For forestry workers, the forest is their livelihood. They should be the first to benefit from the forest's economic value. They should also be its stewards, something that is easier if they're fortunate enough to work for a company that employs truly sustainable forestry practices (and not just a greenwashing campaign). Worldwide, 14 million people are employed by the forest industry. In Canada, this industry employed 238,200 people in 2010: 64,213 in Quebec and 40,219 in Ontario.
The last decade has been hard on forestry workers. Between 2003 and 2009, 139 mills were closed in Quebec and Ontario, most of them permanently, and more than 23,000 workers were laid off. These closures were due mainly to economic factors such as the appreciation of the Canadian dollar, the decline of construction on the U.S. market, as well as increased competition globally. This economic crisis in the forestry sector has significantly impacted many communities that depend the industry.
Nevertheless, there are still many opportunities available these communities. Globally, the demand for sustainable and FSC-certified forestry products has increased over the years. If conservation measures and appropriate forestry practices are properly implemented, Ontario and Quebec could become leaders in this field.
As a result, a new and more diverse green economy could flourish to help ensure the long-term prosperity of forest communities. This new economy must be developed by treating the forest with care in order to benefit from a range of economic opportunities. While not a simple task, there are a number of areas that hold excellent potential, including:
- ecosystem management - an approach that aims to maintain ecological integrity while meeting environmental, social and economic criteria;
- developing new markets for non-timber forest products;
- community managed forestry operations;
- the production of secondary manufacturing products to increase sales and employment per unit of harvested wood;
Unfortunately, some players in the forest industry see conservation and economy as being incompatible, saying that the creation of protected areas would cause job losses. These companies are reluctant to change their conventional approach and refuse to accept that international markets now require sustainable forestry products. But many companies have managed to successfully combine business development and conservation. Our recent Forest Solutions report highlights concrete examples of how companies, customers and investors can help protect our "Endangered Forests."
Being open to new ways of working will benefit forest workers and the regions where they work over the long term. The question is whether communities and workers will take the lead to bring about needed change.