TORONTO—The Ontario government's proposal to double logging volumes over the next decade goes too far in serving the forestry industry without doing enough to protect the province's wildlife, environmentalists said Tuesday as they called for a balanced plan.
Groups including the David Suzuki Foundation, Ontario Nature and the Wildlands League said they oppose the plan introduced in early December, pushing instead for an approach that would maintain conservation efforts and protect endangered species while still achieving the governments stated goal of bolstering the forestry sector.
The Progressive Conservatives have proposed increasing logging on Crown-owned lands from 15 million cubic metres to 30 million cubic metres by 2030 in a bid to create more jobs and revitalize the industry.
Public consultations on the proposal were to close Wednesday, and environmentalists voiced concerns about both the plan to increase volumes and regulatory changes they fear could exempt the forestry sector from some key environmental protection legislation.
“We're in a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis it doesn't seem to me to be the most sustainable option to be removing these environmental safeguards," said Anna Baggio of the Wildlands League. "I'd like them to hit the pause button and really address the sustainability concerns.”
A spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister John Yakabuski said the province is currently only harvesting half the amount of wood it could be taking under its forest management plan, which has determined 30 million cubic metres is a sustainable target.
The Ontario Forest Industries Association lauded the plan when it was first announced, describing it as a way to unleash the sector“ "full potential.” The changes will help create markets for wood and allow the sector to reach its potential while still managing forests sustainably, Justine Teplycky said in a statement.
“The target harvest level of about 30 million cubic metres is significantly less than annual forest growth," she said. "Ensuring the sustainability of our forests is a key principle of Ontario's forest management system.”
Julee Boan, the boreal program manager of Ontario Nature, said the province has provided no evidence on sustainability.
“We have concerns about locking down 30 million cubic metres of forest for the industrial sector only," she said. "Especially at a time when we're looking for more conservation opportunities and we don't want those to be excluded.”
Rachel Plotkin, boreal project manager at the David Suzuki Foundation, called the province's strategy “greatly disappointing” and said it will have a negative impact on a number of endangered species including boreal caribou.
She said the strategy runs contrary to a 2019 federal study of the caribou which directs provinces to protect 65 per cent of the animals' woodland habitat to increase calf survival rates. Researchers found that logging roads made the caribou more susceptible to predators.
“This is already a species that is on the path to extinction unless status quo operations change," she said. "The province is saying the status quo is fine and we're going to proceed with even more.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner called on the government to reverse course before finalizing the strategy, saying it doesn't make sense in the face of the global climate crisis.
“It's a short-sighted decision by the government that undermines our climate obligations and our obligations to protect endangered species,” he said.
Judith Monteith-Farrell, NDP forestry critic representing the northern Ontario riding of Thunder Bay-Atikokan, said the forestry industry has long asked for help to bring more product to market despite concerns that there may not be demand for extra product.