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Ontario’s Timber Harvesting Levels: Science or wishful thinking?


A leading Ontario conservation group released a report questioning the amount of logging allowed in public forests.  The study by the Wildlands League, a chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, finds many key assumptions that are fed into the Strategic Forest Management Model (SFMM) to be unsubstantiated. The assumptions matter because Ontario predicts the amount of allowable logging using the SFMM computer model. When the model assumptions are dubious, then the results are also doubtful. This could prove disastrous for our public forests.

"The government's current focus is in maintaining a system of logging that guarantees feeding logs into mills instead of maximizing the number of jobs per cubic metre and the long term sustainability of our forests," says Dave Pearce, Forest Conservation Analyst for CPAWS Wildlands League. "Think of it as a bank account on which you keep writing cheques without having any idea how much money you have.  Sooner or later the cheques are going to bounce."

The new report titled, 'Ontario's Timber Harvesting Levels: science or wishful thinking?' analyzes forest management units covering over 5 million hectares of Ontario's public forests that are currently open for logging.  This is an area equivalent to 78 times the size of the city of Toronto.  The report authors found that Ontario's harvest levels modeling is based on:
 

  • poor inventories (lack of good data on what's in our forests)
  • overestimating how fast the forest will grow back
  • underestimating how much forest land is lost to roads, landings, slash piles and poor regeneration
  • underestimating the amount of natural disturbance (fire, wind and insect damage)
  • lack of consideration for wildlife values

"The lack of rigor in the model can lead to wide spread over harvesting," Pearce continues, "If this occurs, we could damage vital ecosystem services like climate moderation, water conservation and wildlife habitat."

These failures are compounded by a lack of funding for the local Ministry of Natural Resources staff to supervise the forest management activities of the forest industry.

The report extends recommendations that would help Ontario's public forests be better managed including:



  • more funding for local MNR supervision of industry
  • improvements to inventory and data collection
  • credible third party certification standards for all forest management units, such as the Forest Stewardship Council Boreal Standard
  • more value extracted out of each tree cut, therefore more jobs produced

For communities and workers dependent on logging, the industry is now in the midst of the worst downturn in memory.  Mill closures mean a reduced demand for wood fibre.  "The trees that were scheduled to feed the mills should now be available for other purposes like conservation, and luring ecologically-aware consumers." Pearce explains, "Now is the time to be considering how to reinvent our forest industry.  However, the forest industry and government staff are not even conceding that there is any let up in the demand for trees. They continue to prop up the business-as-usual approach with the steroids of subsidies in hopes of a market bounce back."

"Powerful industrial forces are intent on going down the same bleak road of maximizing the cut and hoping that the ecosystem and workers will ride out more boom and bust," laments Pearce.  "In the era of the global economy and global ecological crises, that is a disastrously outdated idea. We hope the government sees the light and injects hope back into the mix with a more progressive strategy for industrial and forest sustainability," he added.

There are over 200 companies in the United States now demanding wood fibre from sources that are FSC certified and don't log in caribou habitat. Ontario has the ability to feed this demand and secure long term jobs. In addition, the province of Ontario could ensure the highest number of jobs per cubic metre cut by investing more in value-added operations and rewarding forestry companies with wood supply for creating jobs.

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For more information, please contact
Dave Pearce, Forest Conservation Analyst: 416-971-9453 ext.40
dave@wildlandsleague.org

Trevor Hesselink, Forest Program Director: 416-971-9453 ext.33
trevor@wildlandsleague.org

Visit www.wildlandsleague.org to download a summary or contact us to order a paper copy of the full document.