Ontario’s New Approach to Forest Management – Back to the Bad Old Days

It is really unbelievable that people had the right ideas more that 130 years ago and today we have leaders that still don’t get it.

JRS Op-Ed submission by SCGC Board Member, Phil Brennan

In 1967, Ontario’s Conservative Premier, John P. Robarts wrote about nature’s wealth that there was a growing “appreciation of the need to set aside and preserve inviolate against all development and commercial intrusion areas possessing unique or unusual attributes, be they forest communities, beach areas, geologic formations, sand dunes, marshlands, unusual or disappearing forms of wildlife, or any of a long list of situations which, once lost to “development”, can never be replaced.  And once gone, Ontario, and its people will be markedly and irretrievably the poorer for their loss.”

Picture of squirrel looking at the viewer. Photo by

Algonquin Park

Ontario’s forests have endured much as a result of European settlement, with considerable wasteful practices employed in the years from 1763 to 1841 in forests supplying timber to the Royal Navy and in Southern Ontario, providing lumber for a growing rural and urban population.

Extreme exploitation continued to be the way the forest was dealt with right up to the late 1800’s when some people began to see things differently. 

Then, in addition to great concern with forest fires, the Ontario government set up a Royal Commission in 1892 on “Forest Reservation and a National Park”.  They concluded that “the waste of one generation must be atoned for by the enforced economy of the next”.  They called for the establishment of Forest Reservation and National Game Preserve to: maintain the water supply; preserve the primaeval forest; protect wildlife; undertake experiments in forestry, make provisions for health and recreation, and secure for the surrounding regions the advantages of climate and water supply that retention of a large block of forest could give.”  

And, of course, one outcome of that long-ago report was the establishment of Algonquin Park in 1893.

It is really unbelievable that people had the right ideas more that 130 years ago and today we have leaders that still don’t get it.


For the next 40 years there was a clear recognition of the need to maintain the benefits that forests provide and to restore forests (particularly in Southern Ontario). 

From 1900 to 1950, in spite of two world wars and the Great Depression, Ontario established the Forestry Act, the first forestry school in Canada (University of Toronto), tree nurseries, the Angus seed plant, a forest insect laboratory, and significant reforestation efforts; the Agreement Forests, a survey of the Forest Resources of Ontario, and significant improvements in fire protection. 

Things were far from perfect still, particularly relative to the exploitation and shady regulation of timber resources, and the rise and fall and rise again of the pulp and paper industry. But the general trend was positive particularly with the development of a professional public service to replace an essentially patronage-based system associated with timber allocation.

To the EA Act

From the 1950s to the mid-1990’s the idea that our forests were just economic resources that create jobs shifted significantly. 

What emerged during those years was the reality that forests were complex ecological systems that provided critical and numerous other benefits- , clean water, recreational, biodiversity, educational and research opportunities,  homes for our wildlife and a major natural weapon to fight climate change. 

We moved from the Crown Timber Act (primarily written to balance harvest and forest growth) to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act in 1994.  Under Premier Bill Davis, Ontario enacted the Environmental Assessment Act in the mid-1970s whose purpose included protection, conservation, and wise management of Ontario’s environment. 

A Timber Management Class EA was produced in 1994.

Image of two people in a canoe on a misty lake, viewed from within a forest. Photo by Simone Wessels Bloom.

The Spectre of 'Red Tape'

Then came the first of the “red tape” strategies, starting with the 1995 Red Tape Commission under Premier Mike Harris. 

While the Commission was put down in 2003, our current government has decided to resurrect it – and take it to new and dangerous heights. 

On Canada Day, forestry was exempted from the EAA with a nonsense argument that this eliminates “duplication and administrative burden”. Human health and indigenous concerns be dammed.

They have also decreased the frequency of independent forest audits and changed Forest Manuals to effectively reduce public input in planning. 

In August they released a Forest Sector Strategy that flies in the face of sustainable forestry and climate change, and that was only supported by 30% of the people that commented on the initial proposal .

It claims to reduce barriers to accessing wood which is industry speak for we want it all – but just the good stuff. 

They get to double the cut, leave tons of waste, destroy the habitat of imperilled species such as boreal caribou, and you, the taxpayer get to help pay for the roads to expand the logging network. 

In addition, Ontario plans to permanently exempt logging from the Endangered Species Act in its Bill 229.

Set Back Decades

It is almost unbelievable that Ontario’s forest environment is being set back by decades and sadly with permanent and irreversible damage to the future of a truly sustainable forest, that serves all people, provides the biodiversity we need to protect our health, and protects us from the ravages of climate change.

While a few people will benefit greatly from these recent changes, Ontarians will pay a dreadful price for this government’s regressive approach to our environment and our home. 

We Need a Sustainable and Just Recovery

What we need right now is for the residents of Simcoe County to call on their local leaders to implement a sustainable just recovery from the COVID and not use this virus as a cover to do bad planning and approve greed.

We need sound investment in nature, in our communities and in our people to make a bright, sustainable future economy. 

Visit www.justrecoverysimcoe.ca and become involved. We need you now and you will be glad you did.

Phil Brennan is a retired Ontario forester and former Senior Manager for the Implementation of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.  He lives in Severn, Ontario.

*Resource Note:  For those of you with a strong interest in history and details of forestry in Ontario from 1793 to 1967 I recommend that you read – Lambert, Richard S. and Pross, Paul.  Renewing Nature’s Wealth – A Centennial History. 1967.  Her Majesty the Queen in right of Ontario – The Department of Lands and Forest. Printed in Canada by the Hunter Rose Company.

Just Recovery Simcoe is an alliance of 40+ groups from across Simcoe County and beyond.  Their core belief is that a healthy community is one that is equitable, environmentally friendly, and one that seeks to provide healthy places to live and work for all.  JustRecoverySimcoe.ca 

Help create a just and sustainable future.

If you’d like to be a part of this initiative, or have comments or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.