Clear-Cutting in Ontario

The most common method of timber harvest is clear-cutting. Clear-cutting is when every single marketable tree is cut down from a selected area. Forestry companies prefer clear-cutting because it is the cheapest and most efficient way of harvesting timber. It is much easier to move logs and equipment from a bare area than from among standing trees. Clear-cutting enables forest operators to get the most out of a forest for the lowest cost.

In Ontario, 88% of forest operations use clear-cutting as their primary method of extraction. In Ontario, clear-cuts routinely exceed 5000 hectares and are sometimes even as large as 10,000 hectares – this is roughly the size of 4000 football fields put together!

In 2003, the Ontario government determined that clear-cuts “generally shall not exceed 260 hectares.” However, today more than 50% of clear-cuts exceed this size. The reason why massive clear-cuts are authorized is because the government allows clear-cuts to be measured with a “frequency-based” model instead of an “area-based” model. According to the “frequency-based” model, if a given area has one (1) clear-cut of 10,000 hectares and nine (9) clear-cuts of only 200 hectares, the 10,000 hectare clear-cut is considered exceptional because it makes up only 10% of the total number of cuts. An “area-based” model represents more accurately what is actually happening – that 85% of the area is being clear-cut! This administrative tool has enabled the government to violate the spirit of its own regulations.



Effects of Large Clear-Cuts on Woodland Caribou

The Woodland Caribou is a threatened species which relies on intact forests, free of human development, for its survival. One of the ways the Ontario government justifies large clear-cuts is based on the assumption that large disturbances are better for Woodland Caribou. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) argues that the only way to save habitat for Caribou is to concentrate cutting and road building in one area of the forest, so that the rest can be left alone. This means that massive clear-cuts are created so that the province can continue to reach its timber targets, while supposedly managing for Caribou. However, as the Ministry of Natural Resources has admitted, this caribou management strategy is an experiment. There is no evidence that it will actually help preserve Caribou. In fact, studies show that the only way to guarantee that caribou will survive in Ontario is to stop cutting in their habitat. Instead of gambling with the Caribou’s future and allowing huge clear-cuts, the Ontario government should stop all logging in Caribou country.


Photo - CPAWS-Wildlands League: T. Simonett

Find out more about how forestry is affecting Ontario’s Woodland Caribou.


Fire Emulation?

Logging companies also justify large clear-cuts on the grounds that it emulates the disturbances that historically have been caused by forest fires. They suggest that clear-cuts removes tree canopies, thus allowing other tree species to get the sunlight they need to flourish. However scientific evidence shows that the benefits associated with natural fires are not present in clear-cuts. For example, many trees release seeds when they are exposed to high temperatures – this ensures regeneration of the forest after the fire is over. In addition, when leaves and woody debris burn, extra nutrients are produced which is absorbed into the soil. This further encourages new growth. Clear-cutting removes seed sources as well as natural debris that would be left over from a fire. Clear-cutting also requires the construction of roads, which fragments habitat and increases the risk of invasive species.

Clear-cutting may be profitable for logging companies, but it has enormous ecological and social costs.


Ecological Costs of Clear-Cutting

Clear-cutting is devastating for forest ecosystems. It causes global warming, drought, habitat destruction, and a dramatic loss of biodiversity.

Global warming: Mature forests store carbon. Canada’s boreal forest alone stores 34% of the world’s carbon emissions, and therefore plays a significant role in regulating climate.  When an area is clear-cut, the trees and soil release into the atmosphere the carbon that’s been stored for decades. Deforestation is responsible for 25% of all carbon emissions.

Erosion: When a large area is deforested, hundreds of miles of roots systems are destroyed. This compromises the land’s ability to absorb and retain soil and water. This can lead to flooding in some areas and drought in others.

Habitat destruction: Many species rely on intact forests to provide shelter and food. Once an area is clear-cut, many wild animals can no longer survive there. Nesting birds, Pine Marten and Woodland Caribou are particularly vulnerable to clear-cuts. Clear-cutting leads to wildlife population decline as animals are forces into increasingly small areas of wilderness and are forced to compete for dwindling resources.

Loss of biodiversity: Clear-cutting also leads to the permanent loss – or extinction - of plant and animal species. Some species need specific forest conditions to survive. Clear-cutting dramatically changes the forest landscape and many species can no longer survive in an area after logging has been done. Deforestation is one of leading causes of extinction in the world today.


Social Costs of Clear-Cutting

Unsustainable timber extraction also has huge social costs for communities that rely on forests. Healthy forests guarantee communities a variety of long-term economic opportunities, such as selective timber harvesting, tourism and tourism outfitting, as well as other types of resource use (such as hunting and fishing). However, once an area has been clear-cut, these activities are no longer possible. While clear-cutting initially may create an economic boom, it ultimately destroys long-term opportunities in the region. In particular, clear-cutting seriously impinges on the right of First Nations peoples to use the forests that are so important to their spiritual and cultural identity. Evidence of this can be seen in Grassy Narrows, a community located on the Ontario-Manitoba border. Clear-cutting has destroyed wildlife habitat so that the community can no longer perform the traditional hunting and fishing that it relies on for food and income.

Earthroots opposes the wholesale clear-cutting of Ontario’s forests. Sustainable forest operations are better for Ontario’s citizens and the environment.


Clearing the Forest, Cutting the Rules: An Earthroots Report on Illegal Clearcutting
Clearing the Forest, Cutting the Rules (875.7 kB)