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Panel lays foundation for forest-use policy.

Northern Ontario's forests were once considered to be a vast, almost limitless supply.

However, under increasing pressure from three distinct user groups, it is becoming apparent that the supply is limited.

Lumber and paper companies seeking new supplies of timber are finding themselves up against an expanding tourism industry and environmental groups concerned more than ever before about issues such as global warming.

In recognition of this increased pressure, the province has established a four-member panel to lay the foundation for Ontario's first policy on forest use.

Natural Resources Minister Bud Wildman says the aim of the panel is to help develop a policy that will "protect and enhance our natural environment while nurturing a competitive forest products industry that provides long-term employment."

However, skeptical tourism operators and naturalists charge that the ministry has too close a relationship with the forestry industry. They claim that many forests are not being regenerated, and they criticize the planting practice known as "monoculture."

"The MNR is the handmaiden of the forest industry," states Marion Taylor, the chief environmentalist with the Ontario Federation of Naturalists (OFN). "It's public land, and I think that's forgotten. There is going to be an increasing demand for wilderness, and when you fly over (the land) you realize it's something we can't take for granted."

Jim Antler, a research analyst with the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association (NOTO), admits that the number of conflicts between the forestry and tourism industries is increasing.

"People have felt timber was the first-priority value of the MNR," Antler says. "Hopefully they (the panel) will point out to the minister that we need to manage the forests for more than just timber. Hopefully for us tourism will be considered as important and equally important as forestry."


Unaccustomed to public scrutiny and attack, the industry is on the defensive.

"The environment movement isn't something the forestry industry hasn't taken seriously and haven't found a way to defend itself against," says Gord Wilson, the general manager of Chapleau Forest Products.

Aldee Martel, vice-president of J.E. Martel and Sons in Chapleau, says the pace of change is too fast for the industry to keep up with.

"This business has gone through a lot of hardships," he says. "We are all trying to stay in business. Give us a break. We're a small woodpecker and we employ 150 people. We spent a lot of money going to these meetings."

Peter Duinker, co-chair of the forest policy panel, explains that it is the panel's task to "shed some light" on what the public wants from Ontario's forests.

"We are likely going to find that timber management dominates a large part of our forests and that the public wants a whole lot more to do with how these forests are managed," Duinker admits.

The panel has printed 17,000 copies of a discussion paper entitled Our Future, Our Forests and mailed copies to about 2,500 businesses and interested groups. An additional 8,000 copies were distributed to the ministries of Natural Resources and Northern Development and Mines.

The discussion paper describes the mandate of the forestry policy panel, the purpose of a comprehensive forest policy framework, the driving forces influencing forest policy, the principles for sustaining forests and some strategic objectives for Ontario's forests.

It asks for responses to a series of questions dealing with these issues as well as for comment on such forest-related topics as bio-diversity, protected lands, recreational opportunities, wood products, employment and tourism opportunities.

The panel expects somewhere between 500 to 1,000 responses. These, along with information gathered during public consultation, will be incorporated in a discussion paper which Duinker plans to distribute to the public in the fall.
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Author:Brown, Stewart
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Previous Article:Environmental assessment granted: precedent concerns industry.
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