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Logging in Canada's Parks

(With Y. Luc, I. Maxwell, M. Morwood, N. Nanda, and A. Persaud)


log pileLogging in provincial and national parks is a controversial issue. It has been debated among conservationists, industry, First Nations people and the government. Stakeholders agree that parks should be protected to preserve the vast biodiversity of Canada’s forests and to maintain natural resources for future sustainable development. However, views on forest management differ among the stakeholders because of conflicting interests: industry is motivated by economics, First Nations by cultural and traditional beliefs, and conservationists by the desire to preserve wildlife and habitat. The government is pressured to balance conservation issues and economic growth. A compromise must be reached which takes into consideration the needs of the different groups.


The conservationists are one interest group in the logging debate. They want to prevent logging in Canada's parks, or at least ensure that the ecosystem is being properly conserved. Provincial and National parks were designed to provide space for recreation, to protect habitats, to protect organisms and to educate the public on a variety of different environmental issues. One disturbing aspect of the parks is that logging takes place and disrupts the natural ecosystem. Conservationists are interested in ensuring that responsible and proper management of the forests is done throughout all the parks. Several demands are outlined below to demonstrate that further actions must be taken to ensure parks are properly conserved.

There are a variety of harvesting techniques that are used to remove trees from the landscape for economic benefit. Clearcutting is one technique which removes all the trees in a specified area and is predominantly used in Ontario (MNR, 1998). Another method used is shelterwood harvesting which involves removing trees that are of a certain height. Provincial parks use clearcutting during the harvest of trees. Some conservationists believe that clearcutting should only be used in forests that contain conifer species (Symons, 1996). The seedlings of these coniferous species require a large amount of sunlight to grow. Ecosystems that do not contain conifers should use shelterwood harvesting to allow shade tolerant seedlings to develop properly.

A limit should be placed on the number of logging roads built because these roads are the primary cause of erosion (Standish et al., 1988). A reduction in logging roads will also reduce habitat fragmentation, will increase growth rates, and will improve the composition of the ecosystem

Once a logging company has logged and replanted an area, there needs to be frequent inspection of seedlings and the soil. This inspection will ensure that seedlings are developing properly and that the ecosystem is beginning to mature. Inspectors need to examine the lean angle of the seedlings and the amount of live crown on the seedlings. This is because it has been determined that these factors are important in seedling survival (Ruel et al., 1995).  In Ontario, the Provincial government is deciding how to allocate forty-six million hectares of land in North-Western Ontario, under the name Lands for Life. GAP Analysis and landscape surveys have been carried out by conservationists. They have pinpointed several areas that should be protected based on important landscape features and the presence of endangered or endemic species. These areas represent approximately 18.6 percent of the area being reassigned. The current proposal from the Round Table discussions is to preserve 8 percent of the forty-six million hectares, which is much less that what conservationists requested (Ministry of Natural Resources, 1998). The Ontario government needs to carefully consider the requests of the conservationists so that important features and ecosystems of Ontario's landscape are protected.

First Nations

Another group in the logging debate is the First Nations. They wish to prevent the creation of new parks and areas for logging. Aboriginal title and Aboriginal rights, until a series of landmark cases in the early 1990's, were narrowly interpreted by the courts and the federal and provincial governments. For instance, Aboriginals were accorded the same status as sport hunters, with respect to hunting seasons and bag limits, under the Federal Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Fisheries Act (Mitchell, 1995).

The Government assumes responsibility for common property and resources. Government management systems have largely replaced indigenous communal property management systems (Mitchell, 1995). Until three decades ago, the Haida people were the sole inhabitants of Queen Charlotte islands, which have large tracts of primary temperate rainforest (Ingram, 1995). Haida communities had elaborate conservation ethics and cultural mechanisms for sharing and distributing food (Ingram, 1995).

A few decades ago, Aboriginal peoples practiced self-government to further group goals and to meet their needs (Mitchell, 1995). Aboriginals want sole control over land and resources but the Government is not willing to comply. Within the Haida Nation, there is a strong desire to regain control of all their lands. The Aboriginal people do not approve of provincial and national parks since they totally limit their access to the resources. They want to have control over their land and resources which will allow them to be self-sufficient (Alexander, 1994). However, the Federal Indian Act, which replaced customary laws and rights, severely limits the scope of Indian band government. Band governments do not have the decision making authority that Aboriginal leaders regard as essential for the effective performance of government (Mitchell, 1995).

The 1990 Sparrow decision confirmed Aboriginal and treaty rights to resource use, but also gave weight to Aboriginal demands to participate as major decision makers in resource management. Their decision making authority for the land and resource management is limited to relatively small areas and still excludes parks. Aboriginals do not regard parks as beneficial (Mitchell, 1995). Ingram (1995) stated that in recent years the expansions of the provincial parks system has been based on a commitment to protecting rare and endangered species of high importance, though historically this protected area framework focused on recreation. The Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) did not particularly accept the conservation idea of creating parks because the provincial government did not formally negotiate with them. The 1988 memorandum was a short-term way to stop clear-cut logging in Haida Gwaii, and resulted in the creation of wilderness parks (Ingram, 1995).

Furthermore, in 1985 there was conflict between the Haida people and the forest industry on logging land which was sacred to the Haida and subject to land claims. In this situation, the federal government intervened and created a national park, with promises of allowing the Haida a co-management role (Alexander, 1994). Aboriginals have turned to co-management as a strategy that enables them to participate in resource management. Aboriginal groups argue that the Government has mismanaged lands and has not followed proper resource management practices. Aboriginals have negotiated joint or co-management agreements grounded in principles of sustainability and respect for the land (Mitchell, 1995). Since Aboriginals value land, waters and animals, the common belief among many people is that they are able to manage land and its resources by their traditional methods, sustainably.

Logging Industry

Another group in the logging debate is the forest industry, who want to log in Canada's parks. This is beneficial to Canada because of the economic gains of logging. The forest industry in Canada is the greatest sector employer, supporting as much as ten times more employment than the next largest industry sector (Government of Canada, 1998). In 1997, the forest industry directly and indirectly employed 830,000 people in Canada. In British Columbia alone, one out of every ten people relied on the forest industry for employment (Government of Canada, 1998).

The forest industry also benefits Canadians indirectly through its contribution to the economy. Canada depends heavily on the forest industry for economic prosperity, as evident in the following Canadian forest statistics: in 1995, the total value of forest product shipments was $71.4 billion; in 1997, the value of forest exports was $38.9 billion; and in 1997, the industry's contribution to the gross domestic product was $18.1 billion (Government of Canada, 1998). Canadians also depend on stumpage payments made by forest industries to the Ministry of Forests to support social services and community development (Government of Canada, 1998).

The forest industry also provides funding for forest management. Between 1985 and 1995, forest management activities have transferred from provincial governments to forest industries. In 1995, forest industries spent $1.4 billion on forest management programs to regenerate harvested areas. This is an increase of 17.9 percent over the ten-year period, compared to the provincial government spending increase of only 9.7 percent (Government of Canada, 1998.)

Canadians rely heavily on products derived from wood, including newspaper, toilet tissue, and housing. As such, the demand for timber is a "derived" demand since it stems from the demand for forest products (Pearse, 1990). Living standards are likely to increase in the future, and with it an increase in the "derived" demand for timber. Based on this reason alone, the expansion of the logging industry into parks must be considered.

The economic benefits of the forest industry can be maintained while preserving Canada's forests, with new environmentally-friendly logging techniques. In the past, logging involved clearing large areas of land of all trees and vegetation. As society became more aware of and concerned about the environment, the logging industry changed its practices to decrease its impact on the environment. The most common method of harvesting is clearcutting. The name misleads the public, who often think that areas of land are completely destroyed by the logging company. However, while trees are removed, excess branches and foliage are left at the site where practical. Also, leaf litter and smaller plants remain, as well as the tree roots, microorganisms and seeds in the soil. The nutrients, soil and seeds are available for regrowth. Logging companies use clearcutting in even-aged coniferous forests, where the vegetation is adapted to regeneration after a disturbance (CPPA, 1998a). In one particular year, 85 percent of the species harvested were conifers (Hirvonen and Woods, 1989), which means that clearcutting is the most appropriate method of harvesting for 85 percent of the harvest. An advantage of clearcutting over selective cutting and shelterwood systems is that workers do not have to enter the forest as frequently, so there is less soil compaction and less disruption of the wildlife (Thompson, 1994). However, because of public concern over clearcutting, the forest industry uses the other methods when appropriate.

In addition to new types of harvesting methods, other technologies are being discovered and used by the forest industry. Examples are mechanical harvesting (Kryzanowski, 1998), the double-tiered harvesting method (Kryzanowski, 1998), the single-grip harvester (Cohen, 1997), and heli-logging (Pynn, 1997). These new technologies help to reduce the impact of logging activities on the environment. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, "the renewability of Canada's forests is assured through current industry practices" (CPPA, 1998b). The forest cover in Canada is even increasing: Between 1979 and 1994, the volume of forests increased by 4 percent (CPPA, 1998c).

Environmental degradation as a result of logging should no longer be a major concern as industries implement sustainable forestry management. For instance, MacMillan Bloedel is actively involved in forest management practices. In June of 1998, MacMillan Bloedel announced that they will accept the recommendations proposed by their Forest Project team of internal and external forestry specialists (MacMillan Bloedel Limited, 1998). These recommendations involve the use of practices that will increase conservation of old growth forests, and the replacement of clearcutting with variable retention harvesting, which would leave some trees remaining in the cut block (MacMillan Bloedel Limited, 1998).

Despite the sustainability of Canada's forestry industry, and its importance to the Canadian economy, the government often has negative impacts on the industry. An example of poor government policy is the case of Repap Enterprises in British Columbia, who must either import sawlogs or cut pulpwood they cannot use (no author, 1997). The government policy which forces them to do this has a negative impact on industry and on the environment. In addition, because of land use reallocations in British Columbia, land was taken away from the logging industry, and many communities faced high unemployment. The government offered no compensation to the displaced workers and could not offer a comprehensive transition strategy for the industry. The industry felt that despite their existing resource rights, they were not treated fairly in the land use reallocations (Mason, 1996). Also, logging costs were 70 percent higher in 1996 than 1992, which could force some mills in British Columbia to close. If the government decreases logging costs, the industry can maintain or increase the number of jobs (no author, 1997). A significant reduction in logging activities will have great repercussions for Canadians, including significant job losses, economic crisis, and an inadequate wood supply to meet an ever-increasing consumer demand. Ontarians may have to deal with these repercussions if the government decides to complete Ontario's system of parks and protected areas through the Lands for Life project initiated in 1997 (Government of Ontario, 1998). The Ontario government must remember that justice not only requires that the environment be protected but also people's livelihood.

To remain competitive in the global market, the logging industry needs: a decrease in taxes, more land devoted to logging, compensation for land lost through land use reallocations, an increase in the Annual Allowable Cut, an increase in funding for forest management education and for research, and privatization and deregulation of the logging industry. If the forestry industry's needs are met, it can remain competitive while preserving Canada's forests.


The final group in the logging debate is the government, both provincial and federal. Their role is to ensure that the needs of all parties are met. In 1997, forest products exports contributed 31.7 billion dollars to Canada's net balance of trade; the forest sector accounts for $8 billion in wages annually; one in seventeen Canadians works for the forest sector; and over 337 communities depend largely on forestry for survival (MNRC, 1998). The government has the responsibility to develop policies, legislation and forest management plans in order to continue reaping these economic benefits, but at the same time maintain environmental and ecological benefits. The government seeks public views and works closely with industry, aboriginal groups and environmental organizations to incorporate recreational, social, wildlife and economic values into forest management planning and decision making.

Through these actions, the government has promoted environmental sustainability and effective forest management without hindering economic growth. One example is: Buffers between logging areas and streams will be widened to 100 to 200 meters instead of 20 to 60 meters, clearcutting will be carried out in a way that creates less fragmentation of habitat, and edges of logged areas will be feathered to resemble natural forests. Another example is a program developed by Quebec's Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to monitor indicators of sustainable forest development. It is presented as a means of advancing forest management according to the principles of sustainable development. A final example is Ontario's recently completed forest resources assessment policy to ensure that forest ecosystems and productivity are maintained or enhanced. Seed zones were revised to improve effectiveness in guiding artificial regeneration. The revised policy allows seeds to be planted across zones only if the origin of the seed lot is well documented and the environment of the seed's origin is similar to the planting site (MNRC, 1998).

The Logging of Parks is an issue that many people are concerned about. The government is committed to protecting these areas and has ensured the sustainability of them for today's and future generations' use. Algonquin Park is an example of why logging in certain parks is important and how the government ensures that it is done in a way that protects the environment. Less than 60 percent of the total area is available for forest harvesting. Management activities only occur in the utilization/recreation zone, and on an annual basis only about 1.5 percent of the park area is used for forestry (AFA, 1996). Through the use of Forest Timber Management plans and agreements, planning is done for twenty year periods but is reviewed every five years. This 5-year renewal term provides a means for reporting progress in management and improving the twenty year forecasts. The Ministry of Natural Resources evaluates how the forest company has carried out its obligations, and if the company has followed through with its obligations, only then will the MNR extend the agreement for another five years (OMNR, 1991). Terminating logging in Algonquin Park will have devastating effects on the communities that surround it. Over 280 people are employed in Algonquin woods activities and over 1,800 people are employed in the mills (AFA, 1994). The value added to the provincial economy from logging in Algonquin park is estimated at $71,148,047 (AFA, 1996).

In regard to the protection of biodiversity, the government seems to get criticized by the public. This is because of uneducated assumptions that clearcutting is the only harvest method used and that it is wrong. In Algonquin Park, clearcutting is allowed but only accounts for 2 percent of the harvest and is done in forest units that require clearcutting for regeneration. Ninety-eight percent of harvesting is by selection or shelterwood systems, which lessen the amount of edge habitat created and eliminate forest fragmentation. The use of these three management techniques on a rotation basis, in addition to prescribed burning, means that early, middle and late successional forest stages are always represented. This ensures that the forest ecosystem is left to resemble a natural area (AFA, 1994). Aware of the environmental problems associated with silvicultural systems, government and industry fund research throughout Canada to generate information on ways to modify current systems, and to find alternatives in which regeneration is more natural and environmental impact is reduced. Information generated from this research is continuously applied to policy making and forest management planning.

A major concern with logging in parks is the protection of the park’s ecological integrity. To ensure protection, there are many policies and legislation that set strict guidelines on forestry operations within the parks. For example: The Crown Forest Sustainabitity Act regulates the exploitation of crown forestry resources by ensuring a balance between logging and regeneration activities (OMNR, 1992); the Environmental Guidelines for Access Roads and Water Crossing set guidelines for building and maintaining roads, and for maintenance of waterways; the Code of Practice for Timber Management Operations deals with maintenance of buffer zones for protection of nearby areas and waterways; and the Federal Fisheries Act provides protection for fishery resources, by prohibiting the deposition of deleterious substances into water frequented by fish (Wildlands League, 1998). Forest activities on crown lands are also subjected to the Environmental Assessment Act. In Ontario, under this act the Environmental Assessment Board has authority to review timber management plans, to ensure that operations comply with environmental and management policies.

The provincial and federal governments recognize the important role forests have played in the social, spiritual, and cultural lives of the First Nations people (MNR, 1998). As such, the government deems it necessary to consult First Nations when decisions about forestry are made. In some parks there may be land claim issues. In these instances, the government works diligently towards reaching a resolution. If a land claim dispute occurs, no forestry operation can continue until the issue is resolved. In 1994, a joint management board was established between B.C. Natives and provincial officials to give First Nations greater control over logging. The First Nation Forestry Program (FNFP), which was started in 1996 by the federal government, is also a partnership program between the First Nations and the federal government (MNR, 1998). Through this program, there is increased First Nation involvement in the forest sector, and many land claims are resolved this way by giving First Nations an opportunity to form alliances with the forest industry or to start their own corporations. Through FNFP funding, the Algonquin Golden Lake First Nation started the Makwa Community Development Corporation as part of an 8.9 million-acre land claim settlement. This provided employment and revenue for this First Nations community.

Lands for Life is a comprehensive new method of land use planning in Ontario. The program gives all Ontarians a say in what can and cannot take place on crown lands through public meetings and round tables. The objectives of Lands for Life are: To help the government fulfil its commitment to complete Ontario’s system of parks and protected areas; recognize the land use needs of resource based tourism; enhance opportunities for outdoor recreation; and provide greater long-term economic stability for resource users (MNR, 1997). In regard to logging in parks, currently Algonquin is the only park where there is some timber harvesting. The government intends to keep logging restricted to Algonquin (MNR, 1997), unless otherwise advised by the round tables. So far the Ontario premier has announced plans for twenty-seven new parks and protected areas that represent the full range of the province’s natural features (MNR, 1997).

Government is working diligently towards managing forestry operations to ensure the protection of the environment, but at same time creating a strong economic base for each province and for Canada as a whole.

The Agreement (Hypothetical)

Despite the conflicting interests of the parties involved, a compromise was reached in which a majority of the concerns were addressed. All parties agreed that taxes on the logging industry will be frozen for one year. In that year, the companies can adapt their logging practices to government regulations. At the end of the year, the government will do inspections to see if the industry is following regulations. If so, they will receive a 5 percent decrease from the current taxes. If not, they will face a 10 percent increase in taxes. Inspections will be made each year to decide each company's tax rate. This will ensure that forestry is sustainable yet will allow for future economic growth. The government will also assess the companies' land leases every two and a half years, and if they do not comply with regulations, the leases will be revoked. Although there will be no change in the current stumpage fees, the logging industry will have more input into what programs the stumpage fees fund. The fees will fund programs to educate forest managers on sustainable forestry practices. Also, they will be used for research into new, environmentally-friendly logging technologies. This will help to reduce the impact of logging on the environment.

The logging companies have agreed that there will be a decrease in clearcutting in certain ecosystems and a decrease in logging in old growth forests. The government has assured the conservationists that the amount of land protected in Ontario's Lands for Life program will remain at 12.5 percent. This will help to protect unique features of the Canadian landscape, and will also be a benefit to the economy through tourism and other uses. Also, the number of roads built for logging will be limited, which will reduce the impact of logging on the landscape. Finally, all parties will work to ensure there is equal representation of all groups in decision making processes involving Canada's forests. This will ensure that traditional and cultural interests are considered along with economic interests. This agreement will help to protect the ecological integrity of Canada's forests, consider aboriginal rights, and maintain economic benefits associated with logging in Canada's parks.



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November 1998




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