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Professor says MNR lacks clear policy direction.

Professor says MNR lacks clear policy direction

A report to the minister of Natural Resources entitled Renewing Ontario's Forest Policy has painted a gloomy picture of forest management in Ontario.

University of British Columbia professor Peter Pearse was asked last summer to prepare the report by Lyn McLeod, the minister of Natural Resources in the former Liberal government.

"My investigations and consultations have revealed a prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty and apprehension about how Ontario's forests are being managed," Pearse wrote. "Without clear policy objectives, frustrations tend to turn to skepticism, cynicism and acrimony. Every skirmish between opposing interests tends to aggravate the stress."

Pearse noted that in the middle of the growing tension is the provincial government, which cannot escape responsibility because it has clear jurisdiction over most forestry matters and ownership of 85 per cent of the forests.

However, Pearse discovered that the Ministry of Natural Resources lacks clear policy direction.

Natural Resources Minister Bud Wildman reviewed the report in January and commented, "It would be accurate to say I will respond to the criticism, not the recommendations."

Wildman explained that the report was "somewhat critical" of the province's management of its forests.

Pearse's report was submitted following a two-month-long process, in which he culled information from tourism, environmental, naturalist and forestry groups.

"I think the recommendations of Dr. Pearse will be responded to as part of the overall approach we're taking (towards forest management)," Wildman said.

Pearse reported that he found ministry officials conscious of the need to adapt to changing priorities, but limited in what they can do.

The professor explained that:

* legislation is mostly old and out of tune with current public values

* government has legal commitments in hundreds of licences and agreements with forest companies and others

* officials must administer established programs

* the ministry is limited by allocation of personnel and budget

* officials must act on without clear political direction

"Looking at these circumstances from the viewpoint of an outsider, I fear that the cost of this inertia in policy-making may be underestimated, even by those most directly involved in forestry affairs," Pearse reported.

"Certainly, it puts a heavy burden on the forest industry and, through it, the provincial economy. Uncertain about their future in the face of growing opposition from other interests, forest companies are becoming reluctant to invest in manufacturing plants and in forest enhancement in Ontario. The long-term result is reduced economic opportunities."

Pearse added that government policy on forestry can only be effective if it is understood and supported by the public.

"At present, it enjoys neither," he stated. "Public understanding has been blurred by fractious and disorderly debates about issues such as clear cutting, pesticides, fire and reforestation, which have produced more heat than light, and left much public misunderstanding and doubt."

Pearse concluded that Ontario needs a thorough public review of forestry policy.

In particular, he said broad policy direction is needed at the highest level before operational issues are addressed.

Although he uses the word inquiry, Pearse said he does not mean an inquest or formal judicial proceeding.

"What is needed in this case is an effective process for gathering public views, weighing them and articulating them in a way that the public can readily understand and the government can adopt as a basic framework for the management of Ontario's forests," he stated. "It must be able to work flexibly and quickly."

REPORT ORGANIZATION

Pearse believes that the inquiry's terms of reference should instruct it to formulate recommendations for sustainable development of the forest.

"Undoubtedly it implies a broader approach than the forester's traditional principle of sustained yield, which is enshrined in Ontario's forest legislation and licensing system, and which deals with the regulations of individual forests for continuing wood production," he wrote.
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Title Annotation:University of British Columbia professor Peter Pearse; Ministry of Natural Resources
Author:Bickford, Paul
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Words:625
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