by Jen Baker

CPAWS Wildlands League recently published a report addressing a question that many in the conservation community have often asked: Is the amount of logging in Ontario’s allocated forest sustainable? Permissible harvest levels are determined using a computer modelling system. But what if the model is based on faulty assumptions? Logging too much, too quickly could be the disastrous consequence.

According to the Wildlands League report – Ontario’s Timber Harvesting Levels: Science or Wishful Thinking? – the harvest levels model that determines how much Crown land is logged each year fails both to include relevant biological information on Ontario’s forests and adequately account for wildlife needs. The model further assumes that a forest will re-establish itself much more quickly after logging than is the case. Overharvesting has been the result in many areas of the province.

“The government’s current focus is on 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.”

Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is handicapped by budget cuts and a conflicted mandate – acting as the steward of public lands and promoting resource extraction. This has led to the current, untenable situation, in which MNR has downloaded the computer modelling responsibility of forest management to the forestry industry. MNR is consequently charged with regulating an industry without the benefit of a key – albeit faulty – regulatory tool. Instead, the forestry industry is essentially determining how much it can log – an arrangement with potentially catastrophic results.

Ontario Nature supports the recommendations in the CPAWS Wildlands League report, which include ensuring sufficient funding for mnr’s stewardship activities so that it can adequately supervise our forests, and increasing biological inventory and data collection to improve the modelling system.