Questions, concerns and some answers: Is forest clear-cutting legal? When? Where? Conditions?

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A clear cut forest that did not leave a buffer zone near a roadway or watercourse. 

Allyson Beauregard



A clear cut forest that did not leave a buffer zone near a roadway or watercourse. 

Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC – In the April 6 Pontiac Journal, columnist Katharine Fletcher described a foresty clear-cut in Thorne and raised several important questions; the Journal has investigated this issue further, to determine its legality and conditions.
The Québec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks crafted the Forest Act to preserve future wood supplies while
protecting the environment and wildlife. This meant major changes in tree-harvesting, replacing clear-cutting with a method called ‘cutting with protection of regeneration and soils’ (CPRS) where only mature trees over 10 centimetres in diameter are cut and the logging area is limited in size to minimize soil
erosion and promote regeneration.
Last fall, the MRC Pontiac’s mayors adopted Bylaw 214-2015 titled ‘Interim Control By-law relating to Forestry Activities on Private Lands’ to regulate tree-cutting “to ensure the protection of the forest cover and to promote sustainable development of private forests”.  
Region’s bylaw, enforced by each municipality
“The bylaw applies only to private land and although it’s a regional bylaw, each municipality must enforce it,” said Regent Dugas, the MRC’s Director of Territory. Enforcement is done by the person
issuing permits and certificates under municipal planning by-laws – building inspectors.
The bylaw controls the size, amount, and areas to be harvested. An authorization certificate is required for commercial cutting of more than 2 hectares; there are no limits on the areas of commercial cuts; and, only trees over 14 centimetres in diameter can be harvested. Very important, a 30 metre buffer zone must be maintained along roadsides and areas of aesthetic interest.
Since the by-law is
relatively new, many mayors are still studying it. “The building inspector issues cutting permits and hands out the regulations. It’s up to the owner
to follow them, and I assume the inspector
will do the follow-up
inspection, as with building permits,” said Colleen Larivière, Litchfield’s Mayor, who said any complaints should go to the building inspector.
Buffers along
creeks, roads
The bylaw allows cutting around lakeshores and riverbanks if a 30 metre buffer zone is kept; up to 40% of the timber can then be removed from the buffer over 15 years.  
Cutting is banned on shorelines – “littoral zones”, extending from the high-water mark to the centre of the lake, watercourse and wetland. Cutting is also forbidden within 200 metres of a heronry, and within 500 metres during the nesting period, April 1 to July 31.
There are
always exceptions
Although the bylaw clearly bans clear-cutting, it doesn’t apply when
the lot’s use is being changed, as in creating farmland, gravel, quarry or sand pits, for road construction, cultivating Christmas trees, or for the construction of
infrastructure requiring municipal zoning permits.
Clear-cutting may also be permitted if a forestry engineer, such as with the Groupement forestier du Pontiac, deems it to be in the forest’s best interest. “Such a cut is done quickly and can appear shocking, but it’s a harvesting method that has its place, especially for complete replanting,” said Martin Boucher, Director of the Groupement, who noted that only about 10% of the Pontiac’s 3,000 wood producers consult the Groupement before
cutting. 
“Clear-cutting depends on the species. Maple bushes should not be clear-cut, but for poplar stands, which usually have trees the same age, when the poplars reach 60 to 70 years old there is no other choice; wood quality deteriorates,” added Boucher. He said the Groupement completes about 40 clear-cuts per
year ranging from 1 to 40 hectares in size.
 Wood lot owners may also exceed the bylaw if they have a “prescription” drawn up by a forestry engineer.
Non-compliance
Breaking the bylaw brings a fine between $300-$1,000 for a first offence and $500-$2,000 for a second. According to Larivière, enforcing the bylaw could become
difficult, since it’s the municipality’s responsibility to pursue any legal actions. “The building inspector is not an environmental
engineer. If the problem is obvious, like verifying the size of cut trees, we can deal with it, but if it is more technical, we will hire a firm to offer recommendations, which is costly,” she explained, including additional costs for legal actions.
Isabelle Lavoie, Bristol’s building inspector, echoed Larivière: “We are not
professionals and can’t survey stumps, so when the bylaw has been contravened, we hire a forestry engineer to assess the damage and create a report, which costs a few thousand dollars. Then a notice of infraction is issued,
followed by a fine, and any legal proceedings — which all cost money,” she said. 
In addition, many property owners are not aware of the bylaw or even that work on private land is subject to any regulations. There has been no information campaign by the Ministry or the MRC-Pontiac.
Public forests
According to Dugas, forestry on crown land is regulated by Québec’s Forest Act; the Ministry enforces it and does the follow-up. Before logging, a forest management permit must be obtained from the Ministry; it details the
location and size of cutting areas, protections for wildlife and the environment, the application of silviculture treatments, and measures to promote regeneration, among others.
The situation in Thorne
According to Thorne’s Mayor, Terry Murdock, the MRC bylaw has not been adopted by his municipality, but will be during May’s council meeting. He recalled a clear cut done two years ago; the municipality attempted to take legal action, but gaps in the previous forestry bylaw prevented the file from moving forward. “It was like flogging a dead horse. We consulted a lawyer but were told the previous bylaw was not written properly to allow us to convict,” explained Murdock, who said the new bylaw rectifies this problem.
Murdock confirmed those doing commercial cuts are required to obtain
a permit from the municipal inspector, who will explain the regulations and later follow up to ensure they were followed. “There’s no excuse for ignorance,” he added, noting that, “By issuing permits, we know who is responsible for any road deterioration or other environmental damage.”