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Accessing Canadian Peatland Resources: The Road Followed

The Canadian horticultural peat industry, when acquiring rights to access peatland resources on private and crown land, has always faced requirements to address legislation, regulations, and policies in place within the provinces. Over the last decade, these processes have increased in complexity as the resource decision makers improve their management knowledge and awareness for peatlands. Our industry, as a key stakeholder, has continued to work with the government agencies to improve the processes surrounding the acquisition of land use rights. A foundation of the engagement has been the long-standing support of scientific research on peatlands and the use of the latest results to responsibly manage the resource.

Nowadays, most efforts to develop new peat harvesting sites take place on crown land. To acquire new harvest rights, the industry must receive the appropriate permits, leases, and licenses from the provincial and local authorities. In general terms, the process includes exploration, environmental impacts assessments, Indigenous communities consultations, leasing application, development approval from local development authorities and finally the authorization by provincial authorities.

One of the main aspects of the permitting process concerns environmental impacts. The companies must undertake comprehensive studies regarding the impacts of their activities on water, air, soil, fauna and flora. Depending on the province, different government departments are engaged in the review and evaluation of the various applications. In some cases, federal departments such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada may also be involved. An essential part of the application is the creation of development and restoration plans that address the full timeframe for harvesting and post-harvest use.

The requirements for information within the process have been adjusted in response to emerging demands on governance, particularly for social accountability and acceptance. Our members must organize consultation activities with communities and the different stakeholders of the project which generally include surrounding communities and land users such as foresters, hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, as well as other industries. Of particular importance is the increasing role of indigenous consultation. It should be noted that social acceptability is not just a step. It is an obligation that our industry embraces throughout the whole permitting, development and harvesting process. It requires our members and industry to corporately commit to and adopt best practices that support commitments to society.

The evaluation criteria for all those aspects are not the same across the country as rules and regulations differ and specific challenges must also be acknowledged. Besides the environmental and social aspects, our members are also asked to demonstrate the economic benefits of their projects for the provinces in terms of investment and employment.

The application approval is an iterative process and only after all the agencies and authorities have reviewed and approved all documents will a lease disposition be issued. This whole process is exhaustive and requires investing considerable amounts of time and financial resources. Corporate planning must factor in up to two years and possibly longer before disposition and permitting approval. The Canadian horticultural peat industry is however committed to complying with the processes, rules and regulations in place, and to contribute to their improvement, based on good corporate citizenship and the latest scientific developments.