Ontario moves to gut public input into logging plans

MEDIA RELEASE

Toronto - The Government of Ontario is planning to make disturbing changes to the rules that govern how forest management in Ontario is undertaken. The proposed changes will reduce the public voice in forest management and reveal a clear bias towards industry.

“The provincial government is trying to push through changes that will stifle the public’s ability to influence logging plans in our province,” says David Sone, Forest Campaigner for the environmental group Earthroots. “Existing laws are already opaque and unresponsive, but these new changes will make it nearly impossible for most members of the public to participate meaningfully,” Sone adds.

Under current rules, not one request to subject Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) logging plans to Individual Environmental Assessment has been granted by the Ministry of Environment. And yet the MNR is proposing to further narrow who can participate, how often, and what issues can be considered. If the proposed changes are implemented the public could be forced to wait 12 years to have input that would largely be restricted to addressing whether the MNR is following its own procedures in a specific geographic location.

The Environmental Assessment Act was enacted to protect the public’s environmental rights and Earthroots is concerned that the government is eroding those important safeguards. “The public should have access to a fair and comprehensible process that enables them to voice their concerns and impact how logging operates on public lands,” says Amber Ellis, Earthroots’ Executive Director. “Instead it’s going to become more difficult for people to influence the issues that concern them,” Ellis adds.

The changes also threaten to remove the ability of organizations like environmental groups to represent the voices of their members in shaping logging plans. Given that our public forests are essential in mitigating climate change and providing society with clean air and water, we are all affected by the health of our forests.

These revisions are part of a barrage of sweeping changes the Government of Ontario is concurrently proposing to forest management across the board including Environmental Assessment, species-at-risk, forest tenure, and planning manuals. But it remains unclear how these various legislative changes will interact, leaving the public in the dark about what is planned for Ontario’s forests and how to have an influence.

The current Declaration Order was adopted in June 2003 under the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA), and replaced the 1994 Timber Class EA Approval. Through it the Minister of the Environment declares that an environmental assessment is not required for logging, subject to certain conditions. It significantly eroded the safeguards under which the MNR manages Ontario’s public forests by removing restrictions on clearcut size, halving the number of terms and conditions, and eliminating details from the public consultation, inventory, and data requirements.