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Endangered Species Act endangers forest industry

When Queen's Park first unveiled the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2006, Anne Krassilowsky's first reaction was: "One more way to shut down the North and take industry out.

When Queen's Park first unveiled the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2006, Anne Krassilowsky's first reaction was: "One more way to shut down the North and take industry out."

You'd be hard-pressed to convince the mayor of Dryden otherwise these days. When she thinks about whether the woodlands caribou needs protecting, she has a local homeowner calling up to complain about deer, wolves, black bears and other abundant wildlife roaming through neighbourhoods and chowing down in backyard gardens.

"We have more eagles than people here."

Many in the northwest fear environmental groups from southern Ontario now have the ear of the Ministry of Natural Resources. The end game is to turn the entire Crown forests of the North into one huge wildlife preserve.

What else, they say, would be behind the unexpected new permitting system under the ESA?  The new regulations, posted on the province's Environmental Bill of Rights website in May, immediately sparked a flurry of angry protests from industry and regional groups. The Act went into effect June 30.

Krassilowsky's city of 8,200 has built its economy around forestry since the first World War. Domtar's pulp and paper operation dominates the community's skyline and employs more than 500.

The local business fall-out from bad market conditions and last year's layoff of 200 mill workers was felt by woodland contractors, hotel and restaurant owners, clothing shops and automobile dealerships. Logging equipment and heavy trucks are up for sale and there's empty storefronts in the downtown.

Trades people are commuting to jobs in Alberta. Families are left behind.

Krassilowsky, who serves on the region's Common Voice action group and the Ontario Forestry Coalition (OFC), says the ESA is another example of Queen's Park's one-size-fits-all policymaking. "It's sending the message that we will close down Northern Ontario."

The Ontario Forest Industries Association (OFIA) calls it "the biggest single challenge to the industry's viability."

It resulted in an industry barnstorming tour across the region in June with power point presentations before packed community halls telling of the possible dire consequences of the act.

Community and forestry leaders see the new legislation as introducing a costly permitting system that holds industry to an impossible standard. They say wording in the act leaves them and the province open to court challenges by environmental groups that could shut down logging in entire management units.

Tagging along on the 12-communities-in-five-days trip was OFIA president Jamie Lim, the former mayor of Timmins, itself a forestry town.

She wants to avoid a repeat of what happened in Oregon 20 years ago. Similar legislation enacted there to save the Northern Spotted Owl's habitat cost 50,000 jobs and took seven million acres out of circulation for commercial logging.

The owl still remains an endangered species.

"How sad to ruin an economy on an experiment," says Lim. "There's 230,000 working families in Ontario that rely on the forestry industry. Their futures should not be a special interest group experiment."

Still fresh on everyone's minds were promises made two years ago by then-Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay that Ontario's Forest Sustainability Act was already the "platinum standard" in protecting endangered species.

"We worried about this and were told there was an act in place and there was no need to duplicate it," says Krassilowsky.

Lim says her group negotiated in good faith with the government to write language into the Endangered Species Act recognizing the good work done by the industry. Until, she says, the government "pulled the rug out from under us."
"We had a promise and they're not honouring the promise," says Lim.

Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield was not available for comment. Kenora Forest Products manager Rod McKay calls the ESA another layer of bureaucracy that flies in the face of the government's own forestry competitive study.

"We're struggling as an industry and do we need to have more red tape?"

McKay says meticulous planning goes into their provincially-approved five-year management plans, which take almost as long to create. It outlines the dos and don'ts around stream crossings and sensitive wildlife habitat.

Large scale harvesting is done to mimic forest fires and blow-downs, he says.

McKay says adding permits to each cut block will be costly and wonders how long the approvals process will take.
He believes the province should do less micro-managing and hold companies to a level of accountability to operate and make intelligent decisions based on science.

Scott Jackson, OFIA's policy manager, says wording in the ESA is based on the 'overall benefit' notion that anyone who engages in activity that potentially harmful to a species or habitat must be held responsible. Jackson says that can be subject to all kinds of interpretation.

OFIA says it represents a "welcome mat" to court challenges by well-funded environmental groups.

Jackson argues most of Ontario's endangered species are in the south, included all of the 16 new species added in the last three years.

The industry is concerned that permit holders will be on the hook for any and all impacts on an endangered species in a given area. "How can we have 100 per cent control over things like climate change?" says Jackson.

Jackson says the province may also have to issue as many as 9,000 permits each year for cutting blocks. Natural Resources officials have told them it's more likely only 47, one for each management unit in Ontario. But Jackson says companies won't go for it. If an environmental group challenges the permit, activity in an entire management unit could be brought to a halt.

In the province's Lands for Life-Forestry Accord document, Lim says industry was guaranteed 24 million cubic metres of wood annually. "We've now seen a slow erosion of that available fibre."

She was reluctant to grade the McGuinty's government's overall handling of the forestry file except to say their vision needs to be more consistent.

The government has done an "amazing job" uploading forestry road building costs and promoting bio-energy and value-added opportunities.

She's bewildered by the mixed messages sent out to industry and investors by potentially threatening Ontario's wood supply.

"It's so bizarre that they're doing so many good things, then they bring out a permitting system that literally hands over Crown forest management to the court rooms."