Recent Media Coverage

Industry targets wood turtle

The Daily Observer


By Caroline Schultz

Ontario's forest industry has been on the receiving end of numerous economic setbacks in recent years and the causes are many. But let's be clear: protecting plants and animals from becoming locally extinct is not one of those causes and to insist, as representatives of the industry do, that conservation is the source of the logging industry's problems is misleading. Worse, this stance artificially pits jobs against environmental concerns, making it difficult to find common ground that would benefit everyone.

This past October, speakers from the Ontario Forest Industries Association (OFIA) attended a town hall meeting in Barry's Bay where they targeted the Endangered Species Act (passed in 2007) as the source of an economic downturn that began well before this piece of legislation was even passed.

Over the course of only two years prior to the introduction of the new Endangered Species Act (ESA), more than 2,000 jobs were lost as a result of mill closures in northern Ontario.

The decline in the forestry sector is due to the strong Canadian dollar, the falling demand for products like pulp, newsprint and lumber, and highly efficient, low-cost global competitors. Rather than confront these persistent challenges that face the logging industry, the OFIA instead declared that protecting the habitat of the endangered wood turtle threatens the "future and prosperity" of rural Ontario.

In fact, the few wood turtles that remain in this vast province are no match for a multi-billion dollar industry. The wood turtle is listed as a species at risk in Ontario, and is understood to be on the brink of local extinction. Its populations are falling across much of its range and the dominant threats to its survival include habitat loss and degradation, poaching and road mortality. Forestry is the primary cause of habitat loss and degradation in central and northern Ontario, and forestry access roads increase the likelihood of poaching and road mortality.

Absent from the coverage of the town hall meeting was any talk from the OFIA about the hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the forestry industry for road construction, capital investments, stumpage fee reductions, energy rebates and other programs. Yet, in spite of the huge bailouts, mills continue to close and forestry workers continue to lose their jobs - at an even greater rate than before the government money came rolling in.

Is it possible for wood turtles and forestry to coexist? Yes, if we proceed carefully. Ontario's wood turtle recovery strategy, prepared by scientific experts, emphasizes the importance of protecting sufficient habitat along the streams that turtles are known to inhabit. Based on the typical range of the animal, the strategy rightly recommends that habitat be safeguarded up to 6,000 metres in each direction from known populations in central and eastern Ontario.

However, regulated habitat does not mean an absence of human activity. The ESA was written to reflect the reality of life in Ontario. Only activities that harm the animal or its habitat are prohibited. And even then, permits can be granted for activities such as forestry as long as certain conditions are met.

The deep reluctance on the part of the OFIA to accept the fact that the timber market is changing and its refusal to deal with the real causes of industry decline thwarts any attempt to solve the economic woes plaguing the forestry sector.

Given the growing consumer demand for green wood products, why is the OFIA doggedly pitting economy against protection, north against south, rural folk against city dwellers? Such tired rhetoric undermines the efforts of progressive forestry companies that seek innovative solutions to the current crisis in the woods.

It is time for the OFIA to stop blaming endangered species for an economic crisis. The real casualties deserve better. They deserve what most citizens want: an industry that conserves endangered species and jobs.

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