CPAWS questions Ontario's biofibre projects

January 21, 2009 – CPAWS Wildlands League expresses deep concerns regarding the province’s latest approach to biofibre projects. Recently the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and Ontario Power Generation released a request for expressions of interest for biofibre project proposals. CPAWS Wildlands League, a provincial conservation group, says the approach is ill conceived and its implementation could further threaten the sustainability of our forests and the stability of our climate.

“It is irresponsible for the Ontario Government to pursue a questionable economic policy that may pour fuel on the bonfire of climate change’, said Janet Sumner, Executive Director of CPAWS Wildlands League. “Bio energy is being touted as a carbon neutral energy source but may actually vacuum up forests and burn them. What we really need is natural carbon storage in growing and maturing forests and soil,” Sumner adds.

Further, the group warns that energy for transportation and processing biofibre may offset any gains from the plan and notes that taxpayers may end up subsidizing an industry to mine our forests of essential nutrients and habitat. “Ontario must not put our climate and forests in jeopardy while hiding behind a very real global economic crisis to do so,’ stated Sumner.

Biofibre refers to trees that are converted into wood pellets burned to generate electricity. These trees would largely come from logging ‘waste’ and ‘non commercial’ trees. OMNR promotes this as a bonafide green alternative to other forms of energy production and a way to save the foundering forest economy. Wildlands League is highly sceptical of both claims.

“In the natural world, there is no such thing as waste”, Trevor Hesselink, Wildlands League’s Forest Program Director explains. “Dead wood provides essential ecosystem functions like carbon storage, nutrient recycling, seedbeds and habitat for everything from salamanders to marten. Ontario’s logging practices create ‘waste’ because most logging skids whole trees to roadside where the logs are trucked away and the branches and tops left in mounds where they do little for forest function.”

Wildlands League suspects removing slash and commercially undesirable species may be the thin edge of the axe. Biofibre harvesting would encourage even more full-tree logging, and it may exert pressure to harvest trees at younger ages. “Right now, cutting trees at 100 years is putting pressure on wildlife that needs mature forests. What if we start harvesting every 40 or even 20 years for biofibre?” questions Hesselink. “As it is, OMNR has little capacity to oversee current practices. It is irresponsible to promote additional harvesting pressure that indiscriminate biofibre utilization would cause.”

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