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Ontario Forestry News
Industrial Tree Plantations Planned for Ontario

Tree plantation outside of Sudbury

Only months after the Ontario government announced a move to increase clearcut sizes,
it is now poised to expand intensive forest management (IFM) - vastly increasing the number of tree plantations on Ontario's landscape.

Intensive forestry is associated with monoculture plantations where trees valued
for commercial purposes are planted and harvested much like an agricultural crop. A number of such examples already exist on the landscape especially in southern Ontario.

However, intensive forestry also has a number of serious problems associated with it. Not only does it displace and simplify native forest ecosystems, tree plantations are tied to increased pesticide and herbicide use, a loss of tree genetic diversity and the loss of biodiversity and food sources for indigenous bird and animal species. The World Rainforest Movement, and others, has exhaustively documented these deleterious effects of plantation models over many years. 1

Behind intensive forestry is the notion that certain forestry techniques will result in an accelerated rate of timber growth over what would have occurred naturally. In short, it is a way to increase wood supply by growing more wood from less land in less time. Such forestry techniques include: over stocking tree seedlings during planting, pre-commercial thinning and heavy use of pesticides and herbicides. 2 It also includes the manipulation of tree genetics.

The Ontario government, in partnership with industry, has an active tree genetic improvement program. 3  This involves selecting, evaluating and breeding for desirable tree characteristics, such as faster growth and drought, disease or insect resistance. The move to expand intensive forestry on Crown land will accelerate the need to produce faster growing and genetically desirable trees. The next step in this process will see a push beyond modifying the gene pool based on selective breeding and towards creating genetically engineered trees. A biotechnology program at the Canadian Forest Service is well developed and has already produced transgenic black spruce, white spruce and tamarack trees.   4

Once introduced, gene escape from plantations could contaminate natural forest diversity with unpredictable results and it could take several years for undesired traits, or instabilities in manufactured trees, to express themselves.   5

In preparation for the expansion of IFM, intellectual property rights or "copyright" were awarded to the timber industry for an array of forest information including the growth and yield data used to measure the growth rate of trees.  6 Growth and yield data is especially significant because it is used to determine the annual allowable harvest area (wood volume) and future wood supply and is a major research component of intensive forestry. By privatizing growth and yield data, the government has protected the "competitive edge" of companies developing faster growing and/or genetically engineered trees. It also protects this information from public scrutiny.

Regardless of the potential impact of such forestry practices on the environment, the Ontario government is pushing ahead to expand intensive forestry. As part of the Ontario Forest Accord, intensive forestry will be introduced as a way to increase protected areas while guaranteeing the timber industry no net loss of fibre.

Not only does the promotion of plantation forests constitute a perverse incentive with respect to the conservation of biological diversity - one must destroy the natural environment in order to protect the natural environment, it is also an indication that forestry practices in Ontario are not sustainable. Decades of bad forestry practices have created a significant timber shortfall and the move to IFM is an attempt to offset this shortage.  7 Only after future wood supply is secured will any enhancements to supply be linked to protected areas, according to a draft government document. 8

The proposed expansion of intensive forestry has been developed as part of the "Living Legacy, Room To Grow Program". The aim is to offset the loss of timber resulting from the increased number of protected areas created under Ontario's Living Legacy, and complete the protected areas system. However, intensive forest management goes beyond these objectives. The race to convert public land to plantation forests is driven by the panic of a looming and serious timber shortage. In fact, according to the government report, Wood Disposition Process and Regional Wood Supply and Demand Outlooks, Phase 1 from 1998, current timber consumption levels can be maintained only until 2017 after which timber will be in short supply for the next 60 to 100 years. Expanding tree plantations now will bring monocrop forests into maturity at a point that will help to offset timber shortages in the future.

But every move towards industrial tree plantations is a move farther away from an ecological approach to forestry. The government insists industrial forestry, including plantation monoculture forests, can be compatible with maintaining ecological integrity if properly implemented. This strategy of trying to balance between two extremes is bound to fail because the impact of re-engineering nature on ecosystems is incalculable. Instead, it maintains the status quo in forestry and prevents us from making the necessary steps towards progressive forestry practices and environmental health. If we were to whole-heartedly embrace a true balance between industrial forestry and forest protection, then protected area would total 50% of the land base.

Industrial tree plantations result in factory forests. Far from balancing the range of forest values that we now associate with, plantations will exclude non-timber values, such as wildlife habitat and recreational areas, and could reduce the level of freedom with which government is able to designate land uses within or around plantations because of degraded conditions and/or enhanced tenure. 9 Rather, forestry should be based on true ecological principles where the objective would be to maintain forest function as defined by the forest itself and its indigenous inhabitants and not on industrial fibre needs alone.

Timber supply is not infinite. To continue to propagate the notion that timber demands for fibre can be met with no negative impact on the natural environment is naïve at best and intentionally misleading at worst. In combination with the recent government decision to grossly increase clearcut sizes, the expansion of plantation forests will result in nothing short of the complete devastation of Ontario's native forests.

Footnotes:
1) The World Rainforest Movement; www.wrm.org.uy
Global Alliance Against GE Trees
Native Forest Network; www.nativeforest.org
2) Enhanced Forest Productivity, A Discussion Paper. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, September 2001
3) The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in partnership with Tembec Forest Group has an active tree improvement program, The Forestry Research Partnership. Also, Lustr Co-Operative Inc., a tree seedling research co-operative based in Thunder Bay, Ontario is researching the potential of Hybrid Poplar.
4) National Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Forest Service site;
http://nrcan.gc.ca:80/cfs/proj/sci-tech/biotechnology/treeim_e.html
5) Pulp Fiction: Genetically Engineered Trees. Greenpeace International, October 2000
6) Forest Information Manual, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, April 2001
7) Security of Wood Supply and a Protocol for Intensive Forest Management, A Discussion Paper. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, February 2001
8) Ibid.
9) Ibid.
June 2002

 

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