The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry held an open house meeting in conjunction with Resolute Forest Products at the Copper River Inn last Wednesday. The event was the latest step in the process of planning the Forest Management Plan (FMP) for the combined Crossroute-Sapawe forest for 2020-2030.
Ralph Horn, the resource management supervisor for the MNRF in Fort Frances, explained that the open house is a crucial and necessary step of developing a new forestry plan.
“We’re in a formal process of forest management planning and part of that process is the requirement for us to take the plan to the public on a number of occasions and let them review it,” Horn said.
“It’s a true consultation, so we get input and we consider that input where we can and where necessary we’ll adjust our plans.”
Horn said that the first consultation phase comes after making strategic decisions of where and how much wood to cut over the course of the 10-year plan. However, he noted that the open house wasn’t just for people who have a stake in harvesting wood.
“It’s a forest management plan, it’s not a timber management plan,” Horn said.
“There’s a lot of things that could get rolled into it.”
Horn explained that the maps that the Ministry creates have “layers and layers and layers” of information on them, so when they hold a public event, they separate those layers into several different maps so that individuals with particular concerns or interests can look at a map that is more closely aligned with what they’d like to see.
“As the MNRF, we regulate a lot of activities,” Horn said.
“So in terms of resource management we have trapping, we have bait fish blocks, we have bear management areas. So a trapper, for instance, can look at his trap line and see where the cutting is going to happen,” he added.
Ralph Hill is one such trapper. While he used to work in forestry, he came out to the open house to see how the proposed plan might impact his place of business.
“I came out to see what cut logs are going to get on my trap line,” Hill said.
Hill also said he has concerns about what roads he might lose access to when the logging operations move out of established areas.
“As a canoer, I don’t like to see closed roads and closed road access, when you cant access the water from a forest access road,” Hill said.
“There’s a couple of significant closed roads that I would like to see access to for non-powered watercraft, like for canoers and kayakers, rather than just this blanket ‘No one can access,'” he added.
For the ministry’s part, Horn said that forest access roads get closed all the time.
“The premise is when a road goes in, it goes in to extract wood, to facilitate the movement of wood out of the block, it’s not there to facilitate access for other purposes,” Horn explained.
“However, it is Crown land, and where there isn’t an expressed reason for us to limit access, we’ll leave the road open. For every person who wants closed roads there’s a person that doesn’t want a closed road, so for us it’s a balance,” he added.
“The FMP is an opportunity for us to review it internally, as well for people to provide comment, so this is when we listen to what people have to say,” said Horn.
Tom Ratz, the Forestry Manager for Ontario at Resolute Forest Products, agreed that the purpose of the open house is to collect comments and feedback to help create a better plan.
“Every block you see on [the maps], that’s potential for harvest.” Ratz explained.
“So we’re looking for people. Are we going to build a road where there are 10 eagle nests that we don’t know about? Is there a spring in there? Are we doing something that we shouldn’t do? Because we don’t know everything. And so that’s why we’re here today, to get the public’s opinion on managing this forest, and managing it sustainably.”
Ratz and Horn both said that once the open houses are concluded, the next step in the plan will be to use the information collected from the public to make appropriate changes to the plan before it is again brought to the public for more input.
“Based on the input we get through these meetings we’ll refine [the plan] and we’ll do the same thing in the summer with a more refined product,” Horn said.
“People can see either how we’ve addressed their concerns, or new people come in and say ‘Wait, what about this?'”
There is still time to have your voice heard if you missed the open house event held last week, but Horn stressed that it has to be an active effort while the plans are still being made.
“They have to come out and talk to us,” Horn said.
“They can write us letters. They can send us emails. They need to engage with us, and unfortunately it’s not uncommon for the equipment to get there and start to rev up and the trees start to be cut and then, you know, ‘Not in my backyard.'”