This consultation was open from:
March 18, 2021
to May 3, 2021
We are proposing to amend the Forest Management Planning Manual under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, and Regulation 334 under the Environmental Assessment Act to enable forest management activities in the proposed Neskantaga Forest located in Ontario’s Far North.
The Neskantaga First Nation, in partnership with Mitigokaa Development Corporation, wants to get off diesel-based energy sources and plans to establish a cleaner biomass energy facility for its electricity supply.
Burning cleaner renewable forest biomass instead of a diesel-based source has important environmental benefits and would help create jobs and income for the community, therefore, the province wants to help the community switch to forest biomass in a timely manner.
Neskantaga First Nation is a remote community approximately 430 km north of Thunder Bay. Neskantaga is a signatory to Treaty 9 and a member of the Matawa Tribal Council. The community currently relies on diesel-based power generation which they have proposed to replace with a biomass energy facility. Management of local energy resources would help Neskantaga First Nation increase their energy security.
Operation of the biomass energy facility is estimated to require an annual wood supply of approximately 9,000 m3 which would require the harvest of approximately 100 hectares per year of forest from public land near the community. Harvest operations are proposed to commence by winter 2021–2022 to supply wood to the proposed biomass energy facility in early 2022.
To support this proposal the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) is proposing to designate a management unit (MU) for the proposed Neskantaga Forest to allow for the effective and efficient administration and delivery of forest management planning, forest operations, and forest resource licensing.
A Forest Management Plan (FMP) would identify an available wood supply in the proposed MU to support Neskantaga First Nation’s desire to develop a biomass energy facility.
The Forest Management Planning Manual (FMPM) is regulated under section 68 of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA) and provides direction for the preparation and implementation of FMPs. We are proposing to amend the FMPM to include MU specific direction that would apply to the proposed Neskantaga Forest to support the preparation and implementation of a FMP.
The current structure of the FMPM would be maintained; however, specific requirements for the proposed Neskantaga Forest would be added to Part F – Management Unit Specific Direction.
This proposal is also seeking to exempt forest management activities in the proposed Neskantaga Forest MU from the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA).
As part of efforts to modernize the environmental assessment process, forestry activities will continue under the CFSA and we removed the duplicative requirements under the EAA, while ensuring we protect the environment.
Over the years, the MNRF has developed policies, manuals, programs and procedures that ensure oversight and protection of the environment in forest management planning activities.
These changes will allow the MNRF to be the primary source of direction for forest management in Ontario.
Proposed Amendments to the Forest Management Planning Manual
MNRF is proposing to amend the FMPM to include MU specific direction for the proposed Neskantaga Forest. This MU specific direction would require the application of all Parts of the FMPM (i.e., Parts A through E) with modified requirements related to:
- Public consultation, and First Nation and Métis involvement and consultation
- Development of a Long-Term Management Direction
- Forest Management Guide for Boreal Landscapes
1. Public Consultation and First Nation and Métis Involvement and Consultation
First Nation and Métis Involvement and Consultation
The MNRF would apply the current criteria in the FMPM to determine whether a First Nation or Métis community is in or adjacent to the proposed MU. First Nation and Métis communities determined to be in or adjacent to the proposed Neskantaga Forest would be offered opportunities to be involved in the preparation and implementation of the FMP, including the opportunity to communicate directly with the planning team.
The FMPM would identify specific roles for Neskantaga First Nation community members in the preparation and implementation of the FMP for the proposed Neskantaga Forest. Neskantaga First Nation may create an Advisory Group comprised of Neskantaga First Nation people (e.g., elders, trappers, other land users) identified by the leadership of the community. Any Advisory Group would provide input to the planning team.
The FMPM would also provide for the opportunity for Neskantaga First Nation to have representation on the planning team. The leadership of Neskantaga First Nation would identify one or more representatives to participate on the planning team.
For the proposed Neskantaga Forest, Neskantaga Indigenous Knowledge may be part of the background information that would be available for use in planning. Neskantaga Indigenous Knowledge is defined as the integrated body of wisdom, values, perceptions, and teachings that emerges out of the practices of everyday life of Neskantaga people. Adjacent communities would also be invited to share background information and Indigenous Knowledge on the proposed Neskantaga Forest.
Opportunities would continue to be provided for on-going participation in the forest management planning process for the proposed Neskantaga Forest. We are proposing to reduce the duration and the number of stages for public and First Nation consultation from five to three. This proposed change is based on the unique situation of the proposed Neskantaga Forest, timelines to commence operations, information availability, and the desires of Neskantaga First Nation.
The consultation process for the Neskantaga FMP would include three stages:
- Stage One: Invitation to Participate
- Stage Two: Review of Draft Forest Management Plan
- Stage Three: Inspection of MNRF-Approved Forest Management Plan
Stage One: Invitation to Participate would be similar to the existing process in Part A of the FMPM. The public and First Nation communities will be notified that the preparation of the FMP is beginning and will be offered the opportunity to contribute to the background information to be used in the planning process. Available information would be shared subject to any modifications MNRF and the planning team consider necessary in the circumstances.
Stage Two: Review of Draft Forest Management Plan would be a combination of stages two, three, and four included in Part A of the current FMPM. An information forum would be provided and the pubic and First Nation and Métis communities will be provided 60 days to review and comment on the draft FMP. The purpose of this consultation opportunity would be to review and comment on proposed activities and elements of the draft FMP including:
- the planned areas for harvest, renewal and tending operations for the 10-year period of the FMP
- the proposed corridors for new primary and branch roads for the 10-year period of the FMP
- the proposed operational road boundaries for the 10-year period of the FMP
- the proposed silvicultural ground rules
- the proposed operational prescriptions and conditions for areas of concern and important ecological features
Stage Three: Revision, Approval and Inspection of the Forest Management Plan would be similar to the existing process described in Part A of the FMPM for stage 5 of consultation.
2. Development of the Long-Term Management Direction for the Proposed Neskantaga Forest
For the development of the long-term management direction for the proposed Neskantaga Forest Part A, Sections 1.2 to 1.6 of the FMPM 2020 would apply subject to identified exceptions to specific requirements. The exceptions to specific requirements relate primarily to the application of decision support systems (i.e., forest estate models), classification of the forest (i.e., forest units), development of a base model inventory and base model, application of the Forest Management Guide for Boreal Landscapes (i.e., Boreal Landscape Guide), and consultation requirements as discussed above.
Currently, MNRF is responsible for creating a Forest Resource Inventory (FRI) that provides complete coverage based on the area within the boundaries of MU’s across the province. An Ontario based FRI is currently unavailable for most of the Far North, necessitating different inventory techniques to capture and map land cover information. The National Forest Inventory (NFI) can be considered the best available data and would be relied on to provide information to support the preparation of the FMP for the proposed Neskantaga Forest.
The NFI provides the best available forest resource information (e.g., species composition) to facilitate meeting the proposed strategic level planning requirements of the FMPM for the Neskantaga Forest (e.g., forest classification, eligible areas, identification of preferred harvest areas). The NFI would also support the development of specific management objectives and strategies for the forest and facilitate operational planning (e.g., identification of harvest areas, operational prescriptions for harvest, renewal and tending operations).
3. Forest Management Guide for Boreal Landscapes
The Boreal Landscape Guide provides direction to achieve the principles of the CFSA by emulating natural forest conditions that provide for the long-term health of forest ecosystems. The direction is used by planning teams to develop a FMP where the landscape is demonstrated to maintain or move toward estimates of natural forest structure, composition, and pattern. The direction is applied at large scales (tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of square kilometres) using detailed inventory information
Application of the Boreal Landscape Guide direction to the Neskantaga MU is not appropriate: the small size of the MU does not lend to developing or managing for simulated ranges of natural variability; and further, due to the lack of a detailed forest resource inventory, ranges of natural variation cannot be estimated. The proposed FMPM amendments would, therefore, not require the detailed application of the Boreal Landscape Guide in the development of a forest management plan for the Neskantaga MU.
However, principles of the Boreal Landscape Guide would apply. Components of the fine filter direction for woodland caribou consistent with the principles of the CFSA and the emulation of natural disturbance, will be implemented in the FMP. The revised FMPM would include requirements for the planning team to assess and document how the FMP addresses the natural condition of the forest and how the harvest pattern is consistent with natural disturbances. The proposal is to have the FMP to the extent possible, focus on a range of cut blocks sizes resulting in a forest pattern consistent with burns and mature and old forest found within the surrounding area (Ecoregion 2W), in order to emulate natural disturbance in a manner that provides for the sustainability of the Crown forest. Additionally, the proposed amendments to the FMPM would require components of the fine filter direction for woodland caribou set out in the Boreal Landscape Guide to be considered in the development of the FMP. This direction is aimed at providing future habitat for caribou, and allowing caribou to re-occupy previous used or alternate habitat tracts, and identifying a defragmentation strategy to reduce edge and internal structure.
A consideration in proposing this approach is the recognition that the Neskantaga MU has had limited development (i.e. the existing forest condition is considered close to natural), and the anticipated small footprint of proposed forest operations (approximately 100 ha/year). In contrast, operations in other MUs occur at scales of on average between 500 ha on smaller MUs to 8,000 ha per year on larger MUs.
Stand and Site Guide
Forest operations in the proposed Neskantaga Forest would remain subject to direction in the Forest Management Guide for Conserving Biodiversity at the Stand and Site Scales (i.e., Stand and Site Guide). Also, operational prescriptions and conditions would be applied using Traditional Indigenous Knowledge through the implementation of the FMP to ensure the protection of Neskantaga First Nation values. The FMPM would also require the planning team to implement stand and site level direction for woodland caribou habitat (e.g., harvest stands in large, contiguous tracts to mimic fire disturbances) subject to any modifications deemed necessary in the circumstances.
Incorporating the principles from the Boreal Landscape Guide, applying relevant stand and site level direction from the guides as well as fine filter for woodland caribou would assist operations to avoid and minimize adverse impacts on biodiversity.
Provisions would be included in the FMPM that would provide that steps taken to develop a FMP for the Neskantaga Forest prior to the amendment of the FMPM may fulfill FMPM requirements provided those steps were carried out in accordance with the applicable FMPM requirements. Approval of the FMP for the Neskantaga Forest would not occur until after the effective date of the FMPM and following an assessment to determine compliance with the requirements of the revised FMPM.
Exemption from the requirements under the Environmental Assessment Act
In addition to seeking input on the proposed amendment to the FMPM, this proposal posting is also seeking input on the proposed amendment to Regulation 334 (General) under the EAA to exempt forest management activities in the proposed Neskantaga Forest MU from the requirements of the EAA.
This exemption aligns with MNRF’s Forest Sector Strategy which aims to create efficiencies and ensure the sustainability of Crown forests.
As part of MECP’s efforts to modernize the environmental assessment process, forestry activities will continue under the CFSA and we removed the duplicative requirements in the Declaration Order under the EAA, while ensuring we protect the environment.
Over the years, the MNRF has developed policies, manuals, programs and procedures that ensure oversight and protection of the environment in forest management planning activities.
The proposed Neskantaga Forest MU, and the forest management activities that would occur within the proposed management unit, are outside of the area of Ontario to which the forestry exemption in s. 8.1 of Regulation 334 applies. Therefore, these proposed forest management activities are presently subject to a comprehensive (individual) environmental assessment under the EAA. Comprehensive environmental assessments are prepared for large-scale, complex projects with the potential for significant environmental effects.
MNRF, in consultation with MECP is proposing an amendment to Regulation 334 to exempt forest management activities within the proposed Neskantaga Forest MU from the EAA. The proposed area for the Neskantaga Forest MU (approximately 50,000 ha) is small compared to other MU’s (which range from approximately 305, 000 ha to 3.6 million ha), and MNRF’s policies, regulations and guidelines would maintain environmental protections without the need for a comprehensive environmental assessment. Operation of the proposed biomass energy facility would require the harvest of approximately 100 hectares per year of forest from Crown land near the community. This is far less than typical management units in Ontario
The ecological features of the proposed Neskantaga Forest MU are similar to those present in the management units within the former area of the undertaking (i.e., ecoregion 2W) to which s. 8.1 of Regulation 334 applies. It is, therefore, ecologically appropriate to employ the forest management planning principles applicable in those other management units to the Neskantaga MU, with appropriate modifications to reflect the smaller size of the Neskantaga MU. The exemption would also provide stakeholders with one-window for consultation and issues resolution for forest management planning through MNRF. Additionally, the comprehensive environmental assessment process can take up to six years to complete; therefore, an exemption would reduce timelines associated with the preparation of a forest management plan and enable Neskantaga First Nation to move towards eliminating the need for dirty diesel generation in a timely manner.
Designation of a Management Unit
In Ontario, distinct geographic areas known as MU are established to allow for the effective and efficient administration and delivery of forest management planning, forest operations, and forest resource licensing. The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry can establish “all or part of a Crown forest as a management unit” under section 7 of the CFSA. To support this proposal, the MNRF would be designating a MU for the proposed Neskantaga Forest.
The MNRF would determine the appropriate First Nation and Métis community consultation for the MU designation. Consultation would be coordinated with the forest management planning process.
Public notification would occur in advance of the designation of the MU. The notification would occur concurrently with the preparation of the FMP for the proposed Neskantaga Forest. The designation of the MU would align with the scheduled implementation date of the new FMP for the proposed Neskantaga Forest.
Forest Resource Processing Facility
Section 53 of the CFSA requires a licence to operate a forest resource processing facility. A facility licence would be required to operate Neskantaga First Nation’s proposed biomass energy facility. The Ministry may issue the licence when regulatory requirements for the licences have been met by the applicant. The decision to issue a facility licence is independent of decisions regarding the proposed amendment to the FMPM or the designation of a MU for the proposed Neskantaga Forest.
Public consultation opportunities
MNRF would provide opportunities for stakeholder groups and the public to discuss the amendment to the FMPM during the comment period. MNRF would also consult with Neskantaga First Nation and surrounding First Nation communities.
If you have questions regarding the amendment process, please email ManualsRevisionProject@ontario.ca.
Regulatory impact statement
The anticipated environmental, social and economical consequences of the proposal are positive and align with the purposes of the EAA and CFSA. The purpose of the CFSA is to provide for the sustainability of Crown forests and, in accordance with that objective, to manage public forests to meet social, economic, and environmental needs of present and future generations. The purpose of the EAA is the betterment of the people of the whole or any part of Ontario by providing for the protection, conservation, and wise management in Ontario of the environment.
Stewardship of Ontario’s public forests, including fish and wildlife habitat, and protection for species at risk considerations would continue to be provided with the implementation of the amendment to the FMPM.
The anticipated social consequences of the proposal are positive. The revised direction in the FMPM would provide for positive social impacts by:
- providing effective and meaningful approaches to public consultation and First Nation involvement
- maintaining an efficient forest management program that supports the viability of the Neskantaga Forest, which in turn supports community health and socio-economic wellness
- enabling direction that protects cultural heritage values and resource-based tourism values in Crown forests
The anticipated economic consequences of the proposal are positive. The amended FMPM would enable economic opportunities for Neskantaga First Nation and may help with potential future initiatives in the Far North.
This proposed approach for enabling the preparation and implementation of a FMP for the Neskantaga Forest has no new administrative costs or new direct compliance costs to business as a result of this proposal. This proposed approach enables small scale forest management to occur on the Neskantaga Forest to enable the establishment of a biomass energy facility. This opportunity would not be feasible under the existing forest policy framework for the preparation and implementation of a FMP due to the time to prepare a FMP, the scale of the project, and the complexity of the planning process.
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Important notice: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, viewing supporting materials in person is not available at this time.
Please reach out to the Contact listed in this notice to see if alternate arrangements can be made.
70 Foster Drive
Sault Ste Marie, ON
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