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Crushing blow for forestry



Endangered species legislation could be final death knell to lumber industry in northern Ontario

There's an ironic twist about the province's new endangered species legislation that is due to become law in June.

While it's aimed at protecting creatures in the wild, the new Endangered Species Act (ESA) could well wipe out forever that most rare of species in northern Ontario -- the forestry worker.

Already beleaguered as a result of a slow-down in the housing market in the U.S., the high dollar and the softwood lumber deal, forestry industry spokesmen say Dalton McGuinty's failure to give the business a promised exemption could be the final death knell to the lumber industry in northern Ontario.

Before the last election, McGuinty and then natural resources minister David Ramsay promised the industry the new law would include a regulation exempting the forestry industry, because it is already governed by the Crown Forest Sustainability Act.

"Our forest management planning process is flexible enough and adaptable enough that it responds to the latest science and we have been protecting species at risk for the last two decades," said Jamie Lim, of the Ontario Forestry Industries Association in an interview this week.

"My member companies refer to this as the single biggest threat they have ever faced," she said.
She said the proposed legislation will remove large tracts of land from forestry use in northern Ontario. For one species alone, the woodland caribou, she estimates an area the size of southern Ontario will be lost to forestry. Currently, 8.2 million hectares or more than 20 million acres are within the caribou management area.

"Do you think it is fair for a small group of special interest groups in Toronto to be able to say what we should be able to develop and how we should be able to live, if we are meeting the environmental standards?" Lim asked.


The government proposes a permitting system, which she says simply adds another layer of bureaucracy to a business that is reeling from more than 10,000 job losses. Add to that the four-to-one estimated multiplier in indirect jobs and estimates put that figure at 50,000.

"What business do you know that is going to stay invested in a jurisdiction when they have to go to court every time to get a permit to work in the province?" she asked. The industry has demonstrated a commitment to species that are at risk, she said.

"We have already helped bring back the bald eagle and the red-shouldered hawk," she said.
"I wish southern Ontario would do as good a job as us, because you wouldn't have more than 140 endangered species in southern Ontario if you were taking care of your environment the way we take care of it in the north," she said.

This would be a "fatal blow," she said.

New Democratic Leader Howard Hampton says the ESA will be devastating for the already battered northern economy.

Forest product companies already operate under strict regulations, he says.
"It will very likely mean the loss of more jobs and the loss of more mills, all of which is going to devastate communities that have already been terribly hard hit," he said.

Parry Sound-Muskoka Tory Norm Miller asked Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield about the impact of the new legislation in the Legislature yesterday.

"They (the forestry industry) are saying that you are putting in place an unnecessary duplicate layer of red tape that will not only suck up more resources and revenues from a struggling industry, but in fact puts the entire forestry industry on its knees," Miller said.

Cansfield was evasive.


"I believe we can co-exist. We do have an obligation to both, not to one in spite of the other, but to both. To the species who are at risk and to the industry," she told the House.

The economy in northern Ontario is too fragile to tinker with.

Let's keep in mind the human cost here. Save our wildlife, sure. But protect also the humans whose lives have been devastated already. When a saw mill or a pulp mill closes in a one-industry community, you end up with a ghost town. Sometimes it's people who need protection -- from the heavy footprint of misguided do-gooders.