August 16, 2022

Focus on forest management agreements

Focus on forest management agreements

Focus on forest management agreements

In Alberta, forestry operations on public lands are regulated by statute forest law, its regulations and many policy documents. In order to harvest timber on public lands, a company or individual must obtain a Disposition. There are a number of types of disposition, from permits to fell a Christmas tree to Forest Management Agreements (FMAs) that allow access to public forests for 20 years. Once a disposition is granted to a company or individual, it is said to hold tenure. This blog is focused on tenure awarded by the FMA.

What is FMA?

An FMA is an agreement between a company and a provincial government that allows the company to “enter forest land for the purpose of establishing, growing and harvesting timber in a manner designed to provide a yield in accordance with the principles and practices of sustainable forest management” (Section 16 forest law). In other words, the FMA grants the holder the right to manage and harvest forests on a certain public land (ranging from 585 km2 at 58,120 km2). In practice, FMAs are usually granted for a period of 20 years, which can be extended.

How many FMAs are there in Alberta?

There are currently 21 FMAs in Alberta: see list here and a map here. Over 66% of Alberta’s public forests are allocated under the FMA (even more are allocated through other types of dispositions): viz. here. Most of these FMAs were created about 10 to 15 years ago, which means there is potential for FMAs to be renewed in the coming years. In fact, 3 FMAs have been renewed in the last few months: Crowsnest, So much and West Fraser Mills which provided a tenure of more than 7,080 km2 public lands.

That’s a lot of public land, surely the government must consult the public before granting an FMA?

No. There is no requirement in forest law to consult with the public about the decision to grant an FMA (or other forest disposition). This means that large amounts of public forests will effectively be managed by private companies for 20 years, or longer if the FMA is renewed, without public input. Understandably, concerns have been raised about this lack of consultation: viz Critics disappointed by new forest management deal.

How is FMA renewal decided?

The decision to conclude a new FMA or renew an existing FMA is at the discretion of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development. An FMA can be renewed if the Minister is satisfied that the renewal “will enable the holder of the FMA to enter forest land for the purpose of establishing, growing and harvesting timber in a manner designed to provide a yield in accordance with the principles of sustainable forest management. and procedures” (i.e. comply with section 16 forest law).

Some insight into this decision-making process is provided by a new FMA decision-making principles (originally published December 2021 and amended March 2022). The decision-making process consists of six steps:

  1. The FMA holder applies to renew their FMA (a minimum number of years must have elapsed as stated in the FMA – usually 8 or 9 years).
  2. Assessment of threshold requirements.
  3. Elaboration of the FMA proposal.
  4. Indigenous consultation on FMA proposal.
  5. Submission of the Department’s recommendation report to the Minister.
  6. Minister’s decision on renewal and notice of decision.

In step 2 – assessment of threshold requirements – the Ministry assesses whether the FMA holder acts according to the forest management plan approved by the Ministry in the last 10 years (it must also comply with regional plans and applicable principles) or whether it is in accordance with Alberta Forest Management PlanningStandard. This assessment also assesses whether the FMA holder complies with the existing FMA and applicable legislation; has a fire control agreement in effect; has an office in Alberta; and complies with the requirements of company law (if the FMA holder is a company). This assessment is made based on information provided by the FMA holder in its recovery report and in-government recommendations to the Forestry Division, Alberta Environment and Parks and other relevant departments.

In Step 5, the Department must prepare a recommendation report to the Minister that summarizes and assesses how the renewal of the FMA:

  • It maintains and improves the long-term health of the forest ecosystem; and
  • It promotes environmental, economic, social and cultural opportunities for Albertans and Indigenous peoples.

This is done with regard to thought sustainable forest management which is defined as “management to maintain and improve the long-term health of forest ecosystems while providing ecological, economic, social and cultural opportunities for the benefit of present and future generations” (page 1 of the Policy).

While the FMA holder must describe in its renewal report what it “does or has done to build/maintain relations with the public”, there is no place for consultation with the general public in the decision-making process (page 10 of the Policy). While there is a move to consult Aboriginal people, this consultation only happens after the draft FMA has been prepared. Depending on the outcome of the Aboriginal consultation, the proposal may be sent back to Step 3.

More about tenure:

OpEd Submission: The Other Battle of Alberta

What is holding ELC BACKGROUND May 16, 2022


The Environmental Law Center (ELC) has sought strong and effective environmental law since its founding in 1982. ELC is dedicated to providing credible, comprehensive and objective legal information relating to natural resources, energy and environmental law, policy and regulation in Alberta. The ELC’s mission is to advocate for laws that sustain ecosystems and ensure a healthy environment, and to engage citizens in lawmaking and enforcement. Our vision is a society where our laws ensure an environment that sustains current and future generations and promotes healthy ecosystems.

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