by Jen Baker

Ontario Nature, CPAWS Wildlands League and Ecojustice have filed a request for policy review with the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), Ontario’s environmental watchdog, asking that the province’s forest management system – which the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) oversees – be reviewed. The request for a review stems from Ontario Nature’s concern that permissible forestry practices are causing ongoing declines in migratory bird populations. MNR determines whether it will review its policies. Should MNR conclude that a review is unnecessary, the ministry must demonstrate that migratory bird and other wildlife populations are not adversely affected by its forestry practices and that the habitats on which the populations depend are protected.

Supporting Ontario Nature’s position is the recent claim by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) that Ontario’s logging practices are unsustainable and that a diminishment in species is practically inevitable, such as a predicted 8 percent decline in the Blackburnian warbler population and a 35 percent decline in pileated woodpeckers. Pileated woodpeckers depend on mature, or old-growth, forests, as do many other species. MNR counters that it has adopted a sustainable forest management system that protects old-growth forest, but simultaneously predicts significant declines in martens, a species that requires old-growth habitat.

The CEC report not only highlights the negative impact of the province’s forestry practices on migratory bird populations, but also notes a severe shortage of biological information on Ontario’s public forests.

MNR is required to implement a monitoring program that assesses the effect of commercial forestry on wildlife. But, according to an ECO report – Doing Less with Less – as a result of budget cuts MNR no longer has the capacity to monitor wildlife populations adequately.

Says Natalie Helferty, Ontario Nature’s director of conservation policy, “Ontario Nature recognizes that some of the problems we’re concerned with can’t be remedied without sufficient funding and innovative thinking. As the agency responsible for stewarding our public forests and caring for our wildlife, MNR must be given the proper resources to do this.”