April 2, 2007

Satellite imaging study reveals extent of forest industry impacts in northern Ontario

A survey of logging, roadbuilding and other industrial activities in Ontario's northern forests indicates that the region is undergoing significant disturbances. The study, conducted by Edmonton-based Global Forest Watch Canada (GFWC), was undertaken using satellite imagery and analysis. It also examined the potential impact of these changes on the intact forest habitat required by threatened woodland caribou.

"We found that over two-thirds of the study area, which is half of Ontario, was likely no longer suitable for caribou habitation. This has serious implications for the survival of this species within much of Ontario," said GFWC executive director Peter Lee.

In a study area that covered almost half the province, GFWC pointed out all disturbances to the forests of northern Ontario that were caused by industry in the 1990s and 2000s. "This is part of one of the largest national projects ever conducted to describe the location and rate of the development of our forests," said Lee, adding that GFWC hopes to expand the project to all of Canada.

The study report, Recent Anthropogenic Changes within the Boreal Forests of Ontario and Their Potential Impacts on Woodland Caribou, presents a number of other important findings.

1. Clearcut and salvage logging, together with associated roads, are the major recent causes of change.

2. These changes are mainly concentrated in the area allocated for logging in the southern portion of the study area. This area comprises approximately 70% of the project area and contains 99.5% of the total changes. When ecological buffers taking into account potential impacts on woodland caribou were applied, the impacts of industrial activities extended to over 90% of the logging exploitation zone.

3. Forest Management Units (FMUs): The Dog River-Matewan FMU (managed by Bowater Pulp and Paper Canada) and the Black Sturgeon FMU (managed by Abitibi-Consolidated) experienced the most dramatic changes over the 1990-2001 period in the project area.

4. The potential impacts on woodland caribou range were classified into short-term and long-term impacts.

* In the short term, the study concluded that woodland caribou may avoid over one-quarter of the project area because of changes caused by the logging industry in the 1989-2001 period.

* In the long term, the changes during this period may lead to extirpation (i.e. extinction within a specific area) of woodland caribou over two-thirds of the project area.

The GFWC study raises serious questions about:

* the impact of the rate, scale and distribution of human-caused changes on the sustainability of Ontario's forests, especially when an ecological footprint is considered in addition to the physical footprint;

* the sustainability of forests with high conservation value within the logging exploitation zone in Ontario's forests; and

* the survivability of woodland caribou in and adjacent to the logging exploitation zone.

Dr James Schaefer, a woodland caribou expert from Trent University warned of the impact of logging cutovers on woodland caribou, "There is mounting evidence of deleterious effects of timber harvesting on caribou," he said. "Recent scientific studies show forest cutovers were the best predictor of caribou occupancy, with a tolerance threshold of 13 km to nearest cutover and a time lag of two decades between disturbance by cutting and caribou extirpation. Reconciliation of forest exploitation with the conservation of forest-dwelling caribou will be a major challenge for the 21st century," Dr Schaefer stated.

"Ontario's remaining intact forests-forests that have not been impacted by industrial disturbances-are important for offsetting damaging climate change," GFWC's Peter Lee noted. "Further similar studies on industrial disturbances and studies on remaining intact forests should be conducted in broader geographic areas in Canada's forests to monitor and quantify the amount, rate and impacts of industrial activities and to determine the value of what's left," he concluded.

The report, along with associated forest change spatial data sets, maps, information and photos may be viewed on the GFWC Web site www.globalforestwatch.ca. More information is available from Peter Lee, 780/451-9260.

Global Forest Watch is an independent network of organizations that monitor and map logging, mining, roadbuilding and other forest development activities within major forested regions of the world. Global Forest Watch Canada was formed to provide access to more complete information about development activities in Canada's forests and their environmental impacts.

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