Algonquin is the oldest provincial park in Ontario, and each year its scenic views play host to thousands of campers, canoeists, hikers, and general nature goers. Yet few people realize that Algonquin is also the only provincial park in Ontario that allows commercial logging.
According to the Algonquin Forestry Authority (AFA), the provincial agency in charge of logging within the park, commercial logging has been taking place in Algonquin for over 200 years.
As of 2021, however, the park’s forest management plan is up for renewal. This plan determines where, over the next 10 years, wood can be sustainably harvested within Algonquin. The plan is on its third iteration and is up for public comment until January 22.
The Wilderness Committee, a national non-profit devoted to the preservation of wildlife and wilderness, is using the plan’s renewal to lobby for an end to commercial logging in Algonquin.
“We don’t think commercial logging belongs in a protected park,” says Katie Krelove, an Ontario campaigner for the Wilderness Committee. “There’s a good reason why logging is banned in all other protected parks, because it does not conform to what the legal mandate for protected parks is, which is to manage them for the highest level of ecological integrity.”
Krelove points to a report released last month by auditor general Bonnie Lysyk, where Lysyk wrote that “65% of Algonquin Provincial Park does not meet criteria for reporting it as a protected area because of commercial logging.” She recommended reviewing the impact commercial logging has on the park’s ecological integrity.
While 65 per cent of the park is zoned for commercial logging, Gord Cumming, the chief forester for the AFA, argues that the available area is actually closer to 51 per cent due to shorelines, swamps, and other areas that can’t be harvested from. In fact, harvesting activities in Algonquin take place on approximately one per cent of the park’s forested area in a given year.
Cumming says the park also has restrictions in place to keep logging sustainable while not disturbing wildlife and park users. “We have timing restrictions,” he says. “No operations within 1.6 kilometres of any canoe routes or portages from July 1 to the Labour Day Weekend.”
Ninety-five per cent of harvesting in the park is done with partial cutting. This system is designed to remove designated trees, while leaving better quality trees that will continue to provide seeds and shelter needed for natural regeneration. The final five per cent of trees harvested, however, are clearcut.
Over the last decade, the provincial government has reduced the areas zoned for harvesting in Algonquin. In 2013, an amendment to Algonquin’s park management plan, decreased the potential harvesting area from 78 percent to the current 65 per cent.
Krelove claims that this reduction in zoned harvesting areas is recognition on the part of the provincial government that commercial logging does have an impact on the park’s ecology. She also points out that the park management plan—which differs from the forest management plan in that it determines how the park is run and what it’s used for—is also due for a renewal.
The park management plan was last rewritten in 1998 and is supposed to be revisited every 20 years, making it two years overdue. “That’s where there would be an opportunity to actually rethink commercial logging in the park,” Krelove says.
As a result, the Wilderness Committee is urging the public to comment on the forest management plan renewal, to voice their opinions on commercial logging in Algonquin and to remind the provincial government that the park management plan needs to be updated. “We’re trying to raise awareness,” Krelove says. “Make the idea of phasing [logging] out more commonly known.”