We don’t have to choose between jobs and saving woodland caribou

This article by Julee Boan, Bruce Hyer and Dave Euler was originally published in the Toronto Star on February 12, 2018.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has missed the mark if she thinks a further delay to caribou habitat protection — by extending the forest industry’s regulatory exemption from Ontario’s Endangered Species Act — will win northern votes.
There was a time — decades ago — when putting the demands of large forestry companies above the interests of everyone else may have been a good political strategy. It certainly isn’t now.
As a result of decades of mechanization and the near death of the daily newspaper, the forest industry is a shadow of its former self. The local mill is no longer at the core of our northern identity.
Instead, northern communities are experiencing an incredible renaissance. Young entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, students, newcomers to Canada, and Indigenous activists, among others, express a vision of future prosperity far beyond the proverbial “hewers of wood.”
Forestry jobs will always have a role to play in our economy, and for that we are glad. But why has the province accepted the portrayal that logging jobs are central to our “northern way of life?”
Perpetuating this stereotype — that our communities are merely Toronto’s hinterland — suggests that both the premier and at least some voices in the logging industry are increasingly out of touch with the values of northern voters.
With the deafening trade rhetoric south of the border, we were astonished that a spokesperson for one prominent industry association came to Thunder Bay to warn our political and economic leaders that “species at risk are the greatest threat to the industry.”
The United States purchases the majority of wood fibre from Ontario — almost all of it, in fact. If real forestry jobs are lost in our community, it will be the result of many factors, including missteps in trade negotiations, the exchange rate, past unsustainable forestry practices, and automation … but not from protecting the furred and feathered co-inhabitants with whom we share our incredible northern forests and waters. U.S. protectionism, not species at risk protection, is what we all should be worried about.
The narrative that we need to choose between jobs or caribou was outdated even 10 years ago, when a global economic recession was hitting us hard.
We were present when some of these same industry actors were claiming that species’ protection would cause the sky to fall, while mills around us were closing due to decreasing demand in newsprint and lumber, combined with a lack of value-added products.
The fact is logging levels in most forests that overlap with caribou habitat are well below allowed limits. Some of these forests have had little or no harvesting in recent years, even a decade after this last economic recession. Surely there is space to protect critical caribou habitat in the gap between what the industry is actually logging and the rest of our forests.
During the past decade, since the Endangered Species Act was passed, the Ontario could and should have been developing plans to recover caribou populations.
It could have been consulting with First Nations to ensure Indigenous rights and stewardship responsibilities were respected.
It could have been building a shared scientific understanding between the diversity of northern perspectives and interests.
Instead, it chose to run down the clock, apparently hoping environmentalists and forestry interests would continue to battle it out and distract from the government’s profound lack of positive resolve.
Many of us in Northern Ontario want to see endangered species thrive again. We believe that is the ultimate testament to our children that we took care of this place until it was their turn.
We have a robust scientific basis to advise planning. We have forests available to support habitat protection. What we don’t have is leadership.

Julee Boan lives in Thunder Bay, where she manages Ontario Nature’s Boreal Program. She has a PhD in Forest Sciences. Bruce Hyer is a forest ecologist and former MP for Thunder Bay — Superior North. He has a MSc degree in Forestry. Both researched caribou extensively through their graduate studies. Dave Euler is a habitat ecologist and the former Dean of Forestry at Lakehead University. He now lives in Echo Bay, near Sault Ste Marie, Ont.

Julee Boan and Bruce Hyer are also members of Environment North