Remarks by Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry at the OWA Annual General Meeting on April 29, 2017
By Deputy Minister Bill Thornton
Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Bill Thornton at the OWA AGM on April 29, 2017 Photo by Peter Hill
I appreciate your invitation and welcome the opportunity to speak at your AGM. Let me say that I am aware of the great work that the OWA does on behalf of the owners of Ontario’s privately owned forests, and I congratulate you on your 25th anniversary. Since your association’s establishment in 1992, you have worked tirelessly to ensure that our private forests continue to contribute to the health of the province’s environment, economy and society.
As a grassroots organization, you have taken an active role in helping all woodlot owners address local needs and conditions. Our two organizations have a shared interest in sustainable forest management, and my ministry is pleased to support the wide range of field events that you hold each year to promote sustainability among forest owners.
Your association’s commitment to working with partners is also appreciated. I know that you partner with Forests Ontario, the Ontario Professional Foresters Association and other groups.
I would also like to recognize the important advocacy work done by the OWA. By providing a voice for private woodlands and participating in a constructive and positive way in a wide range of reviews and consultations, you have been instrumental in ensuring your members’ interests are considered.
Our forests are important not just for the timber and wood products they provide, but also for the many ecological roles they play. Forests are increasingly seen as green infrastructure. However, these are challenging times for both Crown and privately owned forests.
While some challenges are unique to the private woodlots found primarily in southern Ontario, others are common to forests in general.
⦁ Climate change is top of mind for many of us and is a key consideration for forest management today. It will remain so for the foreseeable future. It is leading to milder, drier conditions, which in turn can help the spread of forest pests — both invasive and non-invasive. Such conditions could also lead to larger, more frequent forest fires, changes in the distribution of tree species, and serious effects on other vegetation as well as wildlife. What can forest owners, big and small, do to help mitigate the effects of climate change?
⦁ Another challenge is the continued threat to Ontario’s economy and environment posed by invasive species. Emerald ash borer and beech bark disease continue to affect Ontario’s forests, particularly in southern and central Ontario. Our forests are also at risk from invasion by oak wilt, and from the mountain pine beetle infestation that is working its way from western Canada toward central Canada.
⦁ Competing uses for land and pressures on southern Ontario’s forests are an ongoing concern. What can we do to protect forested lands as our communities continue to grow?
⦁ And finally — how are the markets for wood products doing right now, and is there something we can do to strengthen them?
Let me share what we are doing to help meet some of these challenges and touch on ways that we can work together to address them.
Mitigating Climate Change
While it is true that climate change affects forests, it is also true that sustainably managed forests can help mitigate the effects of climate change. A healthy forest tends to be a resilient forest.
Sustainable forest management continues to play an important role as national and sub-national governments, like Ontario, confront the global challenge of climate change.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is engaged in a wide range of activities on this issue. Our researchers have published and supported over 400 reports and scientific publications to increase our understanding of climate change and its effects on natural resources. And we are working with partners and stakeholders to monitor conditions in some woodlands in the south.
We posted a discussion paper on forest carbon policy options in the fall for review and comment, and we will use the input from your members to inform our approach going forward.
The way Ontario’s forests are managed influences the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere and stored in trees and harvested wood products. Understanding the potential for managed forests to store more carbon and developing policy approaches to consider this in forest management practices, will contribute to the Government’s objective of mitigating climate change impacts.
In January, we issued Naturally Resilient, our ministry’s draft natural resource climate adaptation strategy, for review and comment.
Ministry staff are seeing the impact of climate change in and on their work, and this strategy sets out how the ministry plans to continue to adapt to this new reality. Every day our staff must adapt their thinking to adjust for the effects of climate change. Our wildlife biologists have postponed the start of the moose hunt to reflect a delay in the moose rut that is attributed to warmer falls. Our forest fire managers are bringing forward new wildland fire management strategies, especially in the northernmost parts of the province where climate change impacts are expected to be the greatest. Our engineers are considering new standards for water crossings and dams to reflect more severe weather events. And our foresters are asking how we can better match genetic seed sources of the trees used in plantations to ensure they can survive in a changing climate.
Harvested wood products from our sustainably managed forests play an important role in mitigating climate change. That’s why we have been working with a number of partners to develop a guide to be used by builders, developers and municipalities to help promote the construction of mass timber buildings over six storeys high. These timber buildings have a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional taller buildings made from steel and concrete, and they support increased economic opportunities in communities that produce these sustainable building materials.
A workshop was held at the end of March to discuss the tall-wood guide and to consider how we can begin promoting it. The formal release of the guide is scheduled for this spring. All of this effort is building on the good response we have had on the building code changes, implemented in January 2015, that allow wood-frame construction in buildings of up to six storeys.
50 Million Tree Program
Afforestation is a tremendous tool in mitigating the effects of climate change. That is where Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Program comes in. As you know, the Ontario government launched the program in 2008 to expand forest cover on private lands in the province. The goal is to plant 50 million trees by 2025. This action alone will sequester 6.6 million tons of carbon by 2050.
Forests Ontario delivers this program on the province’s behalf, and I am pleased to say that we are almost halfway to our goal. More than 4,000 landowners have participated, planting more than 22.5 million trees and creating approximately 12,000 hectares of new forest.
As a key commitment under Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan, two million of the 50 million trees will be planted within the boundaries of urban municipalities. Currently, under the program, about three million trees are planted in Ontario each year. This year, however, we are doing something extra.
Green Leaf Challenge
Earlier this year, Ontario launched the Green Leaf Challenge. In honour of Ontario’s 150th anniversary, we are challenging people to match the trees planted under the 50 Million Tree Program this year, one-to-one.
We are calling on all Ontarians to participate: property owners, participants in community tree planting events, and people who want to donate to have a tree planted by someone else. So if we can plant three million trees this year through the 50 Million Tree Program, we want Ontarians to plant three million more.
Forests Ontario has a tree counter online where Ontarians can report how many trees they’ve planted. There, they’ll also be able to learn about any local tree planting opportunities near their community and how to donate to the cause through Forests Ontario.
I encourage you to help us spread the word about the Green Leaf Challenge in your communities during this year’s planting season. As you know, tree planting efforts — both large and small — contribute to the fight against climate change.
Invasive species continue to cause significant negative impacts to our natural environment, in addition to socioeconomic impacts within Ontario, across Canada and internationally. Globally, costs to the environment, agriculture and communities due to invasive species are estimated to be $1.4 trillion — the equivalent of five percent of the global economy and seven times the cost of natural disasters. It is difficult to estimate the total cost of invasive species prevention, management, mitigation and research in Ontario. However, the City of Toronto alone estimates that it spent at least $37 million over a five-year period to cut and replace city-owned trees killed by emerald ash borer.
As a member of the Forest Pest Working Group under the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, Ontario continues to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canadian Forest Service to improve both the survey and control methodologies for invasive forest pests.
After an invasive species becomes established, it is extremely difficult to remove and causes lasting damage to our ecosystem. Therefore, Ontario, along with our partners and neighbours, is working to prevent new invasive species from entering and becoming established in our province. The new Invasive Species Act supports these objectives by providing tools to enable prevention, detection, management and eradication of regulated invasive species. That is why Ontario created this Act, the first of its kind in Canada, to give us the tools to fight these invaders.
We also worked with the federal government to establish the Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste. Marie. Since its creation in 2011, the Invasive Species Centre has received over $10 million from Ontario to support research, to increase awareness and to improve collaboration amongst agencies tasked with managing invasive species.
In addition, we have been working with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters for 25 years and provide annual support to deliver the Invading Species Awareness Program to track invasive species sightings and provide public education and outreach. And we encourage all Ontarians to learn how to stop the spread and keep invaders out by visiting our website and our partners’ websites: Ontario.ca/invasionON.
Forest Information and Health
It is important to note that our efforts to combat invasive species are part of a broader focus on forest health. We have a long-standing program of monitoring and reporting on forest health across the province. This includes the work of staff on the ground, as well as aerial surveys.
As a ministry, we have a long history of providing forestry guidance to landowners and forest managers. Through our publications, such as our Silviculture Guide to Managing Southern Ontario Forests, we offer the most up-to-date scientific and technical information on growing and cultivating trees. The ministry is currently working on an addition to this guide that will cover afforestation and plantation management. Our other forest management guides cover topics such as conserving biodiversity and protecting wildlife habitat, watersheds, cultural heritage and recreation. And there are already links to our existing publications on your association’s website.
We appreciate the work you do to share the ministry’s guidelines and expertise. We are committed to ensuring that you have the guidance you need to manage your woodlots sustainably.
Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program
One of the most direct ways we have to influence landowners with woodlots is through the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program. The goal of the program is to bring greater fairness to the property tax system by valuing forestland according to its current use. The program is designed to increase landowner awareness about forest stewardship.
Since its establishment, it has continued to have a very positive influence on the province’s landowners. I understand that there are more than 17,000 landowners participating in the program, conserving and protecting over 750,000 hectares of forests.
Landowners in this program can benefit from a tax reduction, while the province benefits from their commitment to sustainable forest management. It is a win-win proposition for landowners and the province, although I do recognize the lost revenue it presents to many municipalities from reductions in property taxes.
Co-ordinated Plan Review
It is also clear that good policies can play a key role in protecting forests. The Ontario government is nearing the completion of its Co-ordinated Review of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and the Niagara Escarpment Plan.
These four plans work together to build complete communities, manage growth, curb sprawl, protect the natural environment and support economic development. The proposed revisions to the plans flowing out of the Co-ordinated Plan Review have benefited from the input of over 3,000 people who attended town-hall meetings and the more than 19,000 submissions made to it, including that made by your association.
In addition to allowing communities to continue growing in ways that attract jobs and investments, create vibrant urban centres and strong rural communities, the changes being considered would also minimize impacts of urban growth on productive farmland, heritage buildings, green spaces and important natural areas. We think that the revised plans will help us to do a better job of protecting our natural environment, including woodlands and wetlands. Our commitment to monitoring will help us determine the success of these efforts.
Wood Promotion and Innovation
In terms of wood products and the markets for our wood, our ministry is doing its part to promote innovation and wood use. In the past five years, the ministry has provided over $3 million in funding to FPInnovations and a further $1.75 million to the Canadian Wood Council’s WoodWorks program to support innovation in our forest sector.
And Ontario continues its efforts to promote Ontario’s forest products and sustainable forest management practices both domestically and internationally. One such initiative was the agreement Ontario signed with Quebec to keep working together on priority matters for the two provinces. These priorities include promoting sustainable forest management practices to support international trade in forest products and responsible approaches for the protection of species at risk.
Ontario’s strong framework for sustainable forest management is a key selling point for our forest products. It’s the kind of brand value that markets are looking for today, as buyers consider sustainability when making their purchases. To communicate that value to local consumers, the ministry continues to invest in the Ontario Wood brand. The brand helps consumers to identify and purchase wood and wood products made in our province from sustainably managed Ontario forests. The Ontario Wood brand was launched in 2011 and has attracted 306 partners to date. We’re also proud that your association is a supporter of this brand, too.
As many of you know, on April 24, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it planned to impose countervailing duties on shipments of softwood lumber from Canada into the U.S. Duties of nearly 20% will apply to most companies in Ontario, effective April 28, and they will be retroactively applied 90 days as well. This is of grave concern to Ontario and our industry.
Negotiating trade deals is the responsibility of the federal government. However, Ontario is providing advice and feedback to the federal government and consulting regularly with industry stakeholders in our efforts to maintain access to the U.S. lumber market.
The U.S. relies on Canada to supply nearly one-third of its demand for softwood lumber, and they place these duties on Canadian companies in order to benefit American sawmills at the expense of American consumers. It’s estimated that nearly a half million American families are unable to afford a new home due to the price increase caused by these duties.
Minister Kathryn McGarry joined her Quebec counterpart in calling on the federal government to create a loan guarantee program to protect forestry companies across Canada. This program would help support the industry — and hundreds of communities in Ontario that depend on it — during a period of economic uncertainty. She has also applauded the efforts of her federal counterpart, the Honourable Jim Carr, in establishing a Federal–Provincial Task Force on Softwood Lumber.
Meetings are ongoing with representatives from Ontario’s forest sector to ensure their concerns are heard during the federal trade discussions. Fair and open trade benefits both Canada and the U.S. and consumers on both sides of the border. Ontario will continue to fight to maintain access to the U.S. market for our lumber producers. Negotiating a new agreement continues to be a priority for Ontario, and I know it is also top of mind for our forest industry.
In conclusion, managing a forest, and managing it sustainably, is not easy. We appreciate the work you do and the contribution you make to our economy and to our environment. Thank you for the advice and support you show our ministry. We don’t take it for granted.
The OWA is considered an important partner in managing and sustaining our natural resources.