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Groups slam Ontario for poor oversight of public forests


Complaint highlights mismanagement of northern timber resources

Toronto -- Two of Ontario's leading conservation organizations, CPAWS Wildlands League and Sierra Legal, filed a critical submission to the Environmental Commissioner today highlighting serious concerns over how public timber resources are allocated to the logging industry. The groups state that the province's current approach to managing and accounting for public forests fails to adequately protect the environment and the rights of Aboriginal Peoples, and is delivering a dreadful return on investment for Ontarians.

"If a bank were to manage the finances of its clients in the manner that the Ontario government manages the wood from its public forests, it would be bankrupt very quickly," says Trevor Hesselink, Director of Forests for CPAWS Wildlands League.

This complaint comes on the heels of Grassy Narrows First Nation calling for a halt to all development in its traditional territory in the Boreal Forest, and after the province called for proposals to redistribute wood volumes that were originally assigned to the closed Abitibi mill. This redistribution process or tendering has raised the ire of First Nations, industry, and environmentalists. Much of the woodshed in question is the subject of a long-standing conflict with Grassy Narrows, who has asked for a halt to clearcut logging on their traditional territory.

"This tendering process is the tip of the iceberg of an allocation system fraught with problems," says Hesselink. In their application to the Commissioner, the organizations describe the overarching transparency and accountability gaps in the system, including a lack of consistency of approach across the province and systemic reporting problems from the companies operating in the forests. Moreover, because the management tools used to oversee the entire undertaking are inordinately complicated, oftentimes the numbers don't match up, are missing, or are out of date.

"Moving forward with the tendering process is a slap in the face to the community," says Dr. Anastasia Lintner, Staff Lawyer & Economist for Sierra Legal. "It is as if the people of Grassy Narrows can't be heard over the felling of trees in the forest."

"This is a serious concern because it is communities like Grassy Narrows and the public that ultimately bear the costs of this mismanagement," says Lintner. "Without a rational, transparent and fair allocation process we can expect to see more conflict and uncertainty in the Boreal Forest in the future," Hesselink adds.

The groups are calling for a new model: one that would deliver business stability, forest conservation and public trust, without generating conflict for northern communities.

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Contacts:

Trevor Hesselink, CPAWS Wildlands League (416) 707-9841
Dr. Anastasia Lintner, Sierra Legal (416) 368-7533 ext. 30

Background:

Background materials available at www.wildlandsleague.org
(1) See full text of the submission: "Request for Review Of Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Crown Timber Allocation Regime"
(2) See Grassy Narrows Press Release: "Grassy Narrows Declares Moratorium and Challenges MNR Tender Process Currently Underway"