Forest Management in Ontario
Did you know that Ontario has more than 71 million hectares of forest land? That’s roughly 2% of the worlds forest resources. Unlike many other jurisdictions, 90% of the province’s forests are located on public, or Crown, land. 40% of Ontario’s forests (an area equivalent to the country of Ecuador!) are managed public forests, housing harvesting, renewal, and maintenance activities.
As the stewards of this sizeable resource, we have an obligation to manage it sustainably and for all values – social, environmental and economic – for the benefit of future generations. As such, Ontario has developed a world-class management framework, based on stringent regulations and rooted in long-term sustainability, the maintenance of ecosystem values and processes, public consultation, and accountability.
Read on to learn more!
Crown Forest Sustainability Act
The backbone of Ontario’s approach to forest management is the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA).
“The purposes of this Act are to provide for the sustainability of Crown forests and,
in accordance with that objective, to manage Crown forests to meet social,
economic and environmental needs of present and future generations.”
– Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994, S.O. 1994, c. 25, s. 1.
The CFSA was introduced in 1994 in recognition of the needs and values of different forest users (Indigenous communities, manufacturers, campers, cottagers, hunters, naturalists, scientists, etc.) and a growing understanding that forest management must consider and conserve ecological processes and promote a natural forest condition. By refocusing the primary objective of forestry to the long-term health of forests, the CFSA represented a paradigm shift from “timber management” to “ecosystem management,” ensuring that all forest values are taken into consideration and that the social, economic, and environmental needs of Ontarians – now and in the future – are met.
This philosophy is weaved into the various components of the CFSA, including forest management planning, incorporation of local knowledge, forest renewal, forest certification, and monitoring and reporting. You can read the Act yourself online, or scroll down to learn more about some of key elements that make Ontario one of the most sustainable forest jurisdictions in the world!
Forest Management Planning
Did you know that prior to any forestry activities taking place, a Forest Management Plan must be developed and approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for each forest management unit? Forest management units are administrative areas where forest management takes place; there are currently 40 management units in the province.
Consistent with the CFSA, the primary goal of every Forest Management Plan is to achieve a healthy, sustainable forest ecosystem. As a result, it is a requirement that every plan demonstrates regard for plant life, animal life, water, soil, air, social values, and economic values.
As part of Ontario’s commitment to sustainability, all Forest Management Plans are prepared by a Registered Professional Forester. In addition, every plan is developed with input from Indigenous communities, municipalities, local stakeholders, and the general public to ensure that all values are recognized and conserved.
During the planning process, ecological values are identified (e.g. wildlife habitat, amount of old/mature forest) and long-term targets are set to ensure they are maintained and that the appropriate management approach is put in place. Every time a new Forest Management Plan is written, this information is revisited to ensure that decisions are made on the most up-to-date data.
In addition, each Plan shows where harvesting activities are scheduled to take place, how harvested areas will be renewed, and the locations of roads and water crossings – all of which are determined in a manner that is consistent with the long-term health of the forest and in consideration of local knowledge and information.
All in all, developing a 10-year Forest Management Plan is a rigorous process that takes 2.5 years to develop.
To learn more about forest management planning, you can read the Forest Management Planning Manual online.
Did you know that all areas harvested on Crown land in Ontario must be renewed either through seeding, natural regeneration or tree planting? It’s the law! Essentially, for every tree cut down, multiple new trees are established. More than 68 million new trees are established each year through tree planting alone.
Ensuring successful renewal often requires site preparation, tending, and monitoring. Each year, Ontario produces publicly accessible provincial reports on renewal; you can read the most recent report online.
Emulating Natural Disturbance
“The long term health and vigour of Crown forests should be provided for by using forest practices that,
within the limits of silvicultural requirements, emulate natural disturbances and landscape patterns
while minimizing adverse effects on plant life, animal life, water, soil, air and social and
economic values, including recreational values and heritage values.”
– Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994, S.O. 1994, c. 25, s. 2 (3).
Ontario’s forests, most notably the boreal forest, are highly naturally disturbed ecosystems that are regularly depleted by fire, insects, and disease. Emulating these natural disturbance patterns is a fundamental component of sustainable forest management in the province; by doing so, we are able to best maintain the ecological processes and forest conditions (e.g. different tree species of varying ages) that plants and animals have become adapted to and rely upon for their survival.
For example, moose rely upon both mature evergreens for shelter and younger trees for browsing; recently disturbed areas support new growth, providing moose with necessary food sources. Simultaneously ensuring natural patterns are emulated while retaining sufficient areas of habitat is the key to sustainable forest management.
Different silvicultural systems can achieve different objectives when it comes to emulating natural disturbances.
Clearcutting emulates the size, structure, and characteristics of wildfires and windstorms by harvesting areas ranging in size from very small to very large and leaving individual trees and clumps of trees intact. This science-based approach exposes the forest floor to sunlight and promotes the growth of a new cohort of similarly aged trees, similar to fire. Within 5-10 years, a highly productive forest will be growing where a clearcut occurred.
The shelterwood system emulates smaller ground fires, windstorms, and insect infestations by harvesting mature trees in a way to encourage natural regeneration and growth in the understory.
Selection cutting emulates individual or groups of trees succumbing to insect, disease, or windstorm by harvesting mature, unhealthy, or undesirable trees from a stand periodically.
Monitoring and reporting are important parts of forest management in Ontario; the province’s commitment to accountability ensures that the public is provided with an accurate account of the sector’s activities and the associated outcomes.
Forestry operations are continuously monitored to assess compliance, evaluate progress, and measure results. You can learn more about the various ways in which monitoring occurs online.
In addition, the province of Ontario maintains a list of performance indicators that monitor the well-being of our forest ecosystems, forest-dependent communities, and broader sector. These indicators measure the forest sector’s progress in realizing the following goals of sustainable forest management, and are regularly updated as new information is obtained:
- Conserving biological diversity
- Maintaining forest productivity and resilience
- Conserving forest soil and water resources
- Monitoring forest contributions to global ecological cycles
- Providing economic and social benefits from forests
- Accepting social responsibilities for sustainable forest development
- Enhancing the framework for sustainable forest management
You can read more about the specific indicators under each goal here.
Every five years, the province releases a report summarizing these indicators and providing an update on the overall state of Ontario’s forests; each of these reports are publicly accessible and can be found online, as can other reports related to forest management and forest health.
How can we know for certain that our forests are being managed sustainably? One way is through forest certification.
Forest certification is a voluntary system where forest license holders commit to meeting performance standards set out by independent, third-party organizations. Certified companies receive recognition in the form of labelling, which informs the public that their products have been sourced sustainably.
Ontario is home to only 2% of the world’s forests, but has 6% of the world’s certified forests! In fact, certification is considered a key indicator for monitoring the provision of economic and social benefits from forests. In total, 25.5 million hectares, or 80%, of managed Crown forests are certified.
In fact, Canada leads the world in forest certification, housing 36% of the world’s certified forests. In total, 47% of Canada’s forests are certified!
There are three voluntary systems that Ontario’s Sustainable Forest License holders can be certified under: Sustainable Forest Initiative, Canadian Standards Association, and Forest Stewardship Council. All these systems have been recognized world-wide, including through the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.