Q&A – OPFA Proposed Changes

Since ISAO received word of the OPFA’s proposed changes to the Professional Foresters Act and its Regulation, we have worked hard to educate and motivate our members.

Q&A Title

You have questions about Changes to the Professional Foresters Act — we have answered, to the best of our ability.

ISA Ontario hosted a webinar on January 26 2021 to review the proposed changes to the Professional Foresters Act: here are some common questions we were asked:

What’s happening?

The OPFA (Ontario Professional Foresters Association) “is considering proposals to recommend changes to the Professional Foresters Act and its Regulation”. The OPFA is asking for feedback by email by January 28 2021. We encourage you to send in feedback


What is the Professional Foresters Act (and its Regulation)?

The Professional Foresters Act, 2000 and its Regulation ONTARIO REGULATION 145/01 identify who can carry out work defined as “professional forestry.” In general, those who can are known as Registered Professional Foresters (RPFs). The Act and its Regulation fall under the purview of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).

From the Act “3 (1) The practice of professional forestry is the provision of services in relation to the development, management, conservation and sustainability of forests and urban forests where those services require knowledge, training and experience equivalent to that required to become a member under this Act and includes,

(a) the designing, specifying or approving of silvicultural prescriptions and treatments, including timber harvesting;

(b) the appraisal, evaluation and certification of forests and urban forests;

(c) the auditing of forest management practices;

(d) the assessment of impacts from planned activities on forests and urban forests;

(e) the classification, inventory and mapping of forests and urban forests; and

(f) the planning and locating of forest transportation systems, including forest roads.”

Also from the Act: Definition “3 (3) “urban forest” means tree-dominated vegetation and related features found within an urban area and includes woodlots, plantations, shade trees, fields in various stages of succession, wetland and riparian areas.”

Currently ONTARIO REGULATION 145/01 under “Acts not constituting professional forestry” Sec (4) Excluded acts lists: “Certified arborist” and others (including Natural resource technician and technologist; Certified tree marker; Biologist; Botanist; Zoologist; Ecologist)

*Note that “certified arborist” is not defined in the Act nor in its Regulation

Currently for certified arborists (and other groups listed in Excluded Acts), this essentially means we don’t need to be an RPF to practice “professional forestry” (including work in an urban forest or on “shade trees”). This allows RPFs AND certified arborists (and other groups) to operate within their respected specialties.


What changes are being proposed?

We don’t know exactly yet. The OPFA is seeking input now. Note that the OPFA’s Questions and Answers document, Question #8: puts forth one proposal to remove occupations (including “certified arborist”; as well as biologist, ecologist, botanist and zoologist) from the list of excluded acts in Ontario Regulation 145/01. They state this would mean that individuals performing work considered professional forestry (which includes work in ‘urban forests’ and on ‘shade trees’) must either be an RPF or act under the supervision of an RPF. Such a change is incredibly concerning.


What is the process to change the Act and its Regulation?

The OPFA is in a pre-consultation stage now and has asked for public feedback by January 28 2021. The OPFA will collate the responses and then, in mid-February will submit recommendations to MNRF for how to proceed and potentially to change the Act and its Regulation. After that, if the MNRF decides to make changes to the Act and its Regulation, there would generally be a 45-day public consultation period. (Note governments have been known to pass legislation through an omnibus bill, without the usual consultation. That’s why it’s incredibly important to submit your comments NOW).


Why are the changes being proposed? And why now?

We don’t know. Our concern is that the scope of practice in the Act impacts a number of stakeholders and we should have all been involved in the consultation process.


If the ‘certified arborist’ exemption is removed how would it affect me as a…

Municipal arborist: This could have drastic consequences. It means that work in an ‘urban forest’ would need to be undertaken by an RPF or supervised by an RPF. The impact on jobs, the costs and potential delays could be staggering. There is also a concern that not every RPF would be qualified to carry out this type of work. It’s also difficult to anticipate how this change could be incorporated into existing municipal bylaws.

An arborist who performs work on residential properties: If the Act is changed to broaden the scope of ‘professional forestry’ this could mean that this work would need to be undertaken by an RPF, or supervised by an RPF. The impact from job losses, the costs, and the additional burden on the public would be staggering.

Private landowner: The OPFA has said that a private landowner can continue to carry out work on their own land (within the scope of their own relevant municipal bylaws etc.) If however, a landowner wants to hire a professional to work on their property, this could have a drastic impact on arborists (see above about residential properties)

**Again, this is why it’s important to get your comments into the OPFA and MNRF now.


How would this be enforced? How could RPFs possibly oversee or carry out all this work?

Good question. It doesn’t seem at all feasible. There are over 1600 ISA Certified Arborists in Ontario. There are hundreds of Ontario qualified arborists. And hundreds of qualified professionals in other fields (ecology, biology, etc.) And there are just over 900 RPFs in Ontario.


If this change passes, what happens to me if I practice work deemed ‘professional forestry’ without becoming an RPF or without being under the supervision of an RPF?

You can be fined up to $15,000 for the first offence and up to $30,000 for each additional offence [as per the Act sec 62 (1)].


Has ISAO been in communication with the OPFA and are you willing to work with the OPFA?

Although ISAO was not officially notified of these changes, we have since been in communication with OPFA. Yes, we are absolutely willing to work together with OPFA and other stakeholders to find a reasonable solution. The OPFA has indicated they are open to working together on this.


Have other stakeholders been notified?

We don’t know who OPFA notified. ISAO was not notified, nor were a number of other stakeholders. ISAO has been informing as many groups as we can – within arboriculture and outside our industry (ecologists, biologists, consultants, the Ontario College of Trades, utility groups including Hydro One etc.) If you know of someone who may be impacted – please reach out to them!


Is one option for certified arborists to become RPFs?

No. Given the vast differences in qualifications, the scope of practice and specializations, we feel these should continue to be separate.


What are the differences in qualifications between an RPF and an ISA certified arborist?

See information on ISA credentials here. And OPFA membership here.


Has ISA International been notified?

Yes, ISAO notified ISA International. ISA International supports ISA Ontario and ISA Certified Arborists and will be sending in a letter of support


Would it be possible to redefine ‘urban forest’ in the Act?

This is a possibility being considered. This would involve many different stakeholders (RPFs, arborists, ecologists, etc.)


Is the bigger issue that Arboriculture should be regulated in Ontario? Is ISAO working on this? How long will this take?

Yes, this is a bigger issue and makes us vulnerable as an industry. ISAO has been working on this as part of the National Arborist Apprenticeship Recognition Committee (NAARC). The goal is to define common standards for all arborists across Canada and work towards being a compulsory registered trade. (After that, Red Seal certification may be possible). It’s difficult to say how long this would take.

Other or concurrent avenues are: creating a title act or practice act for arboriculture; and creating an Urban Forestry Act.


What can I do?

Email OPFA, MNRF, your MPP, the Premier of Ontario and make your concerns known!

Find template wording on our website

Emails to send to: OPFA; MNRF (Hon. John Yakabuski and chief of staff Brock Vandrick): [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]

If you’re in the Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke area this is John Yakabuski’s riding! Be sure to mention this in your letter. See a map of this riding

Search for your local MPP by postal code here. Email AND call them!

Sign the petition http://chng.it/FWvmytsB

Share information with arborists and other stakeholders and have them send in emails too

Share on social media: ISAO’s Facebook page & ISAO’s Instagram


Change.Org Petition - Climber

The ISAO Task Force

We have put together a task force of arboriculture experts to consider our actions, we have found a lawyer to represent us, we have met with the OPFA to clarify their message, and we have mobilized our members into action.

As an industry, we have drafted and sent thousands of letters to our government representatives and the OPFA, met as a group to discuss how these changes could impact us, and we have sent a petition with over 4000 signatures to the OPFA, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Premiere Ford. They have heard our voice! 

For more details, visit the ISA Ontario Urgent Message web page »


The Work Doesn’t Stop Here!

In fact, it’s only just the beginning. Now that the government has heard what we don’t want, they must hear what we need, as an industry. In the coming days, the ISAO Task Force will be meeting to solidify our “asks” and sit down with the OPFA to work together on an amenable solution.

Thank you so much for all of your efforts over the past two weeks!

Now, it’s time to get to work!