The new rules for managing Ontario’s forests have both positive and negative aspects, but are generally being hailed as positive by all parties.
For the past three years, Ontario’s forest management guidelines under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA) have gone through a Timber Class Environmental Assessment (EA) review process culminating this July in a declaration order to revise the Forest Management Planning Manual. Forest users including wood products companies and others use the manual to plan their activities in Ontario’s forests.
“Overall, we’ve got a planning process that has been improved,” says Dan Pyke, manager of the forest management planning section of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Forest Management Branch. “We had a certain amount of overlap between the CFSA and the Environmental Assessment Act that we’ve been able to tease apart. We’ve strengthened our commitment to sustainable forest management and our commitment to the public with a stronger reporting process.”
“We are glad to have Timber Class EA approval to continue forestry in Ontario,” says Tim Millard, president of the Ontario Forest Industries Association (OFIA). “It continues to place a heavy burden on the industry for environmental protection, but it is a burden we have lived up to in the past and will continue to meet the challenges.”
“The Class EA to us was really and truly a mixed outcome,” says Chris Henschel, director of the forests program at the Wildlands League. “There are things we consider to be quite bad and some we consider to be quite good. On the bad side, we feel it reduces public oversight and accountability...there are periodic reviews done but there are no real ‘pressure points’ for change.”
Another criticism, he says, is the dropping of requirements for comprehensive access management plans and not addressing the League’s concerns about maximum clear-cut sizes except as they are laid out by the MNR’s forestry guidelines. However, positive additions include entrenchment into the Class EA of the Room To Grow policy framework, which establishes parklands with increases in wood utilization in Ontario and monitoring of the effectiveness of Ontario’s forestry guidelines.
Blair Rohaly, Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) project manager for the Timber Class EA, says the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is in the process of rewriting its forest management guidelines to incorporate input from the review process for final approval by June of next year.
“I suspect they will go to the public with the new manual sometime this winter,” says Rohaly.
Forest practitioners are required to develop both a long-term and short-term plan for operations in the forest. The previous short-term planning process came under criticism from a number of fronts, among them forest practitioners who criticized the five-year term for not giving them enough time between planning processes to actually assess the work they were doing.
The short-term planning cycle requires extensive public review before it is approved by the Ministry of the Environment.
“The planning process actually takes two years so you only had three years into your long-term planning process before you were into another short-term planning process,” says Rohaly. “What we’ve done is change that to a 10-year planning cycle. There is not much difference except that you don’t have to go through all that modeling as long as you can show at the end of five years that you are achieving your long-term objectives.”
Henschel says his organization recognizes that there may be some efficiencies for forest companies to go to a 10 year cycle.
“Our concern is that it will erode public involvement,” he says.
Other changes under the CFSA include condensing the previous Timber Class EA’s 115 terms and conditions into 55 with 82 planning-related terms and conditions either combined, reorganized or dropped.
“What the declaration order does is ask MNR to come back to the MOE with a report every five years that shows whether or not that 10-year cycle is working and to make changes where we think it is necessary,” says Rohaly.
Another area of concern was the effectiveness and validity of over 35 individual habitat and natural disturbance emulation guidelines that will be subject to review against the latest science.
Millard says the industry is “pressing hard...to ensure the guidelines are applied and interpreted consistently across the province with a view to assuring we protect critical habitat, but at the same time we do not diminish the annual allowable cut unnecessarily.”
Rohaly says many people expressed concerns that this review process would result in an “evergreen” approval of the Act that would never be reviewed again. However, the MNR, MOE and general public will continue to have input into how forests are managed in Ontario long after this approval process has gone.
“It’s not set in stone. Changes can be made and will be made as we progress through time,” he says.