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Province unveils forestry strategy

Competitiveness, red tape reduction, innovation, sustainability highlight government’s draft plan
Wood lot

After a year spent talking to forestry folks, the Ford government rolled out a draft of its anticipated Forest Sector Strategy, Dec. 4.

According to Natural Resources and Forestry Minister John Yakabuski, the proposed strategy is geared toward stimulating job creation, promoting industry growth and access to wider markets, cutting “unnecessary” regulation and costs for businesses, while ensuring Crown forests are sustainably managed.

The strategy is a compilation of the feedback gathered from industry, community and Indigenous leaders during roundtable discussions held across the province in 2018 and 2019, as well as from surveys and emailed submissions.

The government is now taking the document to the street for consultation with Ontarians by digitally posting it on the Environmental Registry. The commenting period closes Feb. 5.

A final strategy is coming out sometime next spring.

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“We listened to what was working and more importantly, what was not – and we are continuing the conversation with Indigenous partners, affected communities and industry as we work towards finalizing the strategy,” said Yakabuski in a statement.

The province is keen to invest in forest management technologies like LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) that takes high resolution imagery to make accurate tree counts.

Mention was made in the draft of the government continuing to work with Indigenous groups and third-party certification organizers to ensure Ontario practices sustainable harvesting practices, while the vowing to cut red tape and streamline the permit and approvals process.

Innovation that will diversify the forest products mix has also captured the government’s attention, particularly the emerging mass timber movement and use of lumber for construction of tall wood buildings.

The release of the strategy is the second of the government’s two major forest industry-related announcements within a week.

Yakabuski was in Powassan, south of North Bay, on Nov. 28 to formally rechristen the former Forestry Growth Fund into the Forest Sector Investment and Innovation Program.

An investment pool is being created with up to $10 million in annual funding over the next five years to advance innovative and value-added projects.

"We have a plan to create the right conditions to help the forestry industry innovate and create jobs and prosperity for communities across the province," said Yakabuski.

"By transforming the program, we're making it easier for more forestry businesses to apply and get access to funding."

The program criteria places an emphasis on funding strategic and impactful projects involving wood and biomass processors that will boost industry productivity, competitiveness, and strengthen regional economies. Collaborations between businesses, industry associations and researchers are being encouraged.

Harvesting and extraction projects are not eligible.

Ontario's forest sector provides work for 155,000 while generating more than $16.6 billion in revenue.

The draft strategy and funding program drew supportive comments from Weyerhaeuser, Resolute Forest Products, Columbia Forest Products, EACOM, Domtar and the Ontario Forest Industries Association.