The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)
Following is the viewpoint of the writer, a resident of Glaslyn.
As Weyerhaeuser shuts down two more mills, we in Saskatchewan's forest communities fi nd ourselves in a unique time.
The large-scale corporate forestry industry is threatened with a collapse that would leave thousands of workers jobless. However, let's hope it makes space for the emergence of new ways of doing business that truly meet local needs in a stable and sustainable way.
Government and industry are scrambling to keep the corporate approach afl oat -- industry favours increased government subsidies while government looks for alternative uses for the hardwoods, chips and "waste wood" that feed the fl oundering pulp mills..
However, these are short-sighted and temporary solutions to a chronic problem. A remote location and a short growing season make Saskatchewan's boreal forests fi nancially marginal in a competitive global commodity marketplace.
If subsidies and prices are high enough, while wages, benefi ts and the dollar stay low, then the corporate industry and its shareholders can make the profi ts they demand. And even then, only by high-grading the best and most easily accessed timber, and requiring forest workers to acquire big equipment and carry huge debt loads.
So our local forest communities are destabilized and split by the vagaries of the boom-and-bust global economy, while options for a diverse stable local economy are foreclosed by Forest Management Agreements that lock in forest use to one primary user, often under foreign control.
This model obviously isn't working, so what are the long-term solutions? I believe that community-based economies are the only sustainable solution, moving away from the mass-production/commodity export model toward a value-added/local use economy. At a time of rising energy costs, to focus on meeting our needs locally increasingly makes sense.
To do this, people from forest communities must be authentically involved in primary decisionmaking for conservation and land use planning, management and monitoring. They understand the workings of their communities, cultures and the land they have lived with and depended on for generations.
Community forest boards, in conjunction with and accountable to other Saskatchewan citizens and with sound guidelines, need to develop sustainable and healthy local economies, where quality of life in the form of local livelihood and the meeting of other local needs is the priority.
Local value-added industry, such as the smallscale manufacturing of cabinets, fl ooring, siding, panelling, etc., can provide employment without a huge capital investment. "Soft uses" such as non-timber forest products, ecosystem/culturally sensitive tourism and traditional/subsistence land and resource use would contribute to a diverse economy for these areas.
Industrial forestry could have a place if the local board fi nds that the forest ecosystem could sustain it without foreclosing on other economic and cultural activities. A move in this direction will keep profi ts in the province, revitalize rural communities and protect our forests into the future.