THUNDER BAY, ON - October 2, 2009 - Last night in front of a packed crowd at the Arthur Street Travel Lodge a mix of forest industry personnel, environmentalists and the general public eagerly listened and then spoke as the province outlined its platform of options to consider how the future of our forest will shape-up in regards to who gets the wood, how much you will pay for the privilege, yes privilege, as it our public wood, and how and who will manage these forests?
This was the fifth stop on this consultation blitz across the province actively seeking our opinions. The audience was the largest so far, and the overwhelming demand from every table’s work session was for increased public participation with some version of a Community Forest being the answer as we move forward into the future. Officially this process named, “Modernizing Ontario’s Forestry Sector”, will eventually set the tone of future wood-related opportunities.
If you think about our wood resource, it is the only resource truly owned by the public. Mineral resources and water are not controlled in this fashion.
Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Minister Michael Gravelle delivered the opening remarks about the province’s forest tenure and pricing system. To quote Minister Gravelle, “Forestry is unique among industrial sectors, in that those who use the forest also play a critical role in its replenishment. Foresters -- and the communities who depend on the bounty of our forests -- enjoy a dynamic and living relationship with this great natural resource”.
I was keenly interested to hear this message from Minister Gravelle as I personally see the future of Forestry, and the future of our northern communities distinctively linked together. Our northern communities both aboriginal and non-aboriginal depend on the sustainable harvesting of our forests for their livelihoods, and for their forest product mills, which support the community. Who better to be the stewards of the forests surrounding a community than the people living amongst it? A true Community Forest that co-exists with the community benefitting from ensuring the forests adjacent to the community is sustainable. Employment and community stewardship, this is a future opportunity that is loud and clear from certain participants. What better way to drive value—added forest products, and non-timber forest products?
I learned from one of the government Foresters on-hand last night that a Community Forest model has been the consensus of all the previous forums. This is very interesting and encouraging, and the fact that every corner of the province is thinking the same way sends a strong message.
Bill Thornton, Assistant Deputy Minister of Forestry, and Mark Speers, Director of the Forest Tenure and Pricing Review led the large group through the consultation process. Bob Gregor, of former Marathon Pulp, was the lead host.
The presentation progressed through a number of slides outlining the current wood allocation, pricing and management processes in the province. Each proposed option was matched with a set of questions and provoked answers to determine a direction favoured by the participants.
This modernization of the forestry process is required if we expect to see our forests continue to play as an important role as it has in the past. The world and the world’s economy is changing, yet we have opportunities to capitalize on this change by re- inventing how we go about benefitting form our forests. We now understand that commodity-based forestry and forest products have an end, and the end cripples our small community economies. Value-Added forest products, combined with an Energy option through biomass can be our future.
Value-Added forest products were discussed in length at this session, and they are being touted as a potential saviour of our forestry-based communities. However we need to combine these new opportunities with the required wood supply. A new solid forest product business venture needs the wood supply as much as it requires the investment to start-up its process.
Some interesting facts were delivered last night, such as did you know that in good times with all businesses operating we consume 23 million cubic metres of wood across the province, and currently the harvest ahs dropped to a low of under 10 million cubic metres?
Ontario is not alone in discovering a change is required to move into the future. Examples of other jurisdictions were outlined. British Columbia for example made significant changes to its tenure and pricing system between 2004 and 2006. The province re-allocated about 20 per cent of the supply held by long-term licence holders. Half of this supply was allocated to a provincial auction pool, and the remainder was split between First Nations and non- First Nation communities. Pricing of Crown timber in British Columbia is now based on competitive markets determined from auctions. Approximately 20 per cent of the Crown timber supply is made available through these auctions.
Recently Quebec introduced Bill 57, the Forest Occupancy Act that outlines a number of sweeping changes to their forest management regime including tenure and pricing. The new Bill proposes the creation of regional management boards, intensive silvicultural zones, establishment of a Timber Marketing Board, and five-year timber supply guarantees.
Other countries use very different systems but also have a higher proportion of private lands where in Ontario 85% of our forested lands are public. The systems in other countries tend to involve combinations of public/private lands, access to different bundles of resources and the establishment of different public and private agencies to manage lands and resources. In New Zealand, for example, the government may retain ownership of the land but sell rights to standing timber along with the rights to the productivity of the land with the accompanying obligation to maintain public access for recreation.
Other jurisdictions in Europe have developed systems where public access to private forest lands is protected by law. In some cases special commercial agencies have been established to manage public lands for a variety of business purposes while maintaining broader public values.
Ontario can now benefit from other’s trials and errors, and share their “best practices”. Let’s hope the province hears the message that public participation through some form of a Community Forest is the direction the owners of the forest, that means us, wish to proceed. Is this the start of a revolution on Forestry in Ontario?