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What are the back roads, anyway? The joys of logging roads

This week Back Roads Bill writes a thankful story and takes us through a primer of who is responsible for logging roads and why they are so important
If it wasn’t for logging roads there would be no Back Roads Bill.

Recently upon driving to the most northern point in Northern Ontario we came back on a logging road that connects two Trans Canada Highways, 11 and 17. Logging roads are part of the landscape of the north and truly represent the economic, environmental and social-recreational aspects of our lives.

Ontario’s forest industry is critical to the provincial economy and many northern and rural communities, generating over $18 billion in revenue and supporting approximately 147,000 direct and indirect jobs. We tend to take logging roads for granted as an inherent right of access.

The Definition

But first what is a logging road?

Heather Hamel, Communications Coordinator, Northeast Operations of the Ministry of Transportation explained. First off she said, “The Crown Forest Sustainability Act (1994), states that the Minister of Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (MNDMNRF) shall ensure that a Forest Management Plan (FMP) is prepared when a Crown forest operation is being conducted. An FMP is a legal and binding document that serves as a contract for the implementation of forest operation on Crown land.”

There are specific FMP agreements with First Nations communities.

The FMP will include maintenance standards required for the primary, secondary and tertiary roads used to access harvest blocks. These forest roads are 'highways' (as defined in the Highway Traffic Act) according to the definition of a public forest road in the Public Lands Act.

"Under Part VI of the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act, the Minister may designate an industrial road or a private road that he or she considers necessary for the development or operation of the lumber, pulp, or mining industry, but which in his or her opinion, should also be used by the public for road purposes other than those of the industry," said Hamel.

And there are two interesting designations of 'industrial' roads in Northern Ontario the Sultan and Caramat Industrial Roads. The Sultan Industrial Rd. connects Highway at the 'height of land' on Highway 144 and Highway 560 to Chapleau and Highways 129 and 101.

It is a great shortcut to get to Wawa and westward. The Caramat Industrial Road, in essence, connects Longlac just west of Caramat, Highway 625 (Highway 11) and Manitouwadge, Highway 614 to Highway 17.

"MTO may provide a subsidy for the maintenance costs of designated industrial roads to offset the costs incurred for usage by the general public. These roads, under the jurisdiction and control of the company, are subject to use by the public for road purposes other than those of the industries,” Hamel said.

MNDMNRF Role

A logging road may have a limited future.

Jolanta Kowalski is with the media desk of the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, Forestry and Indigenous Affairs (MNDMNRFIA).

"The public enjoys the benefits of forestry access roads or 'logging roads' constructed and maintained by the forest industry. However, access may be controlled (e.g., for safety or to protect sensitive values) or roads may be decommissioned when no longer needed by the forest industry," Kowalski said.

In explaining the types of logging roads, she said, “In forest management planning the Forest Management
Planning Manual classifies roads as primary, branch or operational."

Primary roads provide principle access to a management unit and are normally permanent.

Branch roads branch off a primary road and provide access to, through or between a geographic area comprised of harvest, renewal and tending operations.

Operational roads provide short-term access and are usually not maintained after their use and are most often site prepared and rehabilitated.

Existing roads and proposed new roads the forest industry is responsible for, and other existing roads that will be used for forestry purposes and which are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests must be identified in the forest management plan.

Once a road is no longer used for forestry purposes it no longer has a classification.

While forest access roads in Crown forests are owned by the Crown, construction and maintenance of these roads are the responsibility of Sustainable Forest Licence Holders through their obligations under MNDMNRF approved forest management plans.

The Ontario government provides funding to reimburse the forest industry for the government’s proportional fair share of the costs to build and maintain these public access roads. This funding is provided through the Provincial Forest Access Roads Funding program.

There is a source to view all logging roads in Ontario.

Other Uses

“It is obvious we need wood for the mills but logging roads serve many purposes,” said George Graham, one of those Deans of Forestry.

He has more than 40 years of experience with the boreal forest and he is co-owner of Thunderhouse Forest Services Inc., about which Graham said the following.

It is a forestry consultant and silviculture contracting firm started 27 years ago (with) extensive experience in forest management planning, timber cruising, forest inventories and yield analysis, forest access road planning, harvest boundary layout and marking, large scale tree planting operations, regeneration surveys, thinning, slash burning and manual herbicide application.

Reforestation is to regrow the forest we want for the future. We can move planters and seedlings by helicopter or boat if needed for small and remote sites, but not overall for the expansive programs we run to keep up with the harvest.

We must get pickups and school buses on site, as a well as transport trucks full of tree seedlings. In Hearst, we plant 5 to 7 million trees a year. One transport only carries 200,000 seedlings.

He said, in this era of Climate Change, we must keep up and even increase our planting effort to adapt our forests to the warming.

“We don’t simply stuff trees in the ground and forget about them. We tend and monitor how seedlings are faring and where facing pressure from competing vegetation, we tend them.

We need roads to assess the trees (technicians walking planted land) and to move in the tending crews with helicopters and tanker trucks.

Still later, 20-30 years after planting, the forest can benefit from thinning. Spacing trees farther apart grows them faster by reducing competition for sunlight, nutrients and water.

Black spruce, a mainstay of the Boreal forest industry, is especially susceptible to moisture stress brought on by longer drier summers expected with climate change. Thinning may become vital to see black spruce forests reach maturity.

And then there is the protection from fire and insects .

"While lightening fire is now predicted with a high degree of reliability and insect infestations can be monitored from aircraft - when outbreaks occur, we still need to put people and equipment on the ground," Graham said. "Roads make that fast and easy. Both fire and insect outbreaks are expected to rise as our forests become weakened by climate change stresses."

The importance of such roads?

They are also used for tourism, recreation, hunting, angling, berry picking, firewood, exercise, cottages, foraging and such.

"Our way of life in the north as it does elsewhere today, depends in large measure on roads," said Graham. "The difference in the north is most of our roads are in public forest, as opposed to municipal or county roads through private land."

The cost of such? Primary roads can cost $35-50,000 per km. Branch roads, $12-20,000 per km. The investment is considerable.

Safety First

John McNutt, is the Woodlands Manager, for Goulard Lumber (1971) Ltd., a sawmill that started in 1947 in Sturgeon Falls (West Nipissing). He said the following about public use of logging roads.

The public should know that they can use any road on Crown land that is not signed as restricted due to ongoing or past resource extraction activity, land-use designations or wildlife management objectives.

The public should also know that Forest Access Roads are available for their use on a use-at-your-own-risk basis as the roads and water-crossing structures are not regularly maintained.

Unlike city or highway roads, forest access roads are built to a lower standard and maintained less frequently and intensely. They are usually narrow, winding, and hilly with blind corners and poor sight lines.

The corners are not banked and present obstacles like fallen trees or washouts frequently.

Beaver activity is never hard to find. There is little if any signage on these roads.

While many different types of vehicles use these roads, the remoteness means that cellular coverage is likely sporadic and some roads may be posted as having industrial traffic controlled by two-way radios to communicate their position and direction of travel.

Operational roads are roads typically built to a low standard and are intended for short-term use. Operational roads are the typical block roads one sees in a harvest area.

Public Example

There are two communities located on two Trans Canada Highways, 11 and 17, that are joined by a long time primary logging road that serves two mills. It is 134 long km and worth the 'Sunday drive'.

Chris Dube is a high school teacher in Terrace Bay he like many of us utilize logging roads, as George told us, for many reasons. About them, Dube said the following.

The locals call it the ‘mill road'.

In the spring and summer everybody hauls theirs campers ‘up the road’ for the opening of pickerel season, May long weekend.

About September people start going bird hunting and in a few weeks moose hunters both locally and from southern Ontario will move in setting up their moose camp.

In the winter time people use it for ice fishing. For us the road itself is maintained year round all the way to Longlac.

The topography of the land is beautiful. Just like the north shore of Lake Superior it has rolling hills with many lakes with pretty much every fish species.

Personally I have a bunch of boats cached at different lakes that I access at different points in the year depending on the weather and the fish species I wish to target. Many of the lakes are interconnected with rivers like the Steel, Gravel River, and Aguasabon Rivers find their head waters here.

The expression to take for granted means "to accept without question or objection," and often implies a lack of appreciation or gratitude.

Logging roads are like that and to continue my existence I am going to stop and give thanks after every adventure on the back roads.

These are not all the primary access roads as the link can only take on so much data but those cited in the story. Send along your suggestions. See the map for some.


Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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