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New association aims to bring forestry issues to the fore (07/04)

There is a new voice crying in the wilderness - that of the Ontario Forest Business Association.

There is a new voice crying in the wilderness - that of the Ontario Forest Business Association.

Northern Ontario businesses connected to the forestry industry now have an organized voice, thanks to the establishment of a new province-wide professional association.

The group intends to fill the void left by the departure of the Canadian Woodlands Forum, a previous professional group representing forest operators. The Woodlands group withdrew from its national role and is largely confined to the Maritimes. The new group is also taking the place of the now-disbanded Northwest Forest Network.

“The big companies have their own associations, like the Ontario Lumber Manufacturers’ Association and the Ontario Forest Industry Association,” says Hartley Multimaki, vice-president of planning and development for Buchanan Forest Products. “The large number of smaller businesses lack a voice that speaks for them.”

The group intends to cast a wide net in terms of bringing all forest-related businesses into its membership.

“I would like to see ourselves as an all-inclusive group,” Multimaki says. “We’re a cross-section of the industry, ranging from the fuel operators, the insurance companies, the small service and supply companies. We’re representing the whole range of organizations that depend on the forest industry.”

One of the main goals of the group is to be a voice for the large industry in dealing with the three levels of government. Issues like wood supply, insurance and fuel costs, as well as the ongoing softwood lumber dispute with the United States, are all matters that need to be addressed with one common front. Members of the newly founded group argue that industry is only demanding what other industries take for granted.

“We know other industries, like the automotive industry, get millions of dollars in subsidies. We’re one of the biggest industries in Ontario besides them,” says Cam Rosa, an insurance underwriter with the Thunder Bay-based Superior Group Insurance, a company that deals with forest operators. The company services forest industry-related vehicles and equipment across northwestern Ontario.

A significant aspect of the association will be to educate the public about forestry issues, as well as the industry. The group also intends to use the organization as a provider of training programs and allow operators to network.

Officials within the OFBA believe that their organization can work to keep the entire industry well in the communities in which they are located.

“The key area goes from forest planting to harvesting, and then site preparation and planning and tending,” says Brian Kurikka, the general manager of the Confederation College forestry centre and an organizer of the OFBA. “That’s the full circle. All of the industry depends on that core circle. If we can keep that core circle healthy, everyone will benefit.”

The fact that the organization is being helped and is in partnership with Confederation College’s Forestry Centre of Excellence speaks to its educational role. Some supporters of the group also see it as a way of introducing forestry as a career possibility to today’s generation.

Shelley DeGagne is the bookkeeper with Leon DeGagne Ltd., a forest operation in Fort Frances. She says her husband, Leon DeGagne, the owner, took a group of Grade 8 students on a trip into the woods to see forest operations at work. The group was amazed, she says, at the level of technology in the camp.

“The organization can help educate our young people to see that there are job opportunities in forestry for them,” she says.

For membership information contact 807-475-6645.