Boreal forest

Boreal forest Garth Lenz

Boreal Program

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Update

November 25, 2015


Ontario Nature will continue to scrutinize Resolute Forest Products FSC certification

On November 24, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) auditors, Rainforest Alliance, lifted the certificate suspension from the Black Spruce – Dog River Matawin Forests managed by Resolute Forest Products in northwestern Ontario. FSC certification is an independent third party certification system that promotes environmentally and socially responsible forest management.

This fall, the FSC auditors investigated several environmental sustainability issues. Ontario Nature staff provided evidence on a range of certification requirements, including safeguards to protect rare, threatened and endangered species and their habitats. We emphasized two primary concerns:

1) Caribou - Disturbance levels on the Black Spruce forest are too high – way above thresholds identified by Environment Canada to sustain caribou populations. Scientists have shown a strong link between landscape disturbance (caused by forestry, roads, development, fires, etc.) and calf survival rates. The Black Spruce forest overlaps with the Brightsand caribou range, located west of Lake Nipigon and north of Thunder Bay, where caribou populations are declining. Studies published last year by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) showed the Brightsand caribou range has one of the lowest annual caribou survival rates in the province, with an average rate of population decline at 13 percent per year. Calf survival is also below the number required for a stable population, and according to MNRF these rates “indicate low recovery potential.” 

The FSC auditors accepted new commitments made by Resolute regarding caribou management, specifically, their commitment to reduce disturbance levels where their management overlaps with caribou habitat. According to the audit, Resolute has “collaborated with the MNRF to develop the Brightsand Pilot Project” which aims to decrease disturbance to the 35 percent or lower threshold required to maintain caribou populations.

2) Birds – Ontario Nature identified weaknesses in the company’s proposed approach to managing areas with high conservation values, focusing on birds and their required habitat.  We reasoned that management of large conspicuous avian species, like bald eagles, peregrine falcon, great blue heron and osprey, which have nests that are large and visible, seems adequate and satisfactory.  However, for the majority of the 150 to 200 avian species that breed and live in these forests, the management approaches are deficient.

For example, protections for at-risk species such as Canada warbler and olive-sided flycatcher rely on in-the-field identification from operators who have variable experience surveying and identifying these features. Auditors confirmed that, while operators were well-informed of the procedures outlined be the company, they did not know whether the procedures were actually consistently followed.

In addition, there has been a significant decrease in abundance of old growth forests on both the Black Spruce and Dog River-Matawin Forests, reducing the availability of old growth habitats. Based on MNRF’s recent Landscape Reports (2014), the amount of current old growth is approximately six times lower than the average that would be expected in a natural forest in this region. The FSC auditors accepted Resolute’s commitments to set targets to increase mature and old forest stands to reduce shortfalls in emulating natural disturbance.

Ontario Nature will continue to keep Resolute’s Black Spruce – Dog River Matawin FSC certificate under scrutiny, to see that the company delivers on its commitments to future outcomes.

 

The Boreal Forest – A Globally Significant Ecosystem

Canada's boreal forest is an unbroken garland of green spanning our country from the Yukon to the Atlantic: at 5.9 million square kilometres (or 1.5 billion acres), the boreal forest occupies about 25% of the land area of North America.  It is one of the world's most valuable natural areas, containing thousands of fresh water lakes and rivers, wildlife habitat for wide-ranging species such as woodland caribou and wolverine, and vibrant northern cultures.  Black spruce and jack pine dominate the boreal forest. This vast wooded region is home to billions of migratory songbirds, half of North America's waterfowl, healthy populations of wolf, moose and lynx and an abundance of game fish like lake trout, northern pike and walleye.  It also provides habitat for more than 20 species at risk.

Wetlands cover 30% of this remarkable forest – in fact, the boreal holds one of the largest reservoirs of fresh water in the world. These wetlands act like a giant system of sponges, absorbing and filtering water and releasing it slowly into the surrounding landscape. This results in protection from flooding, cleaner water and higher water tables.

A critical – and increasingly important – role of the boreal ecosystem is mitigating global climate change. This unique region also helps shield us from global warming by storing massive amounts of carbon in its soils and wetlands.

In Ontario, the boreal forest makes up a large part of the province. North of the French River, almost two-thirds of Ontario's landmass is boreal forest.

This forest is characterized by natural disturbance. Frequent wildfires and outbreaks of defoliating insects renew huge swathes of the landscape. The result is a remarkably varied patchwork of habitats. Dense carpets of new growth mix with older stands of black spruce and fir laced with mazes of grey-green lichen-covered clearings. There are pockets of aspen and birch, jack pine ridges, expansive open mats of bright green and yellow muskeg, wavy-lined string bogs, beaver ponds, meadows, marshes and creeks, rivers and lakes of every size and description.

Ontarians are extremely fortunate to have such a large expanse of so-called "frontier" forests - places where the impact of industrial development remains relatively light. Few such places remain on Earth.

Even with the globally significant benefits the boreal forest provides, only 8% of it has been set aside from industrial development across Canada and, at present, a mere 9% in Ontario.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Julee Boan, Boreal Program manager by e-mail at juleeb@ontarionature.org or by phone at 807-286-1789.

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