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Job loss blessing in disguise for researcher.

After being purged in a government down-sizing, Craig Howard and some colleagues could have left the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) with a bitter taste in their collective mouths. Instead they saw only opportunity.

Since establishing BioForest Technologies Inc. in 1996, a Sault Ste. Marie-based forest and pest-management company, they have struck up a symbiotic relationship with the government forestry service to commercialize ideas developed in forestry research labs.

"I'd recommend getting fired to anybody," says the glib-speaking Howard, a former CFS chief of regulatory affairs at the Sault's Great Lakes Forestry Centre who views receiving his pink slip a blessing in disguise.

With senior levels of government getting out of forest health and pest management, Howard and his outcast associates Joe Meating and Paul Bolan saw an opening to deliver those kinds of specialized services to clients across the country.

Headquartered in Sault Ste. Marie - home to the federal Great Lakes Forestry Centre and the provincial Ontario Forest Research Institute - the eight-employee firm also maintains an office in Prince Albert, Sask. and will shortly re-open a Fredericton, N.B. office, bringing two new people into the fold.

Among the company's largest ongoing projects is tackling the cyclical spruce budworm problem in Saskatchewan. For six years they have conducted survey work for the province, assessing the insect's population and providing biological information on what areas should be treated or left alone.

But BioForest Technologies workers are not just bug chasers. They also conduct forest certification work, independent forest audits and provide a suite of pest management services for clients ranging from cottage owners and associations in central Ontario to provincial governments and private American companies managing millions of hectares of woodlands.

A real opportunity for future growth, Howard explains, comes from their close ties with CFS.

"As an organization, they're very open with their ideas and quite clearly and very interested in getting stuff out to market."

Among their more exciting collaborative projects is developing a new piece of software designed to assist resource managers in planning actions to reduce budworm damage. First created by CFS, the Spruce Budworm Decision Support System allows forest managers to anticipate losses from pests and determine expected growth patterns by taking a forest map and inputting the tree species, age class and overlaying its vulnerability to the insect.

With the first generation of the software complete and already in use, BioForest hopes to introduce and market a more user-friendly, Internet-based version next January. Bio-Forest is also working on developing a novel insecticide based on the seed extract of the Neem tree, grown in Southeast Asia. In cultivating a relationship with a supplier in India, Howard hopes to have the extract registered in Canada anywhere between 18 months and five years.

Much of BioForest's field testing and prototype developing was supported by the federal Industrial Research Assistance Program and Scientific Research Tax Credit program. Howard knows of one Canadian Forest Service researcher who has chemically characterized most of Northern Ontario's native plants and maintains a refrigerated inventory of natural proteins that could create "tons of opportunities" in biotech extract markets.

"It's a bigger deal thar anything in the dot-com industry ... and it's right on our door step."


Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:News; BioForest Technologies Inc.
Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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