A Focus on Forest Management Agreements

A Focus on Forest Management Agreements

A Focus on Forest Management Agreements


In Alberta, forestry operations on public lands are regulated by the Forests Act, its regulations and many policy documents.  In order to cut timber on public lands, a company or individual must obtain a disposition.  There are a variety of disposition types ranging from permission to cut a Christmas tree to forest management agreements (FMAs) which give access to public forests for 20 years.  Once a company or individual has been granted a disposition, they are said to hold tenure. This blog is focused on the tenure granted by FMAs.

What is an FMA?

An FMA is an agreement between a company and the provincial government which allows the company “to enter on forest land for the purpose of establishing, growing and harvesting timber in a manner designed to provide a yield consistent with sustainable forest management principles and practices” (section 16 of Forests Act).  In other words, a FMA grants the holder the right to manage and harvest forests on a specified piece of public land (ranging from 585 km2 to 58,120 km2).  In practice, FMAs are typically granted for a 20 year period, which can be renewed.

How many FMAs are there in Alberta?

There are currently 21 FMAs in Alberta:  see a list here and a map here.  Over 66% of Alberta’s public forests are allocated under FMAs (with even more being allocated using other types of dispositions): see here.  Most of these FMAs were made about 10 to 15 years ago which means that there is potential for FMA renewals in the next years.  In fact, 3 FMAs were renewed in the past few months:  Crowsnest, Tolko and West Fraser Mills which granted tenure to over 7,080 km2 of 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 the Forests Act to consult the public about decisions to grant an FMA (or other forest disposition).  This means large amounts of public forest effectively become 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: see  Critics disappointed by new forest management agreement

How is the decision to renew an FMA made?

The decision to enter into a new FMA or to renew an existing FMA is made at the discretion of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development. A FMA may be renewed so long as the Minister is satisfied that the renewal will “enable the FMA holder to enter onto forest land for the purposes of establishing, growing and harvesting timber in a manner designed to provide a yield consistent with sustainable forest management principles and practices” (i.e. meets section 16 of the Forests Act).

Some insight into this decision process is provided by the new FMA Decision Policy (originally released in December 2021 and amended March 2022).  The decision process consists of six steps:

  1. FMA-holder makes a request to renew its FMA (the minimum number of years must have elapsed as outlined in the FMA – usually 8 or 9 years).
  2. Assessment of threshold requirements.
  3. Development of a draft FMA.
  4. Indigenous consultation on the draft FMA.
  5. Submission of Department’s Recommendation Report to the Minister.
  6. Minister’s renewal decision and notice of decision.

In Step 2 – the assessment of threshold requirements – the Department considers whether the FMA-holder is operating under a forest management plan approved by the Department in the last 10 years (must also comply with regional plans and applicable policies) or is in compliance with the Alberta Forest Management PlanningStandard.  As well, this assessment considers whether the FMA-holder is in compliance with the existing FMA and applicable legislation; has an in force fire control agreement; has an office located in Alberta; and is in compliance with corporate law requirements (if the FMA-holder is a corporation).  This assessment is made by looking at information provided by the FMA-holder in its Renewal Report, and by intra-governmental referrals to the forestry division, Alberta Environment and Parks, and other relevant departments.

In Step 5, the Department must prepare a Recommendation Report for the Minister that summarizes and assesses how renewal of a FMA:

  • Maintains and enhances the long-term health of the forest ecosystem; and
  • Supports ecological, economic, social and cultural opportunities for Albertans and Indigenous peoples.

This is done with regard to the idea of sustainable forest management which is defined as “management to maintain and enhance 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 relationships with the public”, there is no place in the decision process for consultation with the general public (page 10 of the Policy).  While there is a step for Indigenous consultation, that consultation only occurs once a draft FMA has been prepared.  Depending upon the outcome of Indigenous consultation, the draft may be sent back to Step 3.


More about Tenure:

OpEd Submission: The Other Battle of Alberta

What is Tenure ELC BACKGROUNDER May 16 2022





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