The future of the Nipissing Forest is open for debate.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has started the process for the development and creation of a new 10-year plan for the Nipissing Forest.

“In Ontario, the MNRF is responsible for the long-term health of Crown forests (public land). Before any forestry activities can take place, a forest management plan must be in place,” said Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer with the ministry.

The Nipissing Forest includes a large area around Lake Nipissing; it stretches south to Trout Creek, north to Marten River, and runs west along the Ottawa River.

With the current plan for this region ending in early 2019, the ministry has begun work on the five-phase process to create the 2019 to 2029 plan. This process will include stakeholder consultations, public and aboriginal community involvement, and five formal opportunities for input.

“Forest management plans must ensure sustainability while finding a balance of social, economic and environmental values,” said Kowalski.

In Ontario, forestry activities include: providing access by building roads and bridges, cutting and removing trees, renewing the forest by replacing trees after they are harvested, caring for the forests and preparing plans to carry out forest management activities.

“People may express their interests in any of these forestry-related activities and others throughout the forest management planning process,” said Kowalski. “Public participation is a key component of forest management in Ontario and is required by law.”

The first stage of the process, the invitation to participate, was sent out to the public in December. Stage two is the review of proposed long-term management direction, which is planned for August 2017. Public input — including background information on the forest, natural resource features, land uses, and any values that may be affected by forest management — will be collected over the first half of 2017.

Anyone interested in providing input to the forest management should considered joining the Nipissing Forest Local Citizens Committee, which is a wide group of people with an interest in forest management including trappers, tourism operators, hunters and anglers.

The third stage of the planning process will give the public the opportunity to review proposed operations for the land and is expected to take place in January 2018.

The current planning team involved in overseeing the process for the management plan includes a member of the local citizens committee and First Nations representatives from Nipissing, Dokis, Temagami, Antoine, Mattawa-North Bay, Algonquin and Wolf Lake First Nations. Requests for participation have been extended to the Métis Nation of Ontario and Temiscaming First Nation.

A registered forester will prepare the plan with input from citizens, aboriginal communities and the public. Stage four calls for a draft plan to be ready by August 2018, when it will be available to be reviewed by the public.

Stage five of the process is set for December 2018 and involves one last public inspection of the MNRF-approved management plan.

The proposed implementation date of the new ten-year plan is April 1, 2019.