Jobs at stake in caribou conflict – by Wayne Snider (Timmins Daily Press – January 21, 2013)

The Daily Press is the city of Timmins broadsheet newspaper.

COCHRANE – While many believe forestry is on the verge of a major comeback, there is a fear Northeastern Ontario won’t benefit from the upturn if provincial legislation remains unchanged. Northern leaders hope, however, Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle will intervene.

The situation was discussed at length by community leaders during last week’s meeting of the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association (NEOMA).

As part of the Endangered Species Act, the provincial government is looking to protect massive amounts of forest to preserve caribou habitat. One of the key areas of discussion is the Abibiti River Forest region. As the legislation sits, 65% of the region would be off limits to wood harvesting.

But an amended agreement reached between representatives of industry, environmental groups and Northern leaders would reduce that to 20%. The problem is the Ministry of Natural Resources doesn’t currently recognize the compromise solution reached.

The compromise agreement allows harvests to continue where there is usable wood and little chance of caribou coming back, while protecting areas where the species is known to be present and little lumber-worthy forest.

“I know areas where there is an awful lot of wood just sitting there, waiting to be cut,” said Coun. Sue Perras, of Smooth Rock Falls. “It’s just sitting there rotting because it is off limits.”

If the reduction in allowable harvest remains at 65%, then it will spell trouble to communities with mill operations. Without wood to process, mills will close.

Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis said the timing could not be worse.

“We are looking at a major upturn. A supercycle is predicted in forestry for 2014,” he said. “Out in B.C., the industry has been devastated by the mountain pine beetle, and the Russian forest industry has collapsed. If Ontario gives our forest away to endangered species, we are giving those jobs to Quebec.

“We need the capacity for our forest industry.” The harvest reduction “will have an $8-billion impact on the industry.”

MNR staff, however, are saying the reduction won’t have that big of an impact on the economy.

“I conclude that significant impacts to Northern communities will not result in the next 10 years and the planning team’s efforts to protect caribou habitat are commendable and consistent with the current policy framework,” said Ginette Brindle, MNR’s regional director for the northeast, in a letter to NEOMA.

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