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Ontario forest management process faces challenge over carbon accounting

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 2/14/2020 2:38:00 PM

Ecojustice, acting on behalf of Earthroots and Friends of Temagami, is taking the Ontario government to court over its refusal to grant an individual environmental assessment (IEA) of the Temagami Forest Management Plan. But that’s not really what it’s all about.

The real issue, according to Gord Miller, chair of Earthroots, is whether provincial forest management plans should consider climate change impacts. Miller says they must if they want to avoid an IEA, and they haven’t.

The law is clear, says Miller in an interview with EcoLog News. In Ontario, Crown forests are divided into 43 management units governed by forest management plans under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994. Those plans should be subject to an environmental assessment, but they can be exempted if they meet certain conditions, which include collecting and sharing information on current and projected carbon balances.

That hasn’t been done in the case of the recently approved Temagami Forest Management Plan, says Miller. In fact, it hasn’t been done with any forest management plan.

Earthroots and Friends of Temagami have been involved in the three-year development of the Temagami plan, partly in an effort to see that the work on carbon balances was done. When all efforts within the consultation process failed, they turned to the courts, says Miller.

The public record for the Temagami Forest Management Plan includes a claim from the government that methodologies for carbon management would be included in the Improved Forest Management Protocol for Forest Carbon Offset Projects, which was still in development. That protocol was required, at least in part, because of Ontario’s participation in a cap-and-trade carbon market with Quebec and California, says Miller. But when Ontario withdrew from that market in the summer of 2018, work on that protocol was abandoned.

Understanding carbon balances — the amount of carbon released as a consequence of harvesting versus the amount of sequestration from new growth on harvested land — is particularly important for old growth forests like Temagami, says Miller.

“Old growth forests are a net sink for carbon,” says Miller. Carbon is sequestered not only in trees, but in the soil and debris. Harvesting causes a net release of large amounts of carbon, even when modern harvesting techniques are used, he says.

“If you consider carbon balance when you’re managing the forest, all of a sudden you have to make decisions about not cutting some of these old growth sinks.” A win in court would have “profound and widespread impacts on forest management,” says Miller.

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