Growing Ontario’s renewable resource
By Ian Dunn
April 4, 2016 - There are two reasons why the forest sector can be Ontario’s greatest opportunity. First, there is an increasing demand for wood products. The 17th and 18th centuries were the era of brick, the 19th century was the era of steel frame, the 20th century was the era of concrete and the 21st century will be the era of renewable timber.
By Ian Dunn
Wood as a building material is experiencing a renaissance. Architects and engineers who want their project to stand out from typical glass and concrete structures are turning to wood as the naturally striking and sustainable building material of choice. Projects such as the Toronto Public Library Scarborough Civic Centre Branch and the St. Jacobs Farmer’s Markets are recent examples of this philosophy.
Second, trees are the answer. It is worth noting that the forest sector is Ontario’s climate change champion. According to the IPCC report, “in the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained climate change mitigation benefit.”
On the manufacturing side, investments by Ontario’s forest sector have resulted in a 64 per cent reduction in GHG emissions since 1990, which is significantly greater than the provincial target of 15 per cent. These two factors ensure that customers purchasing Ontario’s forest products can do so knowing they are making a sound environmental choice and supporting local economies.
On the supply side, we are facing two significant challenges in Ontario. Despite over seven billion cubic metres of growing stock in the province, the Crown has implemented policy that places a number of onerous restrictions on timberlands. We are witnessing provincial policy that precludes and/or challenges access to industrial fibre (such as the Endangered Species Act time limits), shrinks Ontario’s industrial wood basket (application of the Caribou Conservation Plan, for example); and is passed without prior socio-economic impact analysis and/or scientific due diligence (future recovery/health of caribou based on one factor – disturbance).
The Endangered Species Act (ESA), in particular, poses a serious risk to our sector. The ESAs mandate of protecting individual species and individuals of species is at odds with the long-term healthy forest mandate of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act. We are concerned that the application of the ESA will impact the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of forestry in the province. The bottom line is that policy resulting in less wood equals less jobs, less investment and less innovation.
The second threat is the misinformation campaigns that target and harass customers of Canada’s and Ontario’s forest products. Recently, we witnessed special interest groups launching misleading campaigns with the intent to damage markets for forest products sourced from Ontario’s boreal forest by targeting customers. We need the Ontario government to continue defending our forest management regime and make it clear to customers that they can purchase Ontario-made forest products with confidence knowing that, on average, each year less than 0.5 per cent of the forest in the boreal region is sustainably harvested and 44.2 per cent of the forest in the boreal is unavailable for harvest.
Working with municipal and provincial governments, OFIA is confident that the facts will prevail. Today’s forest products sector is high-tech, innovative and green. We are looking for leadership from the Ontario government to support the recovery of Ontario’s forest products sector so that we can maximize the benefits for the forestry sector, communities, First Nations, and the province as a whole.
The forest products sector needs appropriate, balanced public policy that provides for all three pillars of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. It is imperative that Ontario’s government acknowledges the role of the forest sector in creating a prosperous, sustainable economy for the wellbeing of all Ontarians.
Together, we can grow Ontario’s natural advantage by creating the necessary conditions and ensuring provincial policy supports the full potential of today’s renewable forest sector.
Ian Dunn is a forest policy advisor for the Ontario Forest Industries Association.