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Algonquin Park and the Crown Forest (Un)Sustainability Act

In 1994, Ontario adopted the grandly named Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA). A long, bruising environmental assessment (the Timber Management EA) had shown that we were ravaging Crown forests with a short term focus on extracting the most timber now, damaging the future of the forests and everything that lived there. It will be better now, the government said. The CFSA begins with impressive (if wordy) promises:

    1. The purposes of this Act are to provide for the sustainability of Crown forests and, in accordance with that objective, to manage Crown forests to meet social, economic and environmental needs of present and future generations. …

The government must set up four manuals1 to guide forest management. Key is the Forest Management Planning Manual, which:

    2. (3) … shall provide for determinations of the sustainability of Crown forests in a manner consistent with the following principles:

    1. Large, healthy, diverse and productive Crown forests and their associated ecological processes and biological diversity should be conserved.

    2. The long term health and vigour of Crown forests should be provided for by using forest practices that, within the limits of silvicultural requirements, emulate natural disturbances and landscape patterns while minimizing adverse effects on plant life, animal life, water, soil, air and social and economic values, including recreational values and heritage values.

According to the CFSA, all logging on Crown land will be governed by a Forest Management Plan (FMP) approved by the Minister of Natural Resources (MNR), who “shall not approve” a FMP unless he/she:

is satisfied that the plan provides for the sustainability of the Crown forest, having regard to the plant life, animal life, water, soil, air and social and economic values, including recreational values and heritage values, of the Crown forest2

and which complies with the Planning Manual.

Almost 20 years later, have our Crown forests become sustainable? Alas, no.

Our firm provides pro bono legal counsel to a small, hardworking environmental charity devoted to Algonquin Park, Algonquin Eco Watch (AEW)3.

They are logging Algonquin Park?

Despite its importance to tourism, Algonquin Park is the only Ontario park which is being logged. That might be (barely) tolerable if the logging were truly sustainable, but (according to AEW) it is not. Despite all the promises, we are still damaging the future of this precious place, for short term economic gain.

Forestry in Algonquin Park is managed by the Algonquin Forestry Authority, a Crown Corporation. Every 10 years it proposes an Algonquin Park Forest Management Plan, for approval by MNR. Last year, MNR approved a plan for logging in 70% of the park until 2020. MNR insists that the plan complies with all government rules, including the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994, the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, 2006, the 2004 Forest Management Planning Manual (FMPM) for Ontario’s Crown Forests (2004), and the Class Environmental Assessment for Timber Management on Crown Land in Ontario.4 Sounds good, doesn’t it?

In fact, according to AEW’s experts, the plan allows the private companies that log the park to significantly reduce wildlife habitat, old-growth forest, and everything that depends on them. For example, slow growing trees like hemlock, which provide critical winter cover for some species, have never recovered from massive cutting to build the Toronto subway half a century ago. Now, they will be further cut, instead of trying to re-establish their traditional range. Old-growth pine has been redefined to allow elimination of the ecologically significant larger, older trees; astonishingly, the Forestry Authority claims that the trees would die early if they were not logged. According to AEW:

Historically, Algonquin Park contained extensive hemlock stands and large, old growth red and white pine, and red spruce. The FMP does not restore these ancient ecosystems; rather it reduces both wildlife habitat and biodiversity and moves the Park towards becoming an industrial forest, not a protected area. Algonquin Park deserves better.

The plan admits that it will slash the habitat of species that depend on old growth, like the pileated woodpecker. But both MNR and Ministry of the Environment say this is perfectly ok with the Crown Forest Sustainability Act. And AEW’s every attempt to challenge the underlying science has been rejected, in favour of supplying more wood to local sawmills now.

Thus, the Act does not provide real accountability for the promises of sustainability. Forest management plans can be challenged if they fail to comply with the Forest Management Manual, but the Act and the Manual are more process than content. That is why a plan to slash wildlife habitat and old-growth forest can be called “sustainable”, and “in accordance with the Manual”, regardless of its actual effect on the trees, the animals, the water, or the park.

Theoretically, the CFSA provides a right of appeal. MNR decisions to approve a Forest Management Plan can be appealed, as provided in the regulations.5 But there are only two CFSA regulations, and neither authorizes such appeals.6 

And if we do this to Algonquin Park, imagine what we are doing to the rest of the province. Aren’t you glad we have “Crown Forest Sustainability”?

 

1 These manuals are prepared in accordance with section 68 of the CFSA, approved by the Minister, and are regulated in accordance with section 69(1) 29.

2 At s. 9(2)

3 For more information about AEW, see http://www.algonquin-eco-watch.com/about.html

4 As this was as extended and amended by MNR’s Class Environmental Approval for Forest Management on Crown Lands in Ontario (MNR-71/2). The MNR’s Class EA documents are at http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/Forests/2ColumnSubPage/STEL02_164531.html

5 At s. 12

6 O. Reg. 167/95 “General” and O. Reg. 160/04 “Independent Forest Audits”. CFSA at s. 69(1)4 states that the Lieutenant Governor in Council may make regulations governing appeals under section 12; furthermore, section 69 (3) states that such a regulation may ‘designate of establish the person or body to hear the appeals’.

Comments

  1. Thank you very much for your post, and your firm’s efforts on behalf of Algonquin Park. Although I have only lived in Ontario a short time in my life what happens in the Park will always be of interest to me as it was my great-great grandfather, Alexander Kirkwood, who was in part responsible for its creation. Please see http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?BioId=40949
    I will be passing this along to other family members as well.