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Don't discount environmental groups

The Chronicle Journal
May 9, 2015
by Julee Boan and Faisal Moola

Managing publicly-owned forests is complicated. Goals for forestry, hydroelectric development, mining, tourism, hunting, recreation, conservation and other forest uses are not always compatible and trade-offs must be made. It is fair to say that our organizations - the David Suzuki Foundation and Ontario Nature - don't always agree with claims made by some members of the forestry industry that their logging is sustainable.

At last week's annual meeting, the Northern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) passed a resolution (Support for Northern Forestry Operations) sending our organizations a clear message: Keep your mouths shut and your opinions to yourselves.

The two of us have spent hundreds of hours with boots on the ground in the region's forests as graduate students at Lakehead University. We have earned our respective doctorates in conservation biology and forest sciences. Our perspectives are based on our experiences talking with people across Northern Ontario, as well as our understanding of the best available science for sustainable use of forest resources.

The resolution wrongly accuses our organizations of making decisions based on ideology and not science. But, if leaders in Northwestern Ontario are genuinely concerned about the long-term sustainability of our forests, there are a few scientific facts we hope they will acknowledge.

First, it is widely accepted by scientists that fires and logging do not have the same impacts on forests. In many parts of Ontario, logging has caused a significant shift towards younger forests of white birch, aspen and other hardwoods and a decline in older conifer forests, like black spruce, which provide important habitat for many forest-dependent species. And logging, unlike fire, requires roads that can negatively impact some species (both directly and indirectly). There is also ongoing scientific research into the long-term impacts to soil health as a result of whole-tree harvesting, impacts that can be highly variable and site specific.

Second, Environment Canada established a direct relationship between forest disturbance and caribou calf survival in a nation-wide study. And according to the Ministry of Natural Resources' most recent research, the "risk to caribou is high" and "range condition is insufficient to sustain caribou" for the Sydney caribou range, just north of Kenora, with similar trends in other parts of the province. This forest has been managed under the "gold-standard" Crown Forest Sustainability Act; the legislation that the NOMA resolution claims ensures that "all forest products made in Ontario are sustainable."

Further, the solution to climate change is not to "cut more trees," rather it is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and adopt a carbon stewardship approach to forest management, such as abandoning logging practices that disturb carbon-rich soils. Curiously, some mayors who have argued for the "cutting more trees" approach to climate stabilization have also strongly supported the expansion of Alberta's oil patch through the Energy East pipeline. Surely this is an example of putting ideology before science.

Forestry "campaigns" have played an important role in distinguishing forestry operations that achieve high environmental and social standards, and generating the economic benefits that come with them. For example, there are 677 Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificates (including producers and purchasers) in Ontario. Fifty-seven of those are FSC forest management certificates. Environmental groups' promotion of the FSC brand for wood products has benefited the bottom line for mills in Thunder Bay, Terrace Bay, Espanola, Kapuskasing, White River and many more northern communities. Almost every northern, forestry-dependent community in Ontario is benefiting in some way from FSC certification.

We are pro-science, we are pro-FSC certification, we are pro-green jobs and we are in this for the long-term. We encourage all citizens to engage in civic dialogue about how best to steward public land such that it supports both human and wildlife communities.

Environmental groups make a valuable contribution to sustainable forestry in Ontario. We hope in the future NOMA will not be so swayed by industrial interests, will view sustainability issues objectively and consider the long-term needs of northern citizens.

Julee Boan is boreal program manager for Ontario Nature in Thunder Bay. Faisal Moola is director general, Ontario and Northern Canada, David Suzuki Foundation based in Toronto.

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