Algonquin Park commercial logging plan up for renewal in 2021
Impact of forestry operations on park's ecological integrity should be reviewed, says auditor general
Algonquin is the oldest and most famous of Ontario's provincial parks, and it's also the only one where commercial logging is permitted.
The forestry management plan for Algonquin Provincial Park for the next decade is up for renewal in 2021. Environmental activists are using the occasion to demand an end to logging in the park, or at the least a severe reduction in logging activity.
"The vast majority of Ontarians, including visitors to the park, are unaware that 65 per cent of the park is actually leased for logging activity," says Katie Krelove, Ontario campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, a national non-profit focused on preserving wilderness and protecting wildlife.
"Most people, when they find out, are shocked because they expect our provincial parks to actually be protected," Krelove said in an interview with CBC News.
Although logging is permitted on two-thirds of the land within Algonquin's boundaries, the annual harvest covers roughly one per cent of the park's territory. It's a mix of both softwood and hardwood logging, predominantly white pine and maple, headed both to sawmills and pulp mills.
Most of the parkland available for logging is at some distance from the most accessible part of Algonquin, the Highway 60 corridor that runs across the southern portion of the park, where the bulk of its one million annual visitors head for drive-in campsites and access to backcountry canoe routes.
There are also annual restrictions that keep logging activity concentrated outside the peak tourist season.
Back in 2014, Ontario's former environmental commissioner, Gord Miller, urged the then-Liberal government to halt logging in Algonquin.
Just last month, auditor general Bonnie Lysyk, who took over the environmental commissioner's duties when Premier Doug Ford government's dissolved that post, recommended in a report that the province "review the impact of the current level of commercial logging … on the ecological integrity of the park."
Lysyk said the logging means Algonquin does not meet the province's own criteria to be considered a protected area.
"The fact that Algonquin Park, Ontario's first and most popular provincial park, still does not meet that definition is frankly disgraceful," said Krelove.
The Algonquin Forestry Authority (AFA), the provincial agency that manages logging in the park, says the logging is conducted in a sustainable way that maintains natural forest conditions.
"For a lot of people, if they look at an area that's been cut within the park within the last five years, they might not even be able to know that it's been cut," said Gord Cumming, the AFA's chief forester.
"We're constantly updating the science and the guidelines behind sustainable forest management," Cumming said in an interview.
The method used for 95 per cent of logging in Algonquin is partial cutting, not clear-cutting, said Cumming.
"We've got trees that are retained on site, mature trees that are providing shade and seed for the regeneration of trees underneath them," he said Cumming. "There's still a mature residual forest there and we've got a regenerating new forest coming in underneath."
Commercial logging has gone on in Algonquin since before the park was created in 1893.
"We're very proud of the fact that we've been able to practice sustainable forestry on that hallowed ground for that long and still essentially it's a forested park to this day," said the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, John Yakabuski.
"It's done in such a symbiotic way with the other uses of the park, including those that enjoy it for its wilderness and the beautiful waters and hills and trees and everything else that people go to visit the park for," Yakabuski said in an interview.
Krelove contests this outlook, saying that any commercial logging in Algonquin is incompatible with the mandate of Ontario's provincial parks to preserve land.
"When they talk about sustainability, they're mostly talking about the sustainability of future timber harvest," Krelove said.
"They're saying, 'We're logging it in a way that we will be able to continue to log it.' That is not the same as sustainability for the highest level of ecological integrity," she said. "Even the most careful logging has an impact."
In addition to the harvesting of trees, Krelove is concerned about the environmental impact of the 6,000 kilometres of logging roads that criss-cross the park, and the extraction of gravel to build new ones.
The logging operations within the park currently employ more than 300 people, while the wood goes to mills employing another 3,000, according to the province.
Until Jan. 22, the provincial government is seeking public comments on the proposals in Algonquin's forestry management plan for 2021-31.
"I'm quite comfortable that we're achieving the gold standard of sustainable stewardship," said Yakabuski.
In a statement, the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jeff Yurek, said Algonquin's park management plan has been updated three times since 2013.
The ministry and Ontario Parks "will continue to review and amend park management direction as a need is identified or a review is required," said Yurek.