Black Ash Recovery Strategy causing concern

By Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A provincial recovery strategy to protect the endangered Black Ash tree, has caused concerns for forestry stakeholders.

Ian Armstrong, general manager at Boundary Waters Forest Management Corporation, said that while he agrees that a strategy to protect Black Ash is needed, he compared the current one to placing a “glass dome” over northwestern Ontario, restricting movement of the forest industry and restricting private landowners.

The government declared Black Ash as an endangered species in the province of Ontario on January 26, 2022, due to an Emerald Ash Borer infestation in eastern and southern Ontario. Northern Minnesota has also experienced an infestation.

The Black Ash Recovery Strategy prohibits harming, harassing, possessing, transporting, trading, and selling of live or dead Black Ash, under the Endangered Species Act.

Several restrictions will be enforced on both private and Crown land where Black Ash is present, such as protection for entire wetland sites in which one or more Black Ash trees are present, and a 28-meter reserve applied on each individual Black Ash tree.

“So now in the forest industry, that would severely limit our ability to access the trees we need, and to be able to move around on the landscape because anywhere there’s Black Ash, you won’t be allowed to go there. So it has some big impacts on us in terms of our ability to harvest wood, build roads, stuff like that,” said Armstrong.

The impact for private landowners will also be significant, said Armstrong, because they have the same restrictions as the forest industry.

Armstrong said that those with Black Ash present on their land may need to get a permit agreement or exemption under the Endangered Species Act in order to conduct activities on their lawn.

“It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but based on what they have come up with, you would require a permit, an exemption or agreement from under the Endangered Species Act to allow you to cut your lawn,” he said.

Armstrong said Boundary Waters learned about the recovery strategy through the Ontario Forest Industry Association, but didn’t hear about the potential impacts until December 2022.

Concerned about a lack of consultation with those in northern Ontario before the creation of the recovery strategy, Boundary Waters is now informing municipalities of the impacts the strategy will have on daily operations.

“That’s why we felt we needed to not only talk to the forest industry, but we needed to talk to private land people as well, to just make them realize this is serious,” Armstrong said.

He listed multiple ways in which the strategy will impact private landowners including “construction, maintenance of roads, transportation and utility infrastructure, private land clearing and housing developments, commercial aggregate extractions, clearing of new agricultural lands, commercial and personal use harvest of trees for wood products or firewood, and construction and maintenance of recreational trails.”

Boundary Waters consists of 16 shareholders representing local mill facilities, First Nations and municipalities. Its four main industry shareholders include Resolute Forest Products, Manitou Forest Products, Nickel Lake Lumber, and West Fraser, who are asking that the Ministry of Environment amends their current strategy to consider the economic impacts on the forest industry.

“I am unaware of any social economic impact analysis that’s been done by the Ministry of Environment on this and yet, I could sit here to list off the potential impacts of this. You can just imagine the cost, but they have done nothing that I am aware of in terms of a social or economic impact analysis,” said Armstrong.

As a potential amendment to the current recovery strategy, Armstrong suggested that different restrictions could be applied to the region depending on where there is the most concern on the endangerment of Black Ash.

“And that’s all the forest industry is asking for. We’re not saying ‘no strategy,’ they’re saying, ‘you need to do it differently.’”

In January 2024, the Ministry of Environment’s two-year term to come up with a finalized recovery strategy will end, said Armstrong, who asked those concerned about the current strategy to send comments to the Ministry of Environment and to members of provincial parliament.