Community-based Land Use Planning approach for the Northern Boreal Initiative - 2002
The Northern Boreal Initiative (NBI) is a program established in 2000 to develop new forestry and other development opportunities in Ontario’s far north. This would affect the forests up to 150 km north of the area where commercial forestry is currently authorized. The total potential area may be 6 million hectares. Calling it an essential first step, the Ministry of Natural Resources developed a Community-based Land Use Planning approach for the NBI in 2002.
The boreal forests in the NBI area have global importance, identified by the United Nations Environment Programme as one of the world’s remaining significant “closed canopy” forests. These undisturbed forests are dominated by black spruce and jackpine, intermixed with small lakes. Wetlands, ranging from small to very large, are a significant feature of this landscape. The NBI area is also home to 11 First Nation communities, most of them inaccessible by road. The impetus for the NBI came from the interest of First Nations in resource development, as well as the government’s commitment to the forest industry to open the lands to commercial forestry.
The Ontario Forest Accord
One of the commitments of the Ontario Forest Accord, signed in 1999 by MNR, the forest industry and a coalition of environmental groups, was to open up these far northern lands to commercial forestry as quickly as possible, subject to the full agreement of affected First Nation communities, approval under the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA), and the creation of parks and protected areas. The Forest Accord was signed at the conclusion of the Ontario’s Living Legacy (OLL) planning process that took place to the south of the NBI area, and the commitment to open up these northern lands was in part a trade-off for fibre losses due to the creation of parks in the OLL area.
The NBI Community-based Land Use Planning Process
NBI’s Community-based Land Use Planning process is intended to be led by First Nations, with support and input from MNR and other provincial agencies. The resulting Land Use Strategies are expected to set out land use designations and allocations for protected areas, traditional use areas, commercial forestry and tourism. While the catalyst for the NBI planning exercise was forestry, other development opportunities will also be considered in the process, and may result in increased road development, mining exploration and hydro-electric development.
Although planning and decision-making will be carried out at the community level, some subjects, such as protected areas and wildlife, will be considered at much broader landscape scales, such as MNR’s ecological regions or watersheds. Unlike the OLL area to the south, there is no broad regional land use strategy to guide community planning, so local planning needs have to be integrated with broader goals and objectives – for example, with targets set by the province for the required number of protected areas.
The first step in each First Nations’ planning exercise will be the development of a terms of reference that will set out the details of the planning and consultation for the land use strategy. MNR has committed to providing consultation opportunities at set points during the development of each land use strategy through the Environmental Registry and by other means. The strategies will be approved both by the First Nations through community-determined procedures and by MNR under the Public Lands Act.
MNR said that as of November 2002, 11 First Nations communities were already working with NBI. MNR is carrying out the land use planning for the gaps on the land base between areas chosen by the First Nations. The ministry has set up an NBI Protected Areas Working Group, including representatives from MNR, Ontario Parks and environmental groups, to work on developing objectives and criteria for establishing protected areas. MNR has also been working to engage First Nations in this process.
MNR made very good use of the Environmental Registry for this project, first posting an information notice in 2000 at the very early stages of discussions about the NBI, and then a proposal notice with a long comment period on the Community-based Land Use Process in 2001. The ministry also responded well to requests for additional consultation, hosting a two-day meeting with First Nations at their request and extending the comment period. Comments were received from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), which represents 49 individual First Nations in northern Ontario; Keewaytinook Okimakanak, representing six First Nations; one of the First Nations; and two non-governmental organizations.
In its written comments, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation expressed serious concerns and a lack of trust of MNR’s motives. NAN suggested that the Northern Boreal Initiative is a thinly veiled attempt by MNR to access resources without properly consulting all NAN First Nations. The NBI is a tool for MNR to use the involvement of a few communities, NAN said, as a justification for broad-scale resource development north of the 50th parallel. NAN stated that the level and quality of consultation cited in the NBI is not in keeping with the Consultation Policy and Procedure that NAN has developed for natural resource consultation. It also expressed concern about First Nations control, costs, revenue sharing and other issues.
The individual First Nations that submitted comments were concerned that the Community-based Land Use Planning process required First Nations to secure funding to carry out activities such as community consultation, planning and data collection, since “. . . the resources available to the First Nations do not accommodate the approach suggested by the Northern Boreal Initiative.” MNR’s response in its decision notice was to repeat that “the expectation is that First Nations communities will be seeking funding arrangements through a number of agencies; this sourcing of funds will appropriately reflect agency interests and responsibilities.”
The provincial government did provide funding, however. Between 2000 and 2002, almost $3 million was disbursed to First Nations involved in the NBI from the Living Legacy Trust. The funds were awarded to the First Nations for Community-based Land Use Planning, biophysical data collection and other related activities. In December 2002, approximately half a million dollars was provided over three years through the Ontario Trillium Foundation to assist NAN in hiring forestry coordinators and developing an approach to land management planning. First Nations continue to seek and receive funding through other sources as well, such as the federal government.
One of the commenting environmental groups felt strongly that community-based land use planning should be applied only after a broad landscape-level plan had been developed that identified all core protected areas and provincially significant features such as wetlands. It stated that such inventories are currently lacking, and that the province should ensure that resources and capacity are available to gather this data before strategic land use planning and development begins.
Another group also suggested that, like protected areas, roads and other potential industrial activities should be planned at a larger scale than the community level. The public will get further opportunity to comment on this initiative during the environmental assessment process, and during comment periods on the Registry associated with each land use planning process.
Because forestry has not yet been allowed this far north, the Northern Boreal Initiative area contains one of the largest intact forests in the world. The environmental impacts of permitting forestry in the northern boreal forest have not yet been assessed formally, and will require either approval or exemption under the EAA. Forestry will require different approaches in the northern boreal than in the south because of the physical environment, harsh climate and short growing season. In the northern boreal forest, trees tend to be slower growing and the forests are less diverse. Site conditions vary from dry to moist, with a larger proportion of moist and wet conditions than further south. Forestry and road development may have significant impacts on the fragile northern boreal forest and upon wide-ranging wildlife species that are sensitive to human disturbance, such as the wolverine and woodland caribou.
The ECO believes that it is imperative that MNR assess the ecological implications of industrial logging in the northern boreal forest and make the research results available to the public. MNR should also keep in mind that the NBI’s boundaries are arbitrary, and many watersheds and ecological boundaries straddle them. There is a need to integrate inventories and other ecological data with corresponding units in the areas to the south.
In the Ontario’s Living Legacy land use planning process, one of the goals was to protect remnant natural areas that remained after years of forestry, road and other development. For the most part, the NBI area contains fully intact, fully functioning ecosystems. This is an opportunity to protect a large network of parks and protected areas before the area is opened up to resource development. The application of the precautionary principle should be an integral component to this approach. (See also Creating a Biodiversity Framework for Ontario.) Landscape level planning should inform community-by-community decision-making. It is commendable that the ministry has committed to planning for parks before development occurs. The ECO believes that objectives and targets for protected areas should be developed for the NBI area as a whole. MNR also needs to clarify who is responsible for funding and carrying out protected areas inventories. First Nations, and particularly the umbrella organization NAN, raised major concerns about the NBI, indicating a mistrust of MNR and its motives. Yet it appears that planning is proceeding in many individual communities, perhaps indicating that the process has provided a reasonable framework. MNR has committed to a community-led process, and to dual endorsement of the land use strategies by both MNR and the First Nations communities. Clearly, transparency will be a key to implementing this initiative.
The ECO recommends that the Ministry of Natural Resources conduct gap analyses and develop objectives and targets in order to establish a protected areas network for the Northern Boreal Initiative area as a whole.
The Ministry of Natural Resources should carry out a thorough assessment of forest management approaches that are ecologically suited to the northern boreal forest and make the research results available to the public.
|This is an article from the 2002/03 Annual Report to the Legislature from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.|
Citing This Article
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2003. "The Northern Boreal Initiative." Thinking Beyond the Near and Now, ECO Annual Report, 2002-03. Toronto, ON : Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 91-95.