How Does Our Provincial Government Manage Our Forests?
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNR), in addition to its other roles, has a mandate to manage Ontario’s forests on behalf of (and for the benefit of) Ontario’s citizens.
One form these duties takes is the management and oversight of commercial forestry and harvesting operations. Citizens for NWO Deciduous Forest Protection has no issues with commercial harvest of Ontario’s forests, as long as the interests of private companies do not override the interests of Ontario’s citizens. Private forestry operations generate revenue for the citizens of Ontario, employment for private individuals (including in secondary industries), and employment for MNR employees.
However, from what we have observed locally, we question whether the MNR’s function in the management of our local deciduous areas of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest is maintaining an appropriate balance between private and public interests. Private companies have the power to persuade. They have the funds to be very influential. Citizens may not be sufficiently prioritizing environmental issues when they vote. Is the MNR protecting the best interests of Ontarians? Can they?
Clearly the situation southwest of Thunder Bay contravenes Section 2.7 of the MNR’s 1993 Policy, “Strategic Directions for Management of Ontario Crown Land.” The full document may be viewed on the Ontario MNR website here.
An official with the MNR recently, and disappointingly, responded to an inquiry on the matter of Area 415 with the preface,
“I appreciate that you and others with camps in the area have come to enjoy the use of Crown land for recreational purposes.”
Have come to enjoy? This is public land, and belongs to all Ontarians! It is not land we have been encroaching on and are now disappointed to lose control of. In this one phrase, perhaps intended to be mollifying, the official tipped his hand – leaving the reader with the feeling that the MNR, or at least this representative, considers the resources to be MNR’s, to dispose of as they deem appropriate.
Forest Management Plans
When a commercial forestry company wishes to cut in Ontario’s Crown (public) Land, an intensive application process ensues wherein the company must submit a complete Forest Management Plan (FMP) to the MNR for its review and approval. As part of the approval process, the MNR arranges public consultation opportunities. In some of the responses Don Stacey has received from the MNR, it has been pointed out that there is no record of his attendance at these meetings. In fact, camp owners in Area 415 did not become aware of Greenmantle’s extensive operations there until they were already well under way. So, although it is part of the MNR’s mandate to keep Ontario’s public informed of issues relevant to them, MNR has demonstrably failed in this duty. And now, MNR uses the resulting unawareness of those involved in this initiative as a rationale to downplay our concerns.
FMPs, composed by commercial forestry companies, are supported by studies and experts that the companies themselves pay for. MNR reviews these plans for soundness and completeness. The Plans are impressive and lengthy, with extensive detail on environmental protection – until one reads deeper and sees that for many commitments to protect, there are rather widely worded exceptions. We wonder – is the MNR protecting the interests of Ontarians, or accepting FMPs (and the companies’ commitments to abide by them) without due scrutiny, and perhaps without due enforcement after the fact? Mr. Stacey has himself observed a hen grouse frantically trying to save her freshly hatched chicks from approaching heavy forestry equipment. The chicks disappeared under leaves and bark and likely did not survive. Workers say they can’t protect what they don’t see. If that’s the case, why would they cut when many birds and animals are most vulnerable? A a close reading of the FMP reveals that young and nesting wildlife is to be given a wide latitude. Most workers will not have read the FMP. Who does, who has any authority in the field during the cut? We don’t know.
These are the things we wonder, but only a more focussed public eye on the MNR and on commercial forestry activities will bring the full truth to light.
A Word About Public Consultation
MNR schedules public consultation events during the development and approval process of FMPs. They advertise these opportunities in the newspaper and on their website. We cannot contend that public consultation does not take place and does not matter to the MNR. However, limited advertisement of a proposed 10-year FMP for an area as vast as that between Quetico Park and Black Bay leaves most people feeling it’s not likely relevant to them, even if they do see the ad.
A better way would be to divide the proposed area into several logical smaller areas for the purposes of more effective, targetted consultation, and advertise accordingly. This is especially important in areas with established camps and resorts. This is a costlier approach, but many citizens would consider it a reasonable price to pay to ensure relevant, local consultation needs are met. In the case of Area 415, the MNR’s current public consultation process fell far short of meeting the needs of those affected.
Visit the MNR website for links to Greenmantle Forest Inc.’s Forest Management Plan for the Lakehead Forest, 2007-2017, and associated maps and documents.