Temagami leaders aim to 'make more happen in the forest' while protecting wilderness
Town, First Nations and lumber companies looking at setting up local forest management corporation
Temagami Mayor Lorie Hunter wasn't around for the tumultuous days of the 1980s and 1990s when logging protests brought international attention to her small northern Ontario town.
But she does think it's time to look again at how the surrounding forests can be used to bring new jobs to the town, without overdeveloping the wilderness that attracts tourists and cottagers to the area.
"You know, even if we end up with three or four jobs out of it, that's big for us," says Hunter.
"We want to work with First Nations, we want to work with industry to just make more happen in the forest."
Hunter is working on forming a local forest management corporation that would take over control of the forests from the Ministry of Natural Resources.
It would be in partnership with companies like Eacom, which currently harvests about 45,000 cubic metres from the Temagami forests.
"We want to make sure that the model that's in place is financially viable for the communities so we can weather any turbulence in market conditions," says spokesperson Christine Leduc.
Goulard Lumber from Sturgeon Falls gets about 20 per cent of its pine logs from the Temagami area and would be interested in cutting more.
Woodlands manager John McNutt says he's "cautiously optimistic" that a local management corporation would loosen logging restrictions which would be good for his company's bottom line, as well as the health of the forests.
"Forests are not like a picture on a wall. They're not static," he says.
A local management corporation would also involve area First Nations.
Temagami Chief Arnold Paul says his community is hoping to re-open settlement talks with the federal and provincial governments to discuss vast swaths of wilderness that he believes were never relinquished in a treaty.
He's also interested to see the details of the northern Ontario revenue sharing plan promised by incoming Premier Doug Ford during the election campaign.
But Paul says it is a "fine line" between preserving the wilderness and allowing mining and forestry in his community's traditional territory.
"When is enough a enough or when's too much? Those discussions will always go on," he says.
"Then the argument is try to get the people in between to understand why you're supporting something or not supporting something."
John Kilbridge points to a map showing the logging roads that currently snake through the wilderness around Temagami, including several that forest companies are already proposing be expanded.
"You're just completely changing the landscape forever there. I just don't think it makes sense at all," says the canoe builder and outfitter, who was part of the Red Squirrel Road protests in the late 1980s.
"It won't be a wilderness area if you keep going like that."
Kilbridge says he has doubts that a forest management corporation will be focused on anything other than increasing profits for the wood companies.
"When you talk about sharing the forest, you're talking about sharing with the industry the 1 per cent that's left. If it's that remnant, then maybe it should be left alone," he says.
But in the grand scheme of things, Kilbridge says climate change poses a much larger threat to the forests of Temagami—and the rest of the world— than where logging roads are built.