Sierra Club of/du Canada

The State of Ontario's Forests

A Cause for Concern

Executive Summary

Click here to download the full report (pdf, 575K)

Ontario’s State of the Forests Report, released in the summer of 2002, provides detailed information on managed forests in Ontario to the public. It uses criteria and indicators as a framework for providing this information.

The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), although they are not required to do so, interpret the information in the report and conclude with the following assertion: “Current measures used to examine Ontario’s goal of conserving biological diversity in forests do not identify any major concerns” (i-35).

We beg to differ.

This Sierra Club of Canada review of the report looks at both the trends revealed by the data and the MNR’s interpretation of the information provided in the report.

Within the conservation movement, sustainable forestry means forest practices that ensure that the structure, function and composition of the forest are maintained in perpetuity. It also entails the equitable distribution of forest resource benefits, and the opportunity for the public to be involved in a meaningful way. After all, the forests of Ontario are ours—88% of forested land is Crown land, held for the people of Ontario in trust by the provincial government.

The information in the report was assessed in five categories that address the most critical indicators of landscape level and site level sustainable forestry management. It also offers recommendations to improve the State of the Forests Report and forestry practices in Ontario.

1. Long Term Sustainability of Forestry Practices

The first section looks at changes in species composition within Ontario’s forests to determine long term sustainability. Information in the report details shifts in species class for a 5 year period; between 1996 and 2001. This period is far too short to detail meaningful trends in forest composition. The MNR does note small shifts in species class composition, and attributes them primarily to changes in inventory practices. MNR writes that the changes not attributed to inventory technique can be attributed to normal succession patterns, timber harvest or natural mortality. It does not attempt to isolate the effects of timber harvesting practices on species composition when, in fact, timber harvesting practices have been a driver of changes in species composition, especially in the boreal forest.

2. Wildlife and Habitat

The second section explores information pertaining to the fulfillment of MNR’s goal to ensure forestry practices do not have a detrimental affect on forest-dwelling wildlife populations. The American marten was selected as an indicator species, as its preferred habitat is the interior, mature forests of the boreal. The MNR estimates that marten habitat needs are shared by 30% of forest dwelling species. However, information in the report revealed that marten habitat is predicted to decrease by 28% over the next 20 years.

Road density was used as another indicator to assess the sustainability of forestry practices and the impact of roads on wildlife. The report contains information on road density in Ontario by calculating how much of the forest is covered by roads, but does not take the next step to discern how much of the forest has been made accessible by the these roads. The report predicts increased road density in the north, and, in the appendix, cites a lack of success with road abandonment strategies. The report acknowledges that new roads will have an effect on wolves and caribou.

The Sierra Club of Canada asserts the need for comprehensive road density strategies for allocated forest lands (that should strive, at a minimum, to maintain the present level of remote wilderness by effectively decommissioning old roads as new ones are built) and for currently unallocated land, such as the northern boreal forest.

3. Benefits to Communities

The MNR has a criterion that assesses community socio-economic resiliency, and finds an inverse correlation between socio-economic resilience and forest dependency. The Sierra Club of Canada commends the MNR for providing this information in the report and recognizing that forests need to be managed for a diversity of values, including tourism, non-timber forest products, the accommodation of Aboriginal rights, recreation, educational opportunities and more to support healthy communities.

Our review challenges an indicator used by the MNR in their report that links the competitiveness of industry with benefits to local communities. We assert that although a healthy industry is needed to bring benefits to a community, the trends within industrial forestry in Ontario for the last several decades have been increased competitiveness through increased mechanistic capacity, which has proved detrimental to the equitable distribution of benefits at a community level.

4. Landscape Level Effects of Forestry Practices

This section challenges some of the methods used by the MNR to emulate natural disturbances. It asserts that what forestry practices should be emulating is forest characteristics that exist under a natural disturbance regime; not merely natural disturbances themselves. When natural disturbance emulation is used as a practice it needs to take into account the complexity of natural disturbances such as fire and to mimic what a natural disturbance leaves behind, instead of the area that it covers or the volume of timber that it affects.

5. Industry and Compliance

The MNR notes with concern an overall decrease in compliance with forest practice regulations from 1995-2000. We note with additional concern that when the MNR conducted its own audits, it found a much higher rate of industrial non-compliance in many categories than industry did through self-monitoring.

The full report (pdf, 575K)