Friday, July 19, 2024
Fair Comment

What is the plan?

The president of the Pontiac Forestry Board asks if anything will be done to revive Pontiac’s forestry industry

The first joint planning of wood producers in Quebec was in 1956. It was farmers who decided that instead of selling four feet of wood cheap to businesses, they would get organized to sell their wood as they do to sell milk and to sell beef. It’s a joint plan and we get organized to sell our product.
There are now 13 wood producer boards across Quebec. The Pontiac Forestry Board has been here since 1964. It represents all the Pontiac private forest producers, which number some 3,600 producers and land owners, not all of whom are active producers. We have the legal obligation to represent and to sell the Pontiac producers’ forest products.
I don’t know if you remember, but yesterday was the 15th anniversary of Smurfit Stone closure. For us, it is a big date. We’ve been on a respirator, a temporary breathing machine since.
We haven’t seen many initiatives to bring back the economy for our local forest industries since that date. A couple of initiatives were brought in but none of them worked, sadly for us.
And I’d like to take the opportunity to remind you of the quality of our forests. Our forests are a hardwood stand, which is the good quality, solid quality.
We’re all living with wood, and for future products, it’s one of the best to produce biochemicals, char, bio char, carbon from forest biomass, pellets, ethanol – something that would transform the carbon industry into something more acceptable and in phase with the new challenges for us.
The good part of us as forest producers is that a tree that is standing is growing, but some day it’s done, and it produces carbon. It’s not healthy for forests. A managed forest is a healthy forest, it brings economy, it brings good air. We supply environmental services with our managed forests – it’s important to manage them correctly. Quality standards are really valuable.
But for 15 years, our management strategies have been stuck. We’re not able to manage our forests because we’re not able to sell our wood. Our volume of hardwood is called sans preneurs – there’s no takers for our wood, so we’re stuck with our wood.
Yet, for 15 years, we’ve seen the allowed volume to cut double. This means we can cut 550,000 cubic metres every year without damaging the forest. When Smurfit Stone was open, they would take annually 800,000 to 900,000 cubic metres, depending on the year. This means that today we could be producing at least three-quarters of what Smurfit-Stone used to take.
I know it’s a big challenge. We don’t have any businesses right now. Everything has stopped. But a lot of work today is done mechanically, with machinery, and it’s possible to come back to a certain state of economy, of activity in the forest, from my point of view.
At the Pontiac Forestry Board, we’re trying a lot, and we thank the MRC for the opportunity through the management strategy – you gave us some funding over the last few years, and it has really helped us.
But we need to sell our wood. So, we agreed with the government and we have a contract with Domtar in Windsor in the Eastern Townships for pulp wood, a low-quality wood. In May, we were ready to agree to sell 32,000 cubic metres. We have opened a yard in Shawville, and Domtar is open to receiving as much as we can send. But it’s a long distance to ship to the Eastern Townships and the government subsidizes the trucking for only 5,000 cubic metres, limiting us despite Article 46 of the Quebec Forest Law which prioritizes private forest products (résidualité).
So, they subsidize long-distance trucking for some low-quality wood, which is nonsense with the challenges of today. Our wood should be transformed locally. Private forests should be prioritized ahead of public land, which is not the case today, and which has never been the case.
We look at a lot of initiatives that are going on in Quebec in the bio-char industry. Mont Laurier has a project. Lac St-Jean has a project. Quebec has a project. Beauce has a project. And they’re not big projects; they’re small, realistic projects requiring $20 million investments.
It’s something that is feasible to have as a local project that will bring back the forestry economy. For a region like ours, it’s essential. We need a strategy like this, an initiative like this.
My question is, what is the plan? Are we going to see some initiatives put on the table?

Based on comments made by Nicolas Brodeur, president of the Pontiac Forestry Board, at the October meeting of the MRC Council of Mayors last Wednesday evening.