector has been providing for caribou and their habitat since 1994.
To be clear, Ontario’s forest sector is not opposed to openness, transparency or accountability – these principles are fundamental to operating in Ontario’s Crown forests, a publicly owned resource.
We do believe, however, that the province should hold the ECO to the same standard.
Jamie Lim is president of the Ontario Forest Industries Association. She is the former mayor of Timmins.
Scott Jackson is manager of forest policy for the Ontario Forest Industries Association.