Understanding Environmental Assessment Principles as It Pertains to Canada’s Forest
Understanding Environmental Assessment Principles as It Pertains to Canada’s Forest
There is no need to elaborate on the importance of protecting the environment and conservation of natural resources. There is also no need to belabor the point that sustainable practices should be implemented in various industries that need to exploit the earth’s ecosystem in order to generate business. But it must be made clear that all these can only be made possible by having a clear grasp of environmental assessment principles. An understanding of environmental principles will guide corporate and business policies.
This will in turn assure proper management of limited natural resources and even help establish a harmonious relationship between the firm and the affected community. The Canadian Federal Government had instituted a system where a projects that can cause adverse impact on the environment will have to go through a federally mandate process of review and assessment. The said procedure is simply called the Environmental Assessment and the lead agency for its implementation is the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
This paper will tackle the issues concerning the impact of Canadian wood industries as it pertains to the forest area of said region. This study will consist of two parts. The first one will contain an in-depth discussion of current environmental assessment principles. And the second part will be a basic discussion on the importance of said principles as it pertains to preservation and proper management of Canada’s forest area. Environmental Assessment Environmental Assessment (“EA”) is known by many names.
In other parts of the world it goes by popular acronyms such as EIA (Ecological Impact Assessment); EIS (Ecological Impact Statement); or EIR (Ecological Impact Report). Whatever the label may be the expected outcome is the same, it is to produce a document that will show the expected consequences of human activity with regards to the ecosystem. A much better definition was provided by a pioneer in the field who explained that ecological impact assessment focuses on: …
the prediction and evaluation of the effects of human activities on the structure and function of “natural” ecosystems – those close to their evolutionary state – though many of the concepts and methods also apply to heavily modified systems such as farms or urban areas. The realm of concern is not only the tangible features or “structure” of ecosystems (e. g. plants, animals, soil) but also the exchange of energy and materials between ecosystem components: the dynamics of interaction or function of the system (Westman, 1985, p.
4). The above-mentioned definition of EA emphasizes on the direct correlation of industries that exploit the environment and the rapid degradation of said system. Thus, progressive nations around the world began legislation on the need to have some form of an EA before a project – that has the potential to disturb the natural environment – can even be started. Therefore, before corporate titans begin thinking about funding their new business endeavor there is first a need to worry about compliance to environmental laws.
Furthermore, it will be shown later that an EA is not simply done to satisfy a bunch of static laws – meaning policies that are vague and inflexible – but an EA to be complete requires the participation of the community that will be affected by the said project. In the case of Canada the main governmental organization responsible for EA is the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (“CEAA”).
The CEAA was established through the Canadian Environment Act of 1995; this is a federal law that requires federal decision makers to analyze the possible environmental effects of certain types of projects that will be proposed and subject for their approval. Thus, before any federal authority can do the following duties, powers, or functions any of the following actions, there is a need to complete an EA: ? proposes a project as its proponent; ? grants money or other financial assistance to the proponent for the purpose of enabling a project to be carried out;
? sells, leases or otherwise disposes of land or any interest in land to enable a project to be carried out; or ? exercise a regulatory function in relation to a project (such as issuing a permit or licence) in accordance with a provision of a statute or regulation that is listed in the Law List Regulations (see CEAA @ www. ceaa-acee. gc. ca/012/newguidance_e. htm. , 2007). Clarification Before going any further it is important to fully comprehend the meaning of the word “environment”. Many may have preconceived ideas about this term and may use it loosely so as to paint an incomplete picture when discussing about environmental assessment.
The definition provided in the book Environmental Impact Assessment that was written for 21st century environmentalists proves to be very helpful for this study. In the said work the author pointed out that “environment” embraces the conditions and influences under which any individual or thing exists and that these surroundings can be categorized into the following: 1. the combination of physical conditions that affect and influence the growth and development of an individual or community; 2. the social and cultural conditions that affect the nature of an individual or community;
3. the surroundings of an inanimate object of intrinsic social value (Gilpin, 1995, p. 1). Thus, the true meaning of the word should not be restricted in reference to animals and vegetation present in a given area. Everything must be considered as part of the environment from the water, soil, air, and even social factors that interact with living and non-living things. Having this correct mindset is the first step in the preparation of an accurate and effective assessment. Protocol A full-blown EA usually contains the following steps (Gilpin, 1995, p. 16): 1.
a full description of the proposed project, or activity; 2. a statement of the objectives of the proposal; 3. an adequate description of the existing environment likely to be affected by the proposal; 4. the identification and analysis of the likely environmental interactions between the proposal and the environment; 5. the justification of the proposal; 6. economic, social, and environmental considerations; 7. the measures to be taken with the proposal for the protection of the environment, and an assessment of the likely effects of those measures; 8. any feasible alternatives to the proposal; and
9. consequences of not carrying out the proposal for the proponent, community, region, and state. The above checklist can be simplified into the following: a) project description; b) screening; c) scoping; d) impact prediction; e) impact management; f) review and decision; and g) implementation and follow-up. Some of the terms here are self-explanatory but concepts such as screening, scoping, impact prediction and impact management requires more explanation. Screening In its most basic form, screening simply means a mechanism put in place to determine if EA is mandatory or not.
Not all government projects and not every business endeavor requires EA. This is an acceptable argument and the establishment of screening mechanisms allow for a more efficient use of time and resources. The CEAA’s official website lists a detailed description of “triggers” that will automatically call for an environmental assessment. The triggering mechanisms are in place to justify EA, otherwise it will be an ineffective and very expensive bureaucratic blackhole that forces every project and business application to go through.
Yet as a rule there are certain types of projects that will always have to go through the whole process of EA. Projects such as these are characterized by: 1) grand project scale; 2) sensitivity of the proposed location; and 3) expectation of adverse environmental impacts (Glasson, Therivel, & Chadwick, 2005, p. 90). This is an interesting aspect of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act because it is the weakest link in the whole process. In fact, in the latter part of this study an example will be presented where a logging company exploited this weakness. Scoping
In its most basic form scoping is an exercise in elimination, the elimination of unnecessary steps that is in the EA process. It can also be described as a process, “… of deciding, from all of a project’s possible impacts and from all the alternatives that could be addressed, which are the significant ones. An initial scoping of possible impacts may identify those impacts thought to be potentially significant” (Glasson, Therivel, Chadwick, 2005, p. 91). Impact Prediction Predicting what will happen in the future can be mission impossible even for the most powerful organization or government.
Therefore, the idea of impact prediction as it relates to EA should be taken in with a grain of salt. As Walter Westman would have put it, it is a murky world of futurology and he explains, “Imprecision in predicting the response of ecosystems to human activities has stemmed from at least two sources: the difficulty of extending a largely descriptive ecological literature into a predictive mode, and the complexity and interconnectedness of ecosystem themselves” (1985, p. 3). With these words it is no wonder that Westman is often quoted by environmentalists and practitioner of environmental assessment.
His words contain so much truth. No matter how complicated is the check list that will be prepared by the Canadian government and no matter how extensive are the matrices used to extract the most amount of information regarding the ecological impact of a particular project there is just no foolproof means of predicting what will happen after the project is already completed. Still, EA demands some form of analysis that will in turn create a predictive capability for the assessment protocols. Impact Management In the real world there is usually no black and white in terms of environmental ethics standards.
The usual industries that are always criticized for their polluting ways are ironically the same industries that are generating jobs and sustaining the economic growth of a particular area. In a report submitted to the UN by the Canadian Forestry Service one can easily see Canada’s dependence on its forest products as shown in the following figures: … Canada is the world’s largest exporter of forest products; in 2002, Canada accounted for 16. 9% of the global total by value. The fores sector is one of the greatest contributors to Canada’s balance of trade, and provides roughly 3% of Canada’s GDP.
Thus, EA does not behave like the radical environmentalists who do not understand the meaning of compromise – meeting halfway. There comes a point in the preparation of an EA wherein it becomes obvious that the environment will be affected by the construction of say a road, bridge, dam etc. One of the functions of EA is to show alternative ways of hitting a target. This can mean the identification of alternative means of meeting similar or identical objectives e. g. the inclusion of alternative sites in the report (Gilpin, 1995, p. 4). Involving the Community
When EA has already reached this level – wherein federal authorities are willing to give the green light even if a considerable degree of negative impact is predicted, it is now time to communicate with the people involved. The idea of involving the community in the decision process is related to what was discussed previously regarding the correct definition of the environment, that it comprise not only of flora and fauna but everything that interacts with living and non-living things and this includes the social factors that are involved.
Aside from the acknowledgment that humans living near the proposed site of the project are crucial aspects of the environment whose valuable inputs will surely help pinpoint potential problems, there are other incentives that justify their involvement. And it is the potential savings from future health damage suits that will be filed against the firm (see Westman, 1985, p. 5). Canada’s Forest Now that a thorough discussion of EA principles has been completed it is time to apply these ideas to a particular industry in Canada.
And there is no environmental issue that is so close to home than those that concern this nation’s forest. This is simply because forest products are still a major source of livelihood for many Canadians. But before going through all that, a basic background on the woodlands and the industries that are operating on it is in order. The preservation and proper management of Canada’s forest cover is important for the sustainable economic growth of the country and at the same time crucial to the well being of all fauna and fauna that find food and shelter in the said ecosystem.
Moreover, the whole planet will indirectly benefit from the preservation of the same because Canada’s forest is a significant part in the global scheme of things. In order to appreciate further the importance of Canada’s forest one needs to have a proper perspective on how it relates to other components of the globe’s ecosystem. According to the Canadian Forest Service: Canada’s forest represents over 10 percent of the world’s forest cover, 25 percent of the world’s natural forest, 30 percent of the world’s boreal forest and 20 percent of the world’s temperate rainforest.
According to recent statistics from Canada’s Forest Inventory, there are almost 402 million hectares of forest and other wooded land in Canada. Of this, 73% is not reserved, with potential for commercial forest activities” (2004, p. 1). The figures given by the forest agency means that in the event that Canada’s forest cover will be severely degraded by human activity then it is not only this region that will be affected. Moreover, the above-mentioned data also shows that this country is open for further exploitation from firms specializing in forest products and there is nothing that can stop them.
The Canadian Forest Service acknowledges the fact that illegal logging is a problem that should not be treated lightly and in the event the the federal government drops down its guard then illegal logging will become a major thorn in their side. Boreal Forest It does not require the mind of a rocket scientist to deduce from the aforementioned statistics that Canada’s flora and fauna, specifically its wooded lands are under threat from logging companies and other businesses that thrive on exporting and manufacturing of wooden products.
But a closer inspection of available facts point to a specific problem area and this is the ecological impact of forestry industries on the boreal forest of Canada. The boreal forest should be of primary importance because it covers a huge portion of the total forest area and it is also a part of a larger system that spans Europe-Asia and North America. According to Guidotti and Gosselin: Boreal forest occupy approximately eleven percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface. Canada’s boreal forest represent about thirty-five percent of the world’s total boreal forest. The Canadian boreal forest covers 299.
2 million hectares, which represent about two-thirds of Canada’s forested area … It forms a continuous belt from Newfoundland and Labrador, and an isolated forest in northwestern New Brunswick (1999, p. 100). Aside from the fact that the boreal forest is a significant part of Canada’s whole ecosystem, the need for analyzing this area using EA principles stems from the realization that this type of forest cover is least understood and in some area there is less awareness – especially with those who can mount an effective deterrent in the event that forest industries will expand their operation deeper into the boreal forest.
Acid Test In 1999, approximately four years after the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was ratified into law the fate of the CEAA hung in the balance. Manitoba’s Future Forest Alliance was suing the federal government for failing to execute the needed EA with regards to a massive forest management plan proposed by Tolko Industries. The facts of the case will be discussed below: Tolko had inherited a thirteen-year plan that would create the largest forest management area in North America; a landscape divided by 534 miles of all-season roads. More than 2. 6 million cubic yards of trees would be harvested annually …
Instead of recognizing the magnitude of this plan and calling for an independent and expert assessment, the federal and provincial government had continued the time-honored ‘piecemeal’ approach of assessing each component of the forest giant’s plan… (Gawthrop, 1999, p. 142). In the earlier part of this study it was clearly shown that an EA is triggered by certain types of projects. It is very clear in the guidelines set by the CEAA that the scale of the project is already more than enough reason to start gathering information that will subsequently lead to a full-blown assessment.
The land area that Tolko Industries will cover is already a give-away and therefore the said agency does not need to be told twice to do its job. But there seems to be a lot of foot-dragging going on. The inaction on the part of the federal government can be due to two possible reasons. The first one is the fact that the forest titan Tolko Industries has undoubtedly has deep pockets and are very influential in Canadian society and politics. The second reason is more probable and it is simply that Tolko found a chink in the CEAA’s armor. The grand scale of the project was disguised by breaking it up into smaller components.
So instead of declaring to the assigned federal authority with regards to the exact extent and scope of their project they presented it “piecemeal” and was able to create a diversionary tactic that forced the government to look this way when it was supposed to look the other way. It was a reinterpretation of the popular saying, divide and conquer. This is a serious flaw in the system that must be corrected. It is loophole that can easily be exploited by sly lawyers hired by the forest industry. One way of solving this problem is for transparency on the part of the CEAA and to encourage the public to participate in future EAs.
Weakness of EA The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (“CEAA”) is trying its best to mitigate the effects of environmentally destructive industries that exploit the regions natural resources for profit. The establishment of a law that requires corporations to go through the various process of EA – as discussed above – is another feather to the organization’s cap so to speak. Even if the system is not perfect at least there is a way for the public to participate and in some cases sue the government if it tries to circumvent the law.
But when it comes to managing the extensive boreal forest of Canada, it seems that the CEAA and other related governmental agencies face a daunting task. Aside from the huge area covered by the said ecosystem the primary problem of the CEAA when it comes to environmental assessment is the remoteness of said region and its distance from traditional logging areas and populated areas. In order for the EA to be successful it requires the assistance of the community and other concerned citizens. As discussed earlier the pressure to conform comes from concerned groups that will make life hard for firms if they violate environmental laws.
But when it comes to the boreal forest immense size of the natural environment makes it very hard for ordinary Canadian citizens to monitor. Conclusion The Canadian Federal Government is in the right path with regards to setting up a system wherein they can monitor the different projects that could possibly change the environment in a negative way. This is a good long term view to achieve sustainability especially in the forest industries. The importance of conservation and management of Canada’s forest cover could not be stressed enough.
Aside from the fact that Canada’s forest is a major contributor to the country’s GDP, the forest also provides the necessary requirements for healthy living such as clean air and water. On the other hand it is not practical to establish regulations that will effectively limit the capability of forest industries from operating in the country. Therefore aside from being able to predict adverse effects there is also a need to be able to propose impact management such as steps to mitigate the possible negative effects of a particular project or component of the same. This is where EA comes in.
It is a tool that hopefully will benefit everybody that shares limited natural resources and a common environment that if damaged will not only affect isolated groups or areas but will create a cumulative effect that will impact everyone within the environment. The fundamental principles found in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act are all basically sound. But it was also shown that less scrupulous businessmen can easily exploit its diverse weaknesses. There is a need therefore for more participation from the public and a better understanding on how environmental assessment works.
In general what Canada has is better than having nothing. It is a process of protecting the environment that proves to be far from perfect. But it is step towards the right direction. It must be open though for amendments and that policy makers and concerned citizens will continually strive to improve the protocols contain therein. Works Cited Beniston, Martin & Michael Verstraete. Remote Sensing and Climate Modeling: Synergies and Limitations. MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. 2006. “Sustainable Development Strategy 2007- 2009”. 05 Nov 2007. <www.
ceaa-acee. gc. ca>. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Nov 2005. “Cabinet Directive on Implementing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act” 05 Nov 2007 <http://www. ceaa-acee. gc. ca/013/010/directives_e. htm>. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. May 2007. “Canadian Environmental Assessment Act: How to Determine if the Act Applies”. 05 Nov 2007. < www. ceaa-acee. gc. ca>. Canadian Forest Service. September 2004. “Canada Report”. 05 Nov 2007 <www. unece. org/trade/timber/docs/sem/2004-1/full_reports/Canada. pdf> Faculty of Forestry and the Forest Environment, Lakehead University.
September 2007. “Boreal Forests”. 05 Nov 2007 <http://www. borealforest. org/index. php? category=ont_nw_forest&page=history&content=present Friedman, Frank. Practical Guide to Environmental Management. Washington, DC: Environmental Law Institute, 2003. Gawthrop, Daniel. Vanishing Halo: Saving the Boreal Forest. Seattle, Washington: The Mountaineers, 1999. Gilpin, Alan. Environmental Impact Assessment: Cutting Edge for the Twenty-First Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Glasson, J. , R. Therivel, & Chadwick, A. Introduction to Environmenta Impact Assessment. New York: Routledge, 2005.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 20 August 2016
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