An op-ed from Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski
In September, our government celebrated the 100th anniversary of National Forest Week. This countrywide celebration of our shared forest heritage makes clear just how much we value one of Canada’s greatest natural resources.

Forests are part of the Canadian identity. Our extensive tracts of forested territory are home to an astonishing variety of plant and animal life. They’re a playground for a wide variety of outdoor activities and the inspiration for some of Canada’s most celebrated art.

In Ontario, our forests also support a forest industry that’s provided well-paying jobs for many communities for generations.

Today, forestry generates some $18 billion in revenue and supports 147,000 direct and indirect jobs in the province. These jobs are just as critical a source of employment in rural and northern parts as they are in central and southern Ontario.

The vital role that forest products play in our society has been especially evident during the COVID-19 outbreak: the forest sector was recognized as essential in order to produce and deliver much-needed products — from building materials to packaging and toilet paper.

During this uncertain time, we want to ensure that this vital industry remains strong.

This is why our government is committed to encouraging economic growth and job creation in the forest sector, to provide much-needed opportunities for the many Ontario communities that rely on forestry for their survival and look to it to provide long-term certainty.

One of the ways we’re doing this is by cutting red tape and removing duplicated regulations for the forest sector while continuing to ensure the long-term sustainability of our forests.

Ontario is a world leader in sustainable forest management. Indeed, our forests are just as healthy and robust in 2020 as they have ever been.

This is because forest companies and government alike have recognized that, in order to ensure this industry remains viable in the long term, we need our Crown forests to remain healthy, diverse, and productive. A well-managed forest sector can protect Ontario’s biodiversity and support economic activity indefinitely. And this is why the central pillar of Ontario’s Forest Sector Strategy is promoting stewardship and sustainability.

For more than two decades, the health and viability of our forests has been ensured by one landmark piece of legislation — the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA). The CFSA authorizes forestry activities only if they are conducted in a manner that has regard for plant and animal life (including species at risk), along with water, soil, air, and social and economic values. In short, our forest management planning process begins with considerations of what we must protect.

The CFSA requires forest companies to submit stringent forest management plans for approval, and approval isn’t granted unless the plans map out concrete actions for reforesting harvested territory. Operators in Ontario’s forest sector plant around 73 million trees each year, and air-drop a further 365 million seeds on harvested Crown lands to meet these regeneration requirements. In other words, forestry operators can’t harvest what they’re not prepared to put back for future generations.

Currently, another provincial law, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), requires a whole other set of authorizations that overlap with those of the CFSA.

In recognition of these overlapping requirements, forestry operations have been granted conditional exemptions from the ESA numerous times since 2013. These stopgap measures, however, create uncertainty for forest companies and discourage investment and job creation.

So, our government is proposing to allow forestry activities to continue under the CFSA permanently, which will reduce burden on this vital sector while ensuring we maintain the high standards of forest management that Ontario is known for internationally.

By continuing to follow the requirements of the CFSA, we can be confident that the forests that are such a source of pride for us will be there for the next hundred years, and beyond.