January 29, 2007

Environmental groups ask ECO to review Ontario's timber allocation policy

CPAWS Wildlands League and Sierra Legal have filed a request for a policy review with the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO). The groups' application for a review of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)'s Crown timber allocation regime documents their concerns over how public timber resources are allocated to the logging industry. The groups argue that the province's current approach to managing and accounting for public forests does not adequately protect the environment and the rights of Aboriginal Peoples, and is delivering an abysmal return on investment for Ontarians.

Their complaint comes on the heels of a call by the Grassy Narrows First Nation for a halt to all development in its traditional territory in the Boreal Forest of northern Ontario. It also follows the provincial government's call for proposals to redistribute wood volumes originally assigned to the now-closed Abitibi mill in Kenora.

This redistribution process or tendering has raised the ire of First Nations and environmentalists; even industry is displeased with the process, the groups claim. Much of the woodshed in question is the subject of a long-standing conflict with Grassy Narrows, which has asked for a halt to clearcut logging on their traditional territory.

The reallocation of timber from the closed Kenora mill provides a timely case study through which the overall regime may be examined, says the Sierra Legal/CPAWS submission. This case raises a number of questions relating to transparency, accountability, increased pressure on area forests, mill closures vs reallocations, assessing supply prior to reallocation, currency and consistency of Sustainable Forest Licences (SFLs) and intersections between SFLs. These and other questions are relevant both in this case and in regard to the significant volumes of Crown timber that will likely be reallocated following future mill closures, says the application.

In their submission to the ECO, the organizations describe the overarching transparency and accountability gaps in the system, including a lack of consistency of approach across the province and systemic reporting problems among the companies operating in the forests. Moreover, because the management tools used to oversee the entire undertaking are inordinately complicated, the numbers frequently don't match up, are missing, or are out of date, it continues.

"Moving forward with the tendering process is a slap in the face to the community," said Dr Anastasia Lintner, staff lawyer and economist with Sierra Legal. "This is a serious concern because it is communities like Grassy Narrows and the public that ultimately bear the costs of this mismanagement," Dr Lintner continued.

"Without a rational, transparent and fair allocation process we can expect to see more conflict and uncertainty in the Boreal Forest in the future," noted Trevor Hesselink, director of forests for CPAWS Wildlands League.

The groups are calling for a new model that would deliver business stability, forest conservation and public trust, without generating conflict for northern communities. The submission may be viewed on the Sierra Legal Web site, www.sierralegal.org.

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