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Québec's Forest System

 

My country [ …] is winter … says Québec singer-songwriter Gilles Vigneault. And forests too, would be an appropriate postscript. Because Québec’s forests provide shelter for approximately 225 bird species and more than 60 mammal species. Because they contain nearly 50 tree species and a broad range of plants and bushes. Because more than three and a half million people visit the forests every year to practise outdoor leisure activities. And because the forests provide direct jobs for nearly 90,000 Québecers. The forests, like winter, have shaped both the history of Québec and the hearts of its people.

Approximately 90% of Québec’s forests are under public ownership; in other words, they belong to the population of Québec and are managed on its behalf by the gouvernement du Québec. To help it fulfill this responsibility, the government has devised a Forest System composed of a set of legislation and regulations governing the protection and renewal of the forests while allowing for economic development.

Some background information

The forest industry only began to flourish in the early 1900s, with the development of the pulp and paper sector. The government introduced some significant incentives to attract the large pulp and paper companies to the province. In 1934, for example, it introduced the timber limit system that allowed the companies to appropriate and control large tracts of forest.

The Forest System dates back to 1820, when the government first became involved in forestry by charging dues for timber harvested on Crown lands. Most of the timber was exported in its raw state, and the benefits of processing were lost.

 

However, the dues paid to the government for the timber harvested in the public forests in no way reflected its true value. Environmental concerns were virtually non-existent, and the public was completely excluded from the forest management process.

A revolution

In the latter half of the last century, mechanization of forestry work and the growing demand for timber led to some major changes in the management of Québec’s public forests. In 1986, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the Forest Act and revoked the timber limit system. Under the new Act, the companies harvesting timber from the public forests had to:

  • Comply with the allowable annual cut – in other words, the volume of timber they harvest each year must not exceed the volume produced each year by the forest.

  • Carry out the silvicultural treatments needed to ensure that post-logging regenerated stands are equivalent to the pre-logging stands they have replaced.

  • Ensure that wildlife and habitats, watercourses and shores, landscapes and soils are preserved during logging and management work, and be respectful of the needs of other forest users including hikers, hunters and fishers.

  • Pay dues that reflect the true value of the timber harvested.

The timber supply and forest management agreement (TSFMA)

The Forest Act introduced a new timber allocation mechanism known as the timber supply and forest management agreement (TSFMA). A TSFMA is an agreement signed by the government and a wood processing mill owner, authorizing the mill owner to harvest a predetermined volume of timber every year. In return, the mill owner is required to carry out the silvicultural work needed to ensure the regeneration of a new stand, and to pay dues for the timber harvested. The dues are payable in money or in the form of silvicultural work.

The general forest management plan (GFMP)

Companies that are authorized to harvest timber in the public forests must first prepare a general forest management plan (GFMP). The plan, which applies to a predetermined area, presents the management strategies – in other words, the combination of silvicultural work – required to protect the environment and regenerate the harvested stands. It also contains a description of the area, the locations and sizes of treatment sites and an estimate of the timber available for harvesting.

Public consultations

All GFMPs must be approved by the Minister of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Parks. However, before approval, they are made available to the public for a period of 45 days, so that members of the public have an opportunity to express any concerns they many have about the plan’s content. The plans must also be submitted to the regional county municipality (RCM) so that it, too, can comment on the proposed work.

The Regulation respecting standards of forest management for forests in the domain of the State (RSFM)

Everyone who harvests timber or carries out management work in the public forest must comply with the Regulation respecting standards of forest management for forests in the domain of the State (RSFM).

The RSFM, prepared jointly by the authorities responsible for wildlife and the environment, contains a series of rules aimed at promoting the renewal of the forest and the protection of water, wildlife, plant and soil resources. The Regulation also ensures that forestry work is harmonized with other forest-based activities. Among other things, it requires protective strips of forest to be left standing along watercourses, and establishes the maximum size of logging areas. It contains nearly 400 standards, all of which are designed to protect the forests and their components.

The public land use plan (PLUP)

Forestry work must also comply with the public land use plan, which is a map-based document establishing the sites requiring special protection. For example, forestry work is prohibited in parks and ecological reserves, and is authorized on certain conditions in wildlife habitats and on recreational, cultural or archaeological sites. It is permitted everywhere else, provided it complies with the various laws and regulations in force.

An in-depth review

The Forest Act is amended regularly to reflect new knowledge and new public needs. The most recent round of amendments began in 1998 with a review of the forest system and a reassessment of the issues emerging from sustainable development requirements. In 2001, following extensive public consultations, the National Assembly finally adopted the Act to amend the Forest Act and other legislative provisions.

The goals of the review were to reconcile different forest uses, ensure that the forest is used in a way that is beneficial to the entire population, and encourage public participation in the forest management process.

Reconciling forest uses

In future, the forestry companies must invite the RCMs, wildlife area managers and Native communities to take part in the GFMP preparation process. This new rule is designed to make sure the individuals and organizations that use the forests know one another and have an opportunity to talk about how to harmonize their activities. The GFMPs are made available to the general public before being approved by the Minister.

New users

As a result of the amendments to the Forest Act, mill owners no longer have exclusive rights to harvest timber and manage the public forests.

Municipalities, Native communities and forestry cooperatives can also obtain forest management contracts (FMCs), which allow them to harvest and sell timber and apply the treatments required to ensure renewal of the forest. These new stakeholders are subject to the same obligations as mill owners holding TSFMAs.

Greater public participation

The new forest system also reinforces the role played by the general public in the forest management process. The Consultation Policy on Québec’s Priorities for the Management and Development of the Forest Environment stipulates that consultations should be open to everyone, and that individuals and organizations wishing to express their views should be given at least 12 weeks to do so. The general public and the communities can therefore express their opinions of forestry policies and orientations, amendments to the legislation and regulations, and the use and development of the public forests.

To facilitate public participation in the forest management process, all plans and reports, including the general forest management plans (GFMPs), the annual forest management plans (AFMPs) and the annual forest management reports, are made available for consultation at the Department’s offices.

A modern system, respectful of the values of Québec society

If the forests of Québec are properly managed and their diversity is protected, they will always be able to meet the social, economic, cultural and spiritual needs of Québecers.

They should therefore be managed in a careful and sustainable way that is respectful of the values of Québec society. Concerns such as environmental protection, the conservation of biological diversity and


 

harmonization of different forest uses are just as important as economic development.

Québec’s forest system is designed to help achieve this goal. However, success will only be possible with the support and participation of the general public. The forest system review therefore reinforced the requirement for forest managers, developers and decision-makers to consult the individuals and communities affected by forestry work.