There appears to be an opinion in this part of the district that if more of Northwestern Ontario’s forest land is designated as protected area as a result of the “Lands for Life” consultation process currently in progress, we will be conceding to the desires of the greater eastern population while creating economic difficulties here in the north.
Research on the facts, however, suggests a different picture.
The “Lands for Life” initiative is a provincial government land-use planning process charged with deciding the future of 46 million hectares of public land. It is happening at a critical time economically—a time when many resource-dependent communities are looking to create greater economic diversity and local employment from public lands.
A joint government-industry committee recently recommended that 60 percent of these public lands be dedicated to perpetual leases to the forest industry. The “Lands for Life” process can either open the door for future economic opportunities for these communities, or it can close it permanently by putting all our eggs in the industrial forestry basket.
Right now, only 5.9 percent of the forest in the “Lands for Life” planning area are protected while the vast majority (94 percent) are dedicated to forestry. Concern has been expressed that forestry jobs may be lost if individual lands are designated as parkland. Research indicates that it should be possible to protect new areas and keep forest jobs at current levels, or even increase the number of jobs, if investment were encouraged in industries that add value to wood harvested.
For example, studies show that 256 jobs are generated per 10,000 cubic meters of wood consumed in a log home building company, as compared to 1.8 jobs generated for the same amount of wood consumed in a new chipboard mill.
Cutting more forest on public lands does not mean that more people will have jobs. The increasing mechanization of the forest industry means there is no direct positive relationship between the number of jobs and the amount of forest harvested. Over the last 30 years, the cutting of timber has increased by well over 50 percent while during the same time period, almost half of the province’s logging jobs have disappeared.
Logging alone cannot ensure a stable economic future for Northwestern Ontario. Communities disproportionately reliant on forestry jobs will be challenged in coming decades as harvest levels are reduced due to shrinking timber inventories.
Recent studies show that the economic benefits of protecting wild areas outweigh the costs by attracting visitors and new industries to the area. Tourism is currently the fastest-growing industry in the world (and is expected to double between 1994 and 2005). Ontario parks have five million visits a year and tourists spend $110 million within 40 km of the parks’ boundaries.
Tourism is Ontario’s fourth-largest export industry, close behind the forest industry. And eco-tourism is considered the fastest-growing segment in the market. With so few remaining true wilderness areas in the world, Northwestern Ontario has an unparalleled opportunity to develop an eco-tourism and remote tourism industry based on the wilderness experience as a viable alternative industry. Quality wilderness tourism requires quality wilderness, and most places in the world already have lost the opportunity to preserve it.
While the economic reasons for setting aside additional wilderness area as protected land are very strong, there is one final consideration which cannot be measured in dollars. We have grown accustomed to wilderness around us and many of us take it for granted. But the landscape we value is about to change in a profound way. We need to remember that the real reason for preserving the wilderness if for the sake of wilderness itself, because nature is the key to survival of all living things.
As a society, we must retain enough humility to leave a part of her alone, for her own sake.
John Snobelen, the minister of natural resources, as the result of “overwhelming public response," has extended the deadline for the final round-table recommendations to the ministry with regard to how public lands in Ontario will be designated. Decisions made through "Lands for Life” will be long-term and difficult and costly to change. It is likely that lands not reserved for protected areas or tourism will be handed over to the forest industry under long-term agreements, possibly in perpetuity.
If you are concerned about the future of public lands in Northwestern Ontario, write to Boreal West Round Table at 435 James St. S., Suite 221, Thunder Bay, Ont., P6E 6S8.
It’s your land—get involved!
Fern and Carolyn Pelletier