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Wildlife biologist to act as adviser (7/01)

Changes to government guidelines requiring forestry companies to have a better knowledge of the environmental effects of their practices have prompted Domtar Inc.

Changes to government guidelines requiring forestry companies to have a better knowledge of the environmental effects of their practices have prompted Domtar Inc. to hire a wildlife biologist to advise operations at the company's dozen wood and paper mills across Ontario.

Kandyd Szuba, a registered professional forester with a PhD in wildlife biology and an adjunct professor of environmental science and biology at Nipissing University, has been selected to fill the position. Brian Nicks, Domtar's manager of science and technology in the company's forest resources division in Ontario, says the job is quite specific.

"She will be part of the Ontario forestry services team," Nicks says. "That is a group of four of us; three report to the director of forestry and environment. Including myself, there are three of us that will be providing services common to all of Ontario operations and New York state where we also have a large private land holding. (Szuba) is one of three people under the director."

Nicks says the position was created as a result of three commitments that Domtar made to achieve a higher level of sustainable forest management.

"The forest policy for the (forest resources) division, which was recently rewritten, has some very explicit commitments about maintaining ecosystem functions and protecting bio-diversity," Nicks says. "That means (protecting) wildlife population and wildlife habitat."

Nicks says there are "policy-level commitments" that the company must now deliver on, in addition to expectations set by the government and the public.

"We operate mostly on Crown land in Ontario and besides the general public's interest in maintaining wildlife and wildlife habitat, there are also legal requirements under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act that we have to at least sustain wildlife habitat. Wildlife population management is the responsibility of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources."

But he says Domtar is responsible for habitat maintenance when the company comes into an area and starts building roads and harvesting timber.

The new wildlife biologist "will help us deliver on our commitments and our external requirements, including marketplace expectations, particularly with respect to certified products," Nicks says.

The current drive within the industry is to obtain ISO 14000 registration, he says. Domtar is also looking to earn Forest Steward Council (FSC) certification of its forest lands and products by the end of 2001.

"It's a tall order, and we're making progress on it. The biologist will help us deliver on some of those obligations because there are objectives within those certification systems for protection of wildlife habitat and values like water quality."

Nicks says increased public expectation is likely the biggest factor in the company's decision to hire a wildlife biologist. Expectations in the marketplace and especially customers have also prompted the move.

"The forest industry, generally, is seeking to have long-term relationships with large consumers, like Home Depot, for lumber," Nicks says. "We've had long-term relationships for quite some time with specialty-paper consumers (like Johnson and Johnson) and of course they've been asking about environmental performance for the last several years.

He says hiring a wildlife biologist is also just a form of "due diligence," as is forest regeneration.

Wildlife biologists are nothing new to Canadian forestry companies, Nicks says, although Domtar may be the first to create a wildlife-specific job in Ontario.

"Wildlife biologists have been relatively common in Alberta and British Columbia for the last 10 years," Nicks says. "But with regard to Ontario, we believe that we're the first to hire a wildlife biologist in a provincial position on a full-time basis. Other companies have had biologists on a part-time basis."

Nicks says having a full-time biologist on staff will increase basic knowledge and understanding of wildlife, and wildlife habitat overall, and lead to fewer "missteps" in terms of compliance of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act.

Domtar was a leader in the Ontario Forest Accord (OFA) and Lands for Life process, Nicks adds. There are commitments in the OFA regarding growth in parks and protected areas.

"There is a formula to achieve (those commitments); it's been worked out and it's based on increasing the allowable cut on the landscape through higher productivity, more intensive reforestation and so on," Nicks says. "If and when that occurs, there is an agreement with the environmental community and the government, that increases in productivity in timber can result in increased amounts of protected areas because less land, potentially, would be required to grow the same volume of timber. That frees up some more area to go beyond 12 per cent protection, which Ontario has (now)."

The wildlife biologist, he says, would assist the environmental community and the government in determining where additional protected areas should be located.