Forest management corporation sees potential in area

Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

There are still plenty of opportunities for our area forests, but the town, its partners and the remaining shareholders in the new forest license will have to seek them out.

That’s the message that Mike Willick of the Boundary Waters Forest Management Corporation (BWFMC) gave to Fort Frances town council at their most recent meeting. As part of the government changing over the way forests in the province are managed, in April of this year what were once the Crossroute and Sapawe forests were merged and brought under control of the new corporation under an enhanced Sustainable Forestry License (eSFL), a model that increased the number of representatives that decide how the forest is used, with municipalities, businesses and First Nation communities having a voice on the board.

Willick gave the presentation to council in order to cover the new corporation and explain a bit about its formation, mandate and some of the opportunities that could present themselves in regards to the wood supply in the Rainy river District that is managed under the BWFMC.

“You all know that the Crossroute forest was managed by Resolute, a single entity SFL, that means an SFL held by a company,” Willick explained.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources is anxious to move away from that management style. It served us well, but there was a need for more collaborative involvement in managing the sustainable forest licenses. Resolute saw the advantages to this too in that it allows them to focus on their business of producing forest products as opposed to delivering forest management services.”

Willick noted that roughly two years ago both Resolute and Rainy Lake Tribal Resource Management (RLTRM), who held the SLF for the Sapawe forest, both voluntarily gave up the licenses so the province could make the merger and create the eSFL for the new amalgamated forest. the BWFMC then is made up of 12 board members who each have an equal say in how the wood supply from the forest is used, along with other management duties.

Willick explained that the purpose of the corporation is to ensure the forests are managed sustainably, part of its core mandate and a commitment they had to make in order to be given the eSFL. Part of the rest of the work done by the corporation is balancing all the interests of the involved parties, both business and community.

“A key point of this new corporation is that you have to maximize the allowable harvest,” Willick said.

“Maximizing the allowable harvest drives down the cost per cubic meter that benefits the consuming mills and the harvesters, increased harvest levels create more jobs and economic development in the communities.”

Laid out in the eSFL is the dedication of wood rights, with Willick explaining that Resolute retains the rights to merchantable spruce pine, Norbord holding the rights to poplar, and both Nickel Lake Lumber and Manitou Forest products getting access to a portion of the available pine market. however, Willick pointed out that reading in between the lines, in a fashion, is key to economic opportunity for the town of Fort Frances.

“What’s left are the opportunities that I’ll speak about,” he said.

“There is some merchantable pine, there’s some cedar and there’s some other species that remain available, about sixty nine thousand cubic meters. The big opportunity is that there’s a very large volume of what I call unmerchantable volume. These are small pieces, tops and limbs, etc., that are not suitable for the manufacture of lumber.”

The unmerchantable wood is what investors are beginning to take an interest in, Willick explained.

“There’s a significant opportunity with respect to the available wood that will not make lumber, and I’ll refer to that as biofibre,” he said.

“The tops, the limbs and the small pieces. There are very exciting developments on the horizon. There’s interest in using biomass to make forest based fuels. This technology is now being proven in Europe. Investors are interested in opportunities in Ontario, they have had discussions with people in Ontario. Now I have to tell you that this is still probably two to three years out, but there is interest. The technology is pretty close, two to three years isn’t that far away, and this is really a good news story because it’s green energy.”

Willick said the forest itself has about 600,000 cubic metres of unmerchantable wood that could be put towards biofuel initiatives of this kind, and a portion of it can be taken from wood that is already dedicated to other operations.

“We’ve got lots of available fibre,” Willick noted.

“As I said it looks like about 600,000 cubic meters per year available. We harvest and use the rest of the tree which makes this available fibre more readily available. You already are cutting the tree to get the saw logs and the pulp logs and the OSB logs, so it’s simply the step of this is a byproduct that you convert it into bioproducts.”

The onus then would be on the town and its economic development to seek out and build relationships with these potential investors and interested parties in order to help drive demand for this particular business, which could then be turned back into job and industry for Fort Frances and the surrounding area. Willick acknowledged that the Ministry sees the wood from the forest as belonging to it, so wood supply does not necessarily stay in the district if it is deemed to be better used elsewhere, but the BWFMC is another advocate to help drive interest and protect the economic potential for the district.

“We have an interest in making sure that all the fibre is harvested because that allows us the max to drive down the cost and put more wood over the same roads and so on and so on,” Willick said.

“That’s the first thing. The second thing is that the members are interested in creating as many jobs in this district as we can. You will notice that that half of the board of directors are community-based members, whether they be First Nation, Métis or members representing the economic development organizations. So they very much have an interest in trying to see that that wood comes to benefit this district.”

“We’re doing the right thing,” Willick continued.

“I am most pleased with how things are going. There are growing pains. [BWFMC GM Scott Rubin] will tell you of the growing pains, because we’re still working to move from the the Resolute management style – and they’re helping us with this – and we’re moving to our management, but we are taking on responsibility for managing contracts, doing all the licensing, supervising what’s going on and it is progressing very well. Once we have the license in our hand, that’s an important piece of the work.”