Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority is updating its Managed Forest Plan to maintain the health of its forests and to remain active in the provincial Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program.

“This is the third managed forest plan for the SSMRCA. The most recent Managed Forest Plan expires on Dec. 31, 2017,” Christine Ropeter, assistant manager of the Conservation Authority, told Sault This Week.

“A Managed Forest Plan sets the general direction for the forest being managed for the next 10 years,” said Ropeter.

“It details the past, present and future objectives for managing the forest covering several themes: watershed protection; environment; financial stability; wildlife habitat; recreation; community involvement and communications; social, cultural, and educational research; and long-term forest health,” she said.

“The SSMRCA manages forest activities to maintain a healthy sustainable forest ecosystem.

“The effect of the current managed forest plan has resulted in the expansion of recreational opportunities and activities in our conservation areas such as single track and mountain biking and fat biking in the winter in the Hiawatha Highlands Conservation Area.

“Other results include increased biological (wildlife and plant) and environmental research in several of our conservation areas by Sault College and Algoma University and others,” she said.

Regan Forestry wrote the new plan. The authority is working with Algoma-Manitoulin Forestry Services to develop the ideas.

“The plan is still in early stages, but the plan focus is the health of the forest and the provision of the best forest management practices to keep the forested lands of the SSMRCA healthy and vibrant,” said Ropeter.

“The plan is laid out geographically based on SSMRCA-owned properties and the existing forest stands within the properties.”

Ropeter assures lovers of the properties, “The plan, in its early stages, includes the promotion of recreation and culture and the trails themselves should not be affected.

However, it recommends a harvest near some trails to ensure the health of the tree stands, Ropeter said.

“The result will be a healthier forest. The proposed harvest should not affect the look and feel of the existing trails,” she said.

The authority’s website says the organization “owns and manages approximately 2,070 hectares (5,117 acres) of land” that “cover nearly seven per cent of the City of Sault Ste. Marie and the Township of Prince.”

These properties, covered by the managed forest plan, include Hiawatha Highlands, Fort Creek, Mark’s Bay, Shore Ridges, and Gros Cap (the SSMRCA’s conservation areas) and the Walls Lake headwaters, and Burke properties owned by the authority itself.

The website lays out the primary objectives it worked toward when writing its first plan in 1997, including “to implement sound forest management practices on the SSMRCA’s land,” “to promote the improvement in the health and quality of their forests,” and “to allow the Conservation Authority to qualify for a reduction in property tax via government incentive programs, that will financially assist the Conservation Authority in making its properties available to the public.”

To be eligible for those tax incentives, the applicant must “own four hectares (9.88 acres) or more of forested land on a single property in Ontario on one municipal roll number; be a Canadian corporation, partnership; be a trust or conservation authority; [and] have a minimum number of trees on each hectare (acre) of forest you own,” according to the Program’s website.

Additionally, “You must prepare and follow a 10-year Managed Forest Plan that details how you will manage your forest property responsibly… You also need to submit a five-year progress report and update your management plan every 10 years to stay in the program.”

Participation in the program saves the authority significantly, said Ropeter.

“A portion of SSMRCA property taxes are reduced by qualifying for the MFTIP (tax incentive),” she said.

“The future net amount is not available as it varies yearly dependent on the municipal tax rates. Currently the savings on the property taxes under the program vary from 12 to 78 per cent.”

Government and organizational requirements include public consultation sessions as part of the process.

“We would like to receive feedback from the public on the presentations by the forestry consultants,” said Ropeter.

The authority also hopes the public will “learn about forestry practices and healthy forests and how that information is being adapted for the SSMRCA proposed plan.”

In addition to seeking public input, “The SSMRCA has a Forest Management Committee made up of local foresters, educators, and user groups and government,” said Ropeter.

“This committee of professionals is assisting the SSMRCA in developing the plan objectives, and reviewing and directly commenting on the plan to ensure it meets the objectives.”