THUNDER BAY, ON - December 11, 2009 - I participated in the recent WSCP (Wood Supply Competition Process), yes yet another acronym to add to your never –ending list. I was surprised at the turn-out, as the predecessor of this session was the RFEI (Request For Expressions of Interest) to acquire wood from the province, almost exactly one year ago.
There is a greater interest for a number of reasons, and most likely the single compelling reason is the amount of wood the province is making available; 11 million cubic metres! This volume and this process is historic, as is the fact that at the same time the province is opening up a competition to acquire this wood, the process comes on the heels of another historic change, that being the future regarding the actual method of managing the Forests that the actual competition winners will be facing once they acquire a wood supply agreement.
I am an advocate of both these changes that we will be seeing over the next year. I applaud the province for seeking these changes. I can see now that the province is listening to its forestry advisors, and the timing is perfect, as none of this would have been even thinkable 5-10 years ago.
I have a concern that must be addressed however if we are going to truly promote and witness the creation of value-added forest products, which I feel is essential for the future of forestry in northern Ontario.
It was quite evident at this session in which the province unveiled the actual volumes of wood fibre available in the 40 or so Forests located in both northern and southern Ontario. The province, by their own admission, does not know how much wood we truly have on our public land. This may seem astonishing to most but if you think of it, it is clearly explainable. Okay, what I should have said is that the province does not have a good handle on the amount of wood in the species that can move us closer to actually producing more value-added forest products.
The provincial forestry department does know the true volume of softwood species, the SPF (Spruce/Pine/Fir) however they do not, again by their own admission understand how much aspen poplar, white birch, and other soft hardwoods exist in our Forests. These species have driven the movement towards value-added products to date and will continue to do so, but without knowing the true potential that exists, there will be missed opportunities for entrepreneurs to capitalize on these species availability.
This again is explainable, as the province has focused all its efforts on the softwood species, and has never recognized the true potential of the other related species associated in the Boreal Forest. I have worked throughout my career where softwood is king and the aspen and birch are considered weeds. Softwoods did drive the region for many years, and because of this focus and demand, there is little room for new opportunities in softwoods excepting where some customers of these species are no more.
I witnessed this discrepancy again at this wood allocation session. The volumes of white birch in particular are very low on some of the most productive Forests for these species. I would say drastically low especially now as the province is adding the un-merchantable and under-utilized species and volumes for new opportunities.
I always reflect back on Finland when I see how we are missing something in Ontario. In Finland, they get it, and because of their vast knowledge of what exists on their doorstep they can maximize the opportunities that are there just because they know what they have. Sometimes I find we know more about what is under the ground like minerals than what we can see in front of us, like” we can’t see the Forest for the trees!”
There is a remedy however which aligns perfectly with the direction the province is headed. If we can change more to a Community Forest concept of forest tenure, then the Community can be charged with determining the true forest inventory in their backyards and as this is in their own best interest to have this knowledge, they will be able to attract value-added forest product opportunities to their Communities.
The previous Forest managers only concerned themselves with the species they required, and we can see the result of this pressure on our softwood species. There is a new frontier on our community’s doorsteps and they can champion the drive to telling us how much wood is really out there. Let our community’s future generations determine the inventory of their most precious resource. This will lead to new jobs in these same communities.