Ministry-approved plan cites long-cancelled carbon management measures
Ottawa, February 6, 2020 — Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Earthroots and Friends of Temagami, have filed a lawsuit against the Ford government for refusing to take into account climate-related considerations in its forestry management plan for Temagami.
“Ontario is required to consider climate change before exempting forestry from environmental assessment. When this condition is not met, the environment ministry is legally required to kick-start the individual environmental assessment process. This didn’t happen for Temagami,” said Joshua Ginsberg, lawyer with Ecojustice’s law clinic at the University of Ottawa. “This is a systemic problem across the province where climate-related impacts are left out of the picture for Ontario’s forests despite the legal requirement for it to be included.”
In Ontario, forestry management plans benefit from a class-based exemption from environmental assessment, provided the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) addresses a list of mandatory conditions, including efforts toward climate change mitigation and carbon management.
The MNRF falsely claimed to be developing methodologies for carbon management for Temagami’s forestry management plan — efforts that were underway were suspended in June 2018 and cancelled altogether two months before the region’s management plan was approved.
Given that the province’s ten-year plan for Temagami did not include climate-related considerations as required by law, Earthroots and Friends of Temagami say an individual environmental assessment should have been conducted. The ministry denied the groups’ request for an assessment in May 2019.
“The impacts of climate change on our forest is profound and increasing,” said Gord Miller, former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and current Earthroots Chair. “If MNRF is to meet its obligation for sustainable forestry management, it must incorporate both the ecological and carbon impacts of our warming planet.”
Temagami forest is home to nearly 50 per cent of the world’s largest old-growth red and white pine forests. The science shows harvesting old-growth forests, like those found in Temagami, disrupts ecosystems and results in the release of substantial amounts of carbon.
“We have spent years working within the forest management planning process and have been frustrated with MNRF intransigence on several important ecological and forest operations issues,” said PJ Justason, President of Friends of Temagami. “A court decision favourable to requiring a full individual environmental assessment will bring matters to full public attention.”
Earthroots and Friends of Temagami are focused on encouraging sustainable forest management in Ontario.
Both groups had participated extensively in the multi-year forest management planning process for the Temagami Unit which was run by the MNRF. The groups became concerned when the final approved forest management plan did not adequately address a number of important issues that had been raised, including the impact of the planned operations on carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
In a final effort to overcome the plan’s shortcomings the two groups exercised their right to request that the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks require an individual environmental assessment of the approved forestry management plan under the Environmental Assessment Act.
The University of Ottawa and Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, are partners in the uOttawa-Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic, a problem-based educational learning course designed to help train the next generation of environmental law and policy leaders. Ecojustice goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, innovative public interest lawsuits lead to legal precedents that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.