Forestry FAQs

Does the industry care about the health of the future forest?

Yes, we care a great deal. Like all Ontarians, we want to sustain the forest for the benefit of current and future generations. The forest is also our source of raw materials. Without a healthy future forest, there can be no future for the industry.

Forestry is considered a capital-intensive business, meaning that companies must invest large amounts of money on an ongoing basis. According to MNR data (Annual Report on Forest Management 2002/03) a greenfield (new) development of a pulp and paper mill costs almost $1 billion. ( It can take many years to earn enough to pay back the large sums borrowed to build or expand a forest products company, or to maintain equipment and mills. This cannot be done unless there is a long-term and predictable supply of quality wood from the forest, which is why the future of the industry hinges on its ability to sustainably manage the resource.

What is the industry doing to help ensure the health of the future forest?

Members of the OFIA are committed to implementing a Code of Fotrest Practices, which puts recognition of the inherent value of a healthy forest environment first. By applying this Code across the forest landscape, companies hope to demonstrate leadership through their forest management practices, and provide an incentive for others to maintain all of the values of the Ontario forest environment.

The Code was developed by a task force which included members from industry as well as the aboriginal, academic, environmental, financial and labour communities. It covers areas that are key to sustaining the forest, such as planning, management, environmental protection, human resources, public participation and accountability to the public. In the management section, for example, the Code says that member companies will select operating systems and equipment appropriate to the sensitivity of each site and which integrate harvesting and regeneration objectives. Under human resources, it says that members will encourage employees to report activities contrary to the Code, while ensuring that no one is penalized for reporting.

The industry says that it's doing a good job, but how can the public be sure?

There are many sources of information on the activities and performance of the Ontario forest industry, some of which are listed here. But the best way to be sure is to come see for yourself how the industry works. Many members offer public tours of their mill and forest operations.

In Ontario, 89% of the forest is Crown land, which means that it's owned by the public and held in trust by the federal or provincial government. Companies recognize the need to be accountable and to involve interested groups and individuals in the decision-making process. Before any forest management activities can take place, there must be an approved forest management plan, prepared by a registered professional forester with the assistance of a multi-disciplinary planning team, a local citizens' committee and interested members of the public.

In terms of data, one source is the Annual Report on Forest Management released by the Ministry of Natural Resources. The report is a source of non-biased information on the success of forest renewal.

For Canada-wide information, the federal government publishes various national reports, including the State of Canada's Forests and a Compendium of Canadian Forestry Statistics.

Does the industry support Ontario’s Living Legacy and the Ontario Forest Accord?

OFIA supported the democratic nature of the Lands for Life initiative, which led to Ontario’s Living Legacy and the Ontario Forest Accord, and was active in the process from the start. Our efforts were focused on how best to protect areas of special interest (such as unique old growth forests or nesting grounds), while accommodating the public's need for parkland and also creating security for the forest products industry.

The result of Lands for Life was the creation of 378 new parks and protected areas totaling 2.4 million hectares—increasing the amount of protected land in the province to 9.5 million hectares.

There was some concern within the industry that the creation of this much new parkland would significantly reduce the land available for harvest and therefore decrease the supply of wood to mills. However, through the Ontario Forest Accord, all parties (government, industry and the environmental community) agreed that measures would be taken to maintain wood flows and costs of wood for mills, and increase the future wood supply. The Accord consists of 31 articles (or commitments) that address a variety of issues, including how to maintain the momentum of the Lands for Life process, provide for the future expansion of the parks and protected areas network, and provide for the long-term health of the forest products industry.

The Ontario Forest Accord Advisory Board includes representation from all parties, and serves as a forum to discuss outstanding issues and provide recommendations to the Minister of Natural Resources.

Is Ontario losing its forests?

As the population grows, some forests are lost to urban development—but Ontario is not losing its forests to the industry. Forests are a renewable resource: stands harvested will regenerate, as long as the soil is protected.

In fact, Canada retains 91 per cent of its original forest cover and, in Ontario, there is evidence that the amount of forested area is increasing. In its 1992 report on the status of forest regeneration, the Ontario Independent Forest Audit Committee concluded that the "apparently widely held impression that the boreal forest is being deforested is erroneous." The committee examined 1,500 sites harvested between 1970 and 1985, and found that none had been converted to unproductive, barren conditions.

Similarly, the Timber Environmental Assessment Board noted that, "The results of the Ministry of Natural Resources measurements of regeneration success [...] are encouraging. We observed that the forest grows back after all disturbances—logging, fire or insect damage—and nowhere did we see wastelands or biological deserts as the public fears."

That said, it is important to recognize that once a stand is harvested, the area must be managed properly to ensure that the desired species grow back; that forest structure and species composition are maintained across the forest landscape, in a way that can protect and even improve biodiversity. The key is planning. If a company wants a particular kind of tree, it must think ahead—long before it harvests an area—to determine the steps needed to achieve the desired results.

What is the most successful type of forest regeneration?

Like all forest management practices, renewal can be accomplished in different ways. The most successful will depend on the tree species, climate and characteristics of the site.

Natural regeneration occurs when the forest is renewed without planting or seeding. It can be applied in areas that have been harvested in many different ways, providing there are sprouts or seeds nearby to give birth to the new forest. Unfortunately, not all tree species can sprout, and seed crops, for some species, are infrequent.

Artificial regeneration involves the sowing of seeds—from the air or from the ground—or the planting of nursery grown seedlings. It is applied when the trees that remain after harvest will not provide enough seed (or sprouts) to regenerate the stand, or when the climate or conditions of the site do not lend themselves to the natural regeneration of a desired species.

Why do companies clearcut the forest?

Like renewal, different ways of harvesting the forest are appropriate for different species on different sites, in different climates. For some Ontario species, such as black spruce and jack pine, clearcutting is both environmentally sound and economically viable.

In the past, when the boreal forest was mature it was renewed by nature. Historical records show that on average, a large disturbance such as fire would decimate an area every 65 years. As a result, northern Ontario is characterized by "even aged" forests (stands of trees that are all the same age).

Today, mature forests are a valued resource. And when nature tries to do what it's been doing since the Ice Age, man steps in and fights the fire—influencing the natural course of the stand.

Because it resembles the large-scale disturbances that were common throughout the history of the boreal forest, clearcutting encourages the species that nature would have established. For example, most conifer species have adapted to frequent fires. To grow, they need a clear area that offers direct sunlight and exposed mineral soil, which in turn provides a suitable seed bed for successful regeneration.

The subject of clearcutting underwent an intensive review during the Environmental Assessment hearings. Following the four and a half year review, the Environmental Assessment Board reported that "the scientific evidence demonstrates that clearcutting is an acceptable harvesting practice in the boreal forest, but clearcuts should be done in a range of sizes; too many small or large cuts on the forest landscape can be harmful."

Why does the industry use herbicides?

While herbicides are just one tending alternative, they have proven so far to be the safest and the most effective, practical and economic method available.

The forest industry depends largely on the use of conifer species such as jack pine and black spruce. However, as these species regenerate, they must compete with other vegetation. Herbicides are used to slow down the growth of competing vegetation, so the species trying to regenerate has a chance to establish itself.

In its 1992 report, the Ontario Independent Forest Audit Committee noted that "without vegetation control, mixed species conditions can develop ... in which poplar frequently becomes dominant and the original, pure spruce and jack pine stands become converted to mixed softwood/mixed wood conditions." When this happens, not only does industry lose valuable species, but the original stand composition is changed.

Members of the OFIA use proven, registered chemical herbicides that meet the stringent requirements of both the federal and provincial governments. In addition, through the Code of Forest Practices, companies have committed to using these only in the absence of effective and economical alternatives.

Does forest management destroy wildlife habitat? 

Sound forest management practices do not destroy wildlife habitat, but they do alter the forest and, as a result, change wildlife habitat. With or without forest management, the forest is dynamic, changing constantly in response to natural and human disturbances, as well as various life processes. As the forest changes, so do the species of wildlife that make it their home. Some species thrive in open spaces, and prefer areas that have been disturbed by fire, blowdown or harvest. Sound forest management practices do not destroy wildlife habitat, but they do alter the forest and, as a result, change wildlife habitat. Others prefer stands in the middle stages of their life, while others still inhabit mature and over-mature forests.

In planning forest management activities, it is important to understand wildlife habitat requirements, and ensure that wildlife have the ability to move safely from one area to another. As the Environmental Assessment Board concluded, "harvesting can be carried out in a way that prevents, minimizes and mitigates adverse effects on wildlife."