The Ontario Ministry of Environment has advised me that although they do not have a direct role in regulating the clearing of private property for the purposes of agriculture, the province does delegate this matter to the upper- and lower-tier municipalities through the Official Plan process.
Under the Municipal Act 2001, section 135, an upper tier municipality (i.e. SDG council made up of our mayors and deputy mayors) has the authority to pass bylaws for woodlots that are one hectare or more. They may also require that a permit be obtained before the commencement of any forest-cutting operations. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources only has jurisdiction on “species at risk,” meaning you can cut a million trees, but you cannot cut a butternut tree.
Conservation Authorities have no jurisdiction on tree cutting of woodlots or along waterways. It can prevent the deforestation of designated wetlands. Under the Conservation Authorities Act, the protection of shorelines is just that — the shorelines, nothing above the shore banks, which allows agribusiness to work the land right to the top of the banks causing erosion and fertilizer runoff into the water. It does protect water buffer zones from “new development,” meaning buildings.
OMAFRA published the Best Management Practices series which is described as “a practical affordable approach to conserving a farm’s soil and water resources without sacrificing productivity”. It presents affordable options to protect the soil and water, and harmonizes productivity and the environment. It presents plans for environmentally responsible management practices and stresses the demonstration of stewardship to neighbours. Their publications include topics on windbreaks and woodlots.
All sounds good except that these are all voluntary. Under the Ontario Municipal Act, farmers do not have a free hand at clear cutting woodlots for crop purposes. Municipalities can set their own tree-cutting by-laws to maintain their healthy tree cover, which is 30 percent for minimum environmental impact. We are at 13.3 percent in North Dundas. Why no action from SDG? The attitude seems to be that landowners should be compensated for protecting trees. Well, where will the money come from? Ontario is going bankrupt. Manufacturing has left Ontario like rats from a fire, reducing the tax coffers and creating more expenses supporting an ever increasing number of unemployed people. Or maybe the issue is just too close to home with by-laws affecting people we know.
My generation of farmers maintained fence lines for erosion control and bird habitat. They had a small woodlot for firewood and maple syrup, also home for the local wildlife. There was no need for by-laws then. Life was not all about the money. It was about doing the right thing to protect the soil and water for future generations.
Unfortunately with retirements and deaths, these family-owned farms are being gobbled up by investment groups, corporations and a few families expanding their land holdings. It no longer is about the long-term view of producing crops while protecting the environment. It’s all about the bottom line on a financial statement. And that wise old saying: “He (she) that protests the loudest … still rings true today. It’s now up to the voters to stand up for change.