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Sharing The Forest: Quebec Rewrites The Rules

So far, the chore of replacing Quebec's 1987 Forestry Act with something that pleases everyone seems akin to felling a redwood into a Cline Dion concert without hitting any fans.


September 1, 2009
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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So far, the chore of replacing Quebec’s 1987 Forestry Act with something that pleases everyone seems akin to felling a redwood into a Cline Dion concert without hitting any fans.

The Fdration des producteurs de bois du Qubec (FPBQ), a federation of Quebec wood producers that represents wood marketing boards which sell wood from private wood lots, fears Bill 57 will drive down wood prices. The Conseil de l’industrie forestire du Qubec (CIFQ), which represents 95% of forestry industry players, says it will drive up fibre prices. AbitibiBowater, while sharing most of CIFQ’s views, politely explains that it wants proof that Bill 57 can meet its goals and that the industry sacrifices it occasions will not come to naught.

The heavyweight environmental groups Nature Quebec and Greenpeace are in favour of the Bill’s ecosystem management goals, but wants them enshrined in tougher legal language. They think it’s madness for Bill 57 to green-light the conversion of vast swaths of forest into tree farms, and Greenpeace fears Forest Stewardship Council certification will become more difficult.

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Public hearings on the Forest Occupancy Act began in September.

Power to the people, not industry

The genesis of Bill 57 was a growing perception that Quebec’s forests have long been mismanaged, expressed in documents such as the Coulombe Commission on forest management and a “green book” on Quebec’s forests.

“The forest industry in Quebec has lost credibility in good forest management. Bill 57 has the potential for better treatment of the forests than current law,” says Louis Blanger, a professor and sustainable forest management specialist at Universit Laval. He has also been responsible for Nature Quebec’s forest commission for the last 10 years.

“This [bill] clearly stops 100 years of industry controlling the forests. We hope that this turning point will also be an environmental turning point. This is not complete power to the people, but it is a step toward that.”

Bill 57 has as its foundation several high-impact changes; e.g., taking forest management away from the forest industry and putting it in government hands. Regional round tables will participate in forest planning processes and the roles of local, regional, and First Nations interests will be strengthened. Timber supply and forest management agreements will be cancelled in 2013 when the Bill is due to take effect and guaranteed annual volumes will be reduced. A wood marketing board will auction off a percentage of the public timber.

According to Blanger, “The government is establishing, in theory, integrated and ecosystem-based forest management.” Other goals of Bill 57 include sustainable management, partnerships with private wood lot owners, and increasing the wood supply.

Industry worries about fibre supply

CIFQ director general Guy Chevrette complains that Bill 57 does not guarantee “supply, competitive costs, and an economic environment that lets us compete with other provinces and countries.

“Who will want to do major repairs or invest in new equipment if there are not guaranteed supplies? In 2013, if we don’t have an amendment, we will not know what we will need to cut to have a competitive situation.”

The supply of certain species up to 100,000 cubic metres will be 100% guaranteed, according to an explanatory document for Bill 57. For mills having an allocation over 100,000 cubic metres, 70% or more of that will be guaranteed. One reason for this is to ensure enough supply for a free market, another is to give the Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife flexibility to manoeuvre should other needs for the wood supply arise.

The marketing board will make wood available for businesses that have, to date, been shut out because they could not access supply. However, Chevrette warns, “To date, about 100 mills have closed. We are functioning at 50% capacity. If you already have the installed capacity it is not intelligent to have new players in the sawmill sector.”

He continues: “We do not like much about Bill 57. We will accept a new approach because it will be important with the United States to have a marketing board. We accept integrated management, but we do not accept that the government will make the operations plans. It does not know how to make plans for a competitive situation. We want to be able to make plans.”

FPBQ sells wood for 20,000 different wood lot owners each year. It fears that a lack of competition in some regions will depress prices. “We are not sure that the conditions will be there to ensure that the price of wood from public land will be kept up. Only part of the wood from public lands will sold competitively. Who will the buyers be, and will there be enough competition to keep the price at a real fair market value?” asks FPBQ director general Jean-Pierre Dansereau. “Buyers will have an incentive to keep the price low because the rest of the wood, about 70%, will still be guaranteed and will be set accordingly to the reference prices being established at auction.”

The marketing board can set opening prices, reserve bids, and minimum bids, but, says Dansereau, “It might impossible for the government, in hard times, not to sell wood below costs to keep mills open.” He also laments that Bill 57 does not require that wood be purchased from private wood lot owners first and then from public lands only as a last resort.

In fact, wood cut from private lots on contract is rotting on the ground while mills procure cheaper wood from public land, according to Dansereau. “We are in competition with the public lands, which the government has been using to [make and ensure] jobs. We will ask for more power in the [new] act to make sure that wood from private land has access to the market and is not drowned out by wood from public land.”

AbitibiBowater wants the government to show that putting wood on the free market will improve the industry’s competitiveness, and not drive up the cost of fibre, before it agrees to this proposal. “On what model does it base this proposition for this marketing board?” asks Pierre Choquette, manager for government relations and public affairs for AbitibiBowater in Quebec.

AbitibiBowater also wants more detail on the government’s commitment, as the new forest managers, to third-party certification. “We have always told the government that certification adds to the reputation of the forest sector in Quebec and is a key requirement from most of our customers,” says Choquette. “Will the government oblige companies to certify or be more comfortable helping companies certify?”

As for industry losing its right to manage the forests, Choquette comments, “We need clarity on this. This is an advantage for companies, to manage all the aspects of forest to sawmill … to lowering costs and provide synergy. If government demonstrates that taking forest management away from companies won’t raise costs and harm industry, we will work collaboratively with this.”

Good management, or tree farms?

Bill 57 ostensibly protects ecologically-sensitive zones, but Greenpeace Quebec finds it odd that it makes no mention of ecosystem-based management. “It is everywhere in the explanatory document, but it appears nowhere in Bill 57. This is a worrisome and not coherent approach,” says Greenpeace Quebec spokesman Nicolas Mainville. “We were very surprised that it does not include conservation in its vision.

“It is as though all forests belong to the timber companies. We do not think that this is what the public has in mind. We are saying that the government and the Chief Forester should develop a plan for which areas should be protected before allocating volumes. The government is afraid that changing drastically how we manage forests will create an unstable climate for the industry. We do not agree. This is what the market is asking for.”

Greenpeace and Nature Quebec are horrified with the Bill’s provision for “intensive silviculture” z
ones. The explanatory document writes that over time, 15 to 20% of the forests in Quebec could become such zones, which Nature Quebec calls “tree farms”.

“The way government presents it, it is because of conservation needs that we need to produce more trees, and the way to do it is tree farms [this, according to the explanatory document, will take cutting pressure off the rest of the forests]. We say there are other ways to do it than destroy natural forests,” Blanger says.

In many ways Bill 57 has gone in the right direction, Blanger concedes. He believes that the forest planning aspects of Bill 57 are well-written. “We are optimistic, but always realistic. We see positive elements. The lip service is there. Let’s transform it into law.”

The Quebec government hopes to have the bill adopted by December. It would come into force in 2013.

PPC

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The explanatory document for the Forest Occupancy Act is available in French at http://www.mrnf.gouv.qc.ca/publications/forets/evolution/explicatif-projet-loi.pdf. (The document was not yet available in English at press time.)