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Planned audit of province's forests will help to determine their status.

Planned audit of province's forests will help to determine their status

The provincial government is planning to undertake an audit of Ontario's forests.

The proposal is part of a plan for sustainable development which is before the provincial cabinet, said Natural Resources Minister Bud Wildman.

"An audit is the first step in assessing the status of the forests," Wildman said in a telephone interview in late January.

The minister said the terms of reference for the audit have not yet been established.

However, he expects the audit will include examination of different types of sites, harvesting methods, time spans between harvest and regeneration, the state of new forests and the success of natural and artificial regeneration.

The audit would be designed to provide a real picture of the forests in Ontario.

Trees in selected plots would be studied by species, health and number, and the results would be extrapolated for a view of the whole province, Wildman explained.

The minister does not believe that the audit would be a duplication of the current environmental assessment (EA) hearings into Ontario's timber management practices.

"I don't see it as duplication," he said. "I see it, hopefully, as complementary."

The hearings have a far wider scope than the "snapshot" of the forests that an audit will provide, he added.

The length of the audit will depend on its design and terms of reference, Wildman said. He estimates it will take about one year to complete.

In addition, he said there will be consultations with the many forest stakeholders before the audit begins.

The new minister was not surprised that an audit had not been undertaken when he took over the natural resources portfolio last fall.

"We have been calling for an audit for some time, at least 10 years," said Wildman, who had been the NDP's natural resources critic.

"What is surprising is the general agreement that there should be an audit done," he said, noting that there have been such calls from the industry.

AUDIT WELCOMED

One group calling for an audit has been the Ontario Forest Industries Association.

Association president I.D. (Joe) Bird believes an audit would be of benefit to the public which, he notes, is the owner of much of the forested land in Ontario.

"We think they deserve to know," Bird said.

A management and performance audit may indicate directions for change, he added.

Bird believes that complete and accurate information would help prevent "crazy" decisions like those made in the Temagami forest dispute.

"It's extremely urgent," he said. "Ideally, we should have the results tomorrow."

Before the government launches any such audit, he hopes that the criteria will be established through consultation with interested parties.

"We have some suggestions to make, and I'm sure others will, too."

Bird predicts that an audit will have to be updated from time to time, and the initial effort will establish the benchmark for future audits.

An audit means different things to different people, he said, noting that some people may consider the five-year reviews of forest management agreements (FMAs) an audit. FMAs cover 70 per cent of the forest areas in Ontario.

NO CONNECTION

Wildman disputed media reports that plans for an audit are connected to the revelation of a massive clearcut in Northern Ontario.

It was only "in the minds of the media" that such a connection was made, he said.

The clearcut was revealed by Crandall Benson, an associate professor of forestry at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

In a presentation to the EA he a telephone interview with Northern Ontario Business.

Benson said his presentation dealt with what cut-over land is regenerating into.

In his presentation, Benson said a contiguous clearcut of 2,693 square kilometres existed southwest of Kapuskasing. That figure was later challenged at the hearing by a lawyer for the Ontario Forest Industries Association.

"I stand by the numbers I gave," Benson said, noting that he expected his figures to be accurate to plus or minus 10 per cent.

"It's still a fairly substantial area," he said, noting that it can be seen quite clearly on the satellite photo.

Benson said the other point he tried to make was that contiguous cuts are not the best harvesting methods for forest sites or the preservation of wildlife habitat.

Instead, he would like to see smaller and broken-up cuts for better habitat and site protection.

Benson believes that changes may be on the way.

"I think they (the NDP government) will affect some changes," he said.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Report on Forestry
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Words:751
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