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Environmental groups going to court over Temagami Forest

Climate change impacts ignored in new management plan for northeastern Crown unit, say Earthroots, Friends of Temagami
Friends of Temagami 2
(Christina Scheuermann photo)

Two environmental groups are taking the Ford Government to court over a new forest management plan for the Temagami Forest that doesn’t factor in the impact of harvesting operations on the climate.

Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Earthroots and Friends of Temagami, announced Feb. 6 that a lawsuit has been filed against the province for its refusal to take “climate-related considerations” into account in its new 10-year forestry management plan for the unit, as required by law.

The groups say the almost 430,000-hectare Temagami Forest is home to nearly 50 per cent of the world’s largest old-growth red and white pine forests.

Harvesting that wood, they contend, disrupts ecosystems and will release “substantial amounts of carbon” into the atmosphere.

The Temagami unit is situated north of North Bay and south of Elk Lake. It takes in the communities of New Liskeard, Haileybury, Cobalt, Temagami, Latchford, Dymond, Harris, Hudson and Coleman Townships.

The groups point to Ontario’s own legislation that all forest management plans are exempt from environmental assessment (EA) provided the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) addresses certain mandatory conditions, such as climate change mitigation and carbon management.

Earthroots and the Friends of Temagami contend their request for a provincial EA was denied by the ministry last May.

“Ontario is required to consider climate change before exempting forestry from environmental assessment,” said Joshua Ginsberg, a lawyer with Ecojustice, in a news release.

“When this condition is not met, the environment ministry is legally required to kick-start the individual environmental assessment process. This didn’t happen for Temagami.

“This is a systemic problem across the province where climate-related impacts are left out of the picture for Ontario’s forests despite the legal requirement for it to be included.”

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The groups argue the ministry “falsely claimed” to be developing carbon management methodologies for the forest; efforts that were suspended in June 2018, then cancelled two months before the management plan was approved.

“The impacts of climate change on our forest are profound and increasing,” said Earthroots Chair Gord Miller, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

“If MNRF is to meet its obligation for sustainable forestry management, it must incorporate both the ecological and carbon impacts of our warming planet.”

Friends of Temagami President PJ Justason said in a statement that their input in the forest management planning process has been ignored.

“We have spent years working within the forest management planning process and have been frustrated with MNRF intransigence on several important ecological and forest operations issues.

“A court decision favourable to requiring a full individual environmental assessment will bring matters to full public attention.”

The 2019-20 plan for the Temagami Forest was approved by ministry’s northeast regional director in January 2019.