THUNDER BAY – A diverse group of Aboriginal, municipal and regional community organizations, forest managers, entrepreneurs, academics and environmental organizations from across Northwestern Ontario met recently to work through the practical needs and challenges of a new forest licensing system in Ontario.
The meeting was attended by over forty participants. The workshop anticipated a pending announcement by the Ontario government concerning its new forestry licensing system. At the end of the workshop, participants called on the Ontario government to implement five to ten large-scale, locally controlled, independent pilot forest enterprises immediately. Aboriginal tenure urgently needs further development and should be part of this group of forests. The conclusion was inspired by presentations and discussion during the workshop from community representatives working to implement innovative approaches to the use of local public forests.
Mike Shusterman, who works for the Red Rock Mill, is also assisting the municipality of Greenstone, Ginoogaming First Nation and Boreal Forest Industries to re-open the former Kruger facilities in Longlac. “Reworking the tenure system to open new opportunities for local businesses is the key to long-term stability in the north. Many of these potential businesses are eager to work with other new ventures in the region such as Red Rock and Longlac,” stated Shusterman.
Colin Lachance reported on efforts by Chief Keeter Corston of Chapleau Cree First Nation and Chairman of the Northeast Superior Regional Chiefs’ Forum (NSRCF) to develop a resource co-management model. This initiative involves six First Nation Chiefs and six Mayors that have a collective interest in the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve. “Our process of regional cooperation hinges on a new forest tenure approach that supports the resolution of historical Aboriginal and treaty issues” Lachance said, “and it is for this reason that our Chiefs felt it important to send a NSRCF representative to the workshop”.
Clifford Tibishkogijig and David Mackett of Whitesand First Nation described their Community Sustainability Initiative: “We have recently completed our business plan that includes co-generation using biomass, a wood pellet plant and a sawmill. We are very interested to see how the government is going to work out the new tenure arrangements.”
There was also a presentation from a representative of Hearst Economic Development Corp. describing their efforts to partner with Constance Lake First Nation.
Then the afternoon discussion started with Tom Clark and Jeremy Williams presenting a model tenure framework that could help revitalize the forest sector, including attention to governance, based on creating local independent forest enterprises.
Presenters noted the difficulty for new forest industry investors to access wood under the present tenure system. Participants agreed that a new tenure system has to improve involvement in local decision-making, and provide flexibility in approaches. This will allow communities to adapt to local social, economic and environmental conditions. There was general agreement that a one-size-fits-all tenure policy will not provide the diversity needed in northern Ontario. Groups discussed the challenges of setting up business enterprises that would be both accountable and independent, foster new relationships with existing forest industry players and have the proper governance mechanisms to achieve this.
Participants at the April 6 workshop eagerly await the Ontario government proposals for tenure reform expected soon and agreed that the government has a great opportunity to support creative and entrepreneurial ideas through local pilot projects in Northern Ontario.