Thunder Bay

Canadian forestry companies in U.S. environmental group's report say criticisms oversimplified, misleading

Three of the largest forestry companies operating in northwestern Ontario say an environmental group's criticisms of logging practices in Ontario and Quebec are oversimplified.

Natural Resources Defense Council says boreal forest needs more protection

A logging truck hauls fibre to local sawmills. A report from the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) criticizes forestry practices in Ontario and Quebec. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Three of the largest forestry companies operating in northwestern Ontario say a U.S.-based environmental group's criticisms of logging practices in Ontario and Quebec are oversimplified and misleading.

A report released this month by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an international non-profit, said its analysis is based on wood sourcing by mills for three companies — Resolute Forest Products, Domtar and Aditya Birla Group.

The report claims the companies are overharvesting, and not protecting woodland caribou or considering climate change in their operations.

But some of the major players in the industry said the report is flawed.

For instance, Bonny Skene, an Ontario-based regional public affairs manager with Domtar, said in a statement: "We operate in a province and country with a robust and rigorous sustainable forest management framework.

"Over-and-above these rigorous requirements, we voluntarily subscribe to two third-party certification systems for sustainability — Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)."

Courtenay Lewis, manager of the Canada Project, said forestry companies cited in the NRDC report determined "companies are not harvesting from Canada's boreal forest, with sustainable safeguards in place."

"In a world where some of the core environmental values are in decline and indicator species are classed in many places, we need to think about other models."

Anthony Swift, NRDC's director of the Canada Project, said the group would like to see all forest companies source fibre from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) forests, undertake more consultation with Indigneous communities, and use only previously logged areas of the boreal forest.

Report doesn't give First Nation partners 'credit'

However, Aditya Birla, which operates a mill in Terrace Bay, Ont., said the NRDC report is "misleading."

"It also clearly does not give our First Nation partners credit for the significant  accomplishments that have been made in the last number of years in terms of First Nation direct forest management of Crown land in Ontario, and particularly our region where it is very strong," said Mike O'Blenis, president of AVG Canada, the Canadian branch of mill owner Aditya Birla.

A rough, muddy logging road.
Some major companies involved in forestry in northwestern Ontario say the NRDC report oversimplifies logging in the province. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

O'Blenis said three-quarters of its fibre comes from FSC-certified Crown forests, while all its wood is FSC chain-of-custody certified. Seventy-three per cent of its fibre comes from First Nations-managed Crown forest, he said, meaning First Nations own the management company responsible for that forest unit.

The NRDC also said the province should change its regulations, to put the environment at the forefront of all its decisions, and put a higher priority on keeping the boreal forest intact.

In a statement, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry responded to the report by saying: "We know that for Ontario's forest industry to remain strong and vibrant in the long term, we need to ensure that the province's Crown forests remain healthy, diverse and productive.

"Ontario's rigorous forest management planning process begins with considerations of what we must protect."

For over two decades, the ministry said, the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA) has provided for the sustainable management of Ontario's Crown forests "in a manner that must have regard for plant life, animal life (including species at risk), water, soil, air and social and economic values."

Resolute Forest Products, which is headquartered in Montreal and operates several mills, including in Thunder Bay, Ont., said it responded to NRDC's concerns over its forestry practices, but many of those views were not included in the final submission.

"Resolute follows numerous protocols to ensure appropriate consultation with Indigenous communities," said Seth Kursman, vice-president of communications with Resolute.

"This includes complying with provincial and territorial forest laws, regulations, and policies that require Indigenous interests be considered and respected.

"Both SFI and FSC forest management standards include requirements for Indigenous engagement, consultation, relations and respect of rights."

Kursman said Resolute sources over 90 per cent of its fibre from sustainably managed and certified forests, with all wood certified in the chain of custody protocols.

"Ecosystem-based management mimics natural disturbances and results in greater long-term carbon storage than not harvesting," said Kursman. "Trees that are mature or over-mature are more vulnerable to being destroyed by natural disturbances like fire and insects.

"Climate change only increases these risks. Harvesting mature or over-mature trees reduces these risks significantly, creates the conditions necessary for regeneration and allows additional carbon to be stored within long-lived forest products like lumber and books."


Jeff Walters

Former CBC reporter

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff worked in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario.