Ontario- Will Ontario's new tenure system support community-based forest management?


Ontario's Forest Tenure Modernization Act's creation of two new governance models for sustainable forest licenses: Local Forest Management Corporations (LFMC) and Enhanced Shareholder SFLs. What are the implications of these for community-based forest management?

Will Ontario’s New Tenure System Support Community-Based Forest Management?

Ontario’s Forest Tenure Modernization Act created two new forest governance models for sustainable forest licences:  Local Forest Management Corporations (LFMCs) which are Crown agencies and Enhanced  Shareholder SFLs . Over the next 5 to 7 years, the province plans to establish two LFMCs and make a significant shift from single entity and shareholder SFLs to Enhanced Shareholder SFLs.  Evaluation criteria will be established to assess both models during this pilot period. The government has indicated that continued engagement of all stakeholders and Aboriginal people will occur for the development of the evaluation criteria and the detailed design and implementation of both models.

 Will the new approach will work for communities? The previous tenure system, which licensed timber only to commodity forest industries and involved a minimal diversity of actors and forest products, systematically failed to generate progressive, forest-based development in northern Ontario. Because the system was set up to take revenue out of the region, it led to dependent and unstable rural economies in both municipalities and First Nations. Communities were alienated from decision-making on matters fundamental to the economic, social and cultural future of the north. Constitutionally-recognized Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada were largely ignored by the province when issuing licences to the forest industry on First Nation traditional territories.

The development of a new forest tenure system was a driver for many communities in northern Ontario to advocate for community-based forest management (CBFM). This contemporary forest governance approach has been an increasing global policy trend for the past several decades. Extensive research worldwide has indicated that CBFM results in more equitable and sustainable management of forests than the conventional approach, when appropriate forest governance institutions including tenure security and local decision-making power are in place.

A number of CBFM initiatives have thus emerged as partnerships between First Nations and municipalities with distinct histories and cultures, but who share a dependence on the same local forests for their livelihoods and culture. Associated with these initiatives is the desire for local control of forests, community economic development, best end use of forest resources, and recognition of Aboriginal rights. The partnerships exemplify that all northern Ontarians are treaty people with rights and interests in their local lands and that positive relationships can be built among all types of forest-dependent communities based on respect for the treaties. These community forest initiatives hold the promise of diversifying the northern forest economy by placing decision-making in local hands. Their success will require recognition and facilitation by the Province of Ontario through the new forest tenure models.  Yet several key concerns about the new tenure approach remain.

Both new tenure models will have boards of directors.  LFMC board members will be appointed by the government and will include local and Aboriginal representation while Enhanced Shareholder SFLs will have a shareholder board of directors that the government suggests will include meaningful local and Aboriginal community involvement.  it is unclear precisely how community board members will be selected for either model to ensure that local communities will obtain decision-making power in local forest management.

For community forests to succeed, it is crucial that they retain the revenue they generate.  Only then can they achieve real economic development; increasingly productive, happy, self-governing people that result from the aaccumulation of human, social and physical capital while the renewable natural capital  - the local forest  -  is maintained . While LFMCs will get to keep the revenue, this is not the case for the Enhanced Shareholder SFLs.

The CBFM initiatives are focused on the development of community-based forest enterprises based not only on timber but also non-timber forest products (NTFPs). However, the new tenure system is still limited to the harvest of timber. There is no mention of other forest values such as non-timber resources for diversification to promote community economic development. There are still no regulations in Ontario governing NTFPs, many of which are part of the historic land use patterns of First Nations and therefore integrally tied to Aboriginal and treaty rights.

While the Ontario Forest Tenure Modernization Act provides a small window for community forest initiatives, it remains to be seen whether the revisions will be sufficient to support their success. However, given that many northern Ontario communities are taking steps on their own resulting in stronger relationships and innovative ideas for forest management, further influence on government policy is likely.