Maple Production in Wetland Ecosystems
In September 2020, the provincial government department overseeing the environment and climate change — le ministère de l’Environnement et le la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCC)— introduced new legislation respecting the impact of activities on the environment. The Règlement sur l’encadrement d’activités en fonction de leur impact sur l’environnement (REAFIE) affects maple production on private lands in several ways, particularly when the forests are situated in wetland and water ecosystems.
Le ministère de l’Environnement has also developed a very interesting guide on wetland regulations for the maple syrup sector.
Québec Maple Syrup Producers (QMSP) has compiled this FAQ to help you understand the scope and implications of the new regulations.
1. What does REAFIE mean to me?
REAFIE requires ministerial authorization for the conduct of certain activities. Specific to maple production, it regulates the discharge of wastewater and work undertaken in wetland and water ecosystems. Therefore, your first order of business is to determine whether your maple enterprise is indeed located in a wetland or water ecosystem (more on this in Question 3) so you will know what requirements apply to you. Please note that the legislation provides for transitional measures. Article 359 stipulates that the new requirements will not apply to a business as long as it makes no changes to normal operations that have the effect of increasing wastewater production.
REAFIE oversight is based on risk. Articles 153 and 154 separate maple enterprises into three categories, by the number of taps they have in service.
REAFIE Oversight of Wastewater Discharge, by Size of Company
75,000 or more taps in service : These companies must apply for ministerial authorization for the establishment and operation of a facility, equipment, or any other sap collection or processing machinery for the purpose of maple production. Where to discharge wastewater and the adjustment of wastewater pH will be established in the ministerial authorization.
More than 20,000 taps, but fewer than 75 000 taps in service : These companies may file a declaration of compliance for the establishment and operation of a facility, equipment, or any other sap collection or processing machinery for the purpose of maple production. The company must undertake to ensure the wastewater’s point of discharge is away from a shoreline, riverbank, or wetland ecosystem and that its wastewater discharge has a pH level between 6 and 9.5. Any company unable to comply with these conditions must apply for ministerial authorization and have its specific case studied.
20,000 or fewer taps in service : These companies are exempt from any requirement to file a declaration of compliance or apply for ministerial authorization. The company must undertake to ensure the wastewater’s point of discharge is away from a shoreline, riverbank, or wetland ecosystem. Any company unable to comply must apply for ministerial authorization and have its specific case studied.
REAFIE Oversight of Construction and Development by a Maple Enterprise in a Wetland Ecosystem
REAFIE also provides for the oversight of construction or development activities in wetland ecosystems. Regardless the size of a maple enterprise, it may be required to obtain MELCC authorization before undertaking work such as burying pipes or building a pumping station. More information on this point in Question 8.
2. My sugar bush is on public land so I’m subject to regulation by the Ministère de la Forêt, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP). Do I have to follow REAFIE regulations too?
About 18% of taps in Québec are on public land. Since April 1, 2018, the Règlement sur l’aménagement durable des forêts du domaine de l’État (RADF) has governed, among other things, wastewater management and construction/development for companies operating on public lands. REAFIE does not apply to maple production activities already covered by RADF. Therefore, maple enterprises operating on public lands continue to follow MFFP regulations, not those under MELCC.
3. How do I know if my sugar bush is located in a wetland ecosystem?
There are various information sources that will help you answer this question. MELCC has an interactive map of potential wetlands. Covering the entire province of Québec, it gathers information from a number of databases. This is an excellent starting point that will give you a general overview. Nevertheless, we recommend that you engage a competent professional to make a field visit to your operation for a precise determination. You may contact your regional MELCC office to find such a professional.
4. Who is qualified to identify wetland areas in my sugar bush?
You may already have a forestry engineer working with you that can help. Alternatively, you could contact your regional MELCC office. They will refer you to private firms or other organizations that perform wetlands identification and mapping.
5. REAFIE took effect on December 31, 2020 and I haven’t had the time to make any needed adjustments. Does it allow for a transition period?
Yes. Article 359 specifies that maple enterprises may continue their activities as before, with no formal adjustments, provided that:
- They do not increase the number of taps in service that would result in exceeding the limits of 20,000 or 75,000 taps;
- They do not increase their wastewater discharge.
Changes to or maintenance of existing equipment (such as the evaporator) is not subject to new oversight. If the company does not change its operations, there is no requirement to apply REAFIE’s new standards. And, as of this time, no end date has been announced for the MELCC transition period.
6. Is filtrate considered to be wastewater?
Usually, filtrate contains no chemicals, so it is not considered to be wastewater. Wastewater is defined as water, unfit for consumption, that has been used or undergone some type of transformation, directly or indirectly, in the course of a company’s activities. Examples of wastewater are the water used to rinse an evaporator after it has been cleaned with acid-based products or water used to clean a reverse osmosis unit with soap.
7. My operation has between 20,000 and 75,000 taps in service so I have to file a declaration of compliance. Where do I get the form?
The declaration of compliance is at the drafting stage. When it’s ready, you’ll find it at the MELCC website. If you need any assistance with it, simply contact your regional MELCC office.
8. I am planning improvements to my operation (burying pipes, building a pumping station, etc). Can I go ahead with my plans if my sugar bush is located in a wetland ecosystem?
Yes, you can carry out such forest management activities but some of them may require prior authorization. The following should be your guide.
REAFIE Guidelines on Operational Improvements
Burying pipes, electrical connections, or other
If such work is to occur in a wetland ecosystem, you must apply for prior authorization from MELCC.
If such construction is to take place over an area of no larger than 30 square metres in a wooded wetland ecosystem (swamp, bog) and does not require a foundation or any type of excavation, the work may be exempted from the necessity for authorization, as long as it is in compliance with Article 328 of REAFIE.
Every project is unique and there are numerous exemptions in REAFIE that depend on the type of wetland ecosystem in which a sugar bush is located. For these reasons, we recommend that you consult with your regional MELCC office to gain a clear understanding of what conditions apply to your specific situation.
The Règlement sur les activités dans des milieux humides, hydriques et sensibles (RAMHHS) sets out standards for the results of work undertaken in wetland and water ecosystems, notably the movements of machinery, management of backfill and excavated debris, as well as the restoration of the milieu in such environments. Consult the Fédération des producteurs forestiers du Québec website for a summary of activities that normally take place on private forest land, such as road and culvert construction.
What are Wetlands?
A wetland environment covers a wide range of ecosystems, from those with a great deal of visible water to those with almost none. According to le ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCC), about 10% of all Québec territory contains wetlands such as ponds, marshes, swamps, or peat bogs. Wetlands are ecosystems that are saturated with water or flooded for a period of time long enough to influence the nature of the soil or the composition of the vegetation. The majority are of natural origin, but others are the result of direct or indirect human development.
Consult the MELCC website for more detailed information about what constitutes a wetland.
Other Useful Definitions
A marsh is a habitat dominated by grassy plants growing on a mineral substrate (the physical surface, ex: soil, rock) that is partially or completely submerged during the growing season. In the majority of cases, marshes are riparian, meaning they open onto a lake or river, but they may also be isolated.
A swamp is a habitat dominated by trees, shrubs, or plants of all kinds growing on mineral or organic soil. It is subject to seasonal flooding or characterized by a high water table and the circulation of mineral-rich water. It may be isolated or on a lake or river.
A pond is an open, standing body of water, with or without a connection to the network of national inland surface waters. Its basin has an average depth that usually does not exceed two metres in midsummer.
A peat bog is the generic term for all types of peat-covered land. The environment is poorly drained, and the process of organic accumulation prevails over the processes of decomposition and humification, regardless of the botanical composition of the plant remains.