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--  Forest Management  --

Good Tenants

Canada’s only Forest Tenant Farm—in the province of Quebec— has proven to be successful in terms of forest management and job creation.

By Jean-Claude Havard

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The Forest Tenant Farm, located on part of the Bas St. Laurent Model Forest in Quebec, has 26 tenants, who are allotted 1,000 hectares of land each. Each tenant has to carry out the necessary forest management operations and harvest wood according to a plan approved by the Model Forest Corporation.
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This past spring, a group of more than 200 people gathered in Rimouski, Quebec to hear an assessment of Canada’s only Forest Tenant Farm, located just south of this community on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. They also discussed the future of the formula, and its potential as a model for other parts of the country. The fact that participation was almost double the numbers expected, including registrants from as far away as Oregon, is a measure of the attention this experiment has been getting. The report card so far for the Forest Tenant Farm? It receives high marks, according to the tenants and the organizations involved in supporting the concept.

What exactly is a Forest Tenant Farm? A simple definition might be a forest farm divided into a number of lots large enough for a tenant to make a living from its resources on a sustainable basis. In other words, the Forest Tenant Farm is a forest management approach that focuses on optimizing wood production while creating jobs for the local rural community.

The Bas St. Laurent Model Forest, where the Forest Tenant Farm is located, is only one of 11 that were set up by the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) right across Canada in 1992 to "help conserve resources for the benefit of future generations."

All the model farms are different, but each is meant to serve as "a demonstration of partners representing a diversity of forest values, working together to achieve sustainable forest management." Supporters and partners vary from one model forest to another. In this situation the four supporters were a forest management group, a lumber producers group, Laval University and Abitibi-Consolidated. Some 40 partners representing various forest resource interests have signed agreements with the Bas St. Laurent Model Forest Corporation.

Jacques Robert, who coordinates the Model Forest Program for the CFS in Quebec, explains that the Forest Tenant Farm covers only part of the Bas St. Laurent Model Forest. It was set up on about 45,000 hectares of private woodland belonging to the former Abitibi-Price.

"We started with 27 tenant farmer jobs in 1993-1994 and we had 350 candidates," recalls Robert. "Selection criteria were kind of tough, because we wanted motivated people, willing to work hard in the forest, and capable of running a business. One of the rules is that you have to do the work yourself and spend at least 26 weeks a year on your farm."

They now have 26 tenants, and they must have selected good candidates. When Natural Resources Canada Minister Anne McLellan extended the Model Forest Program for another five years in 1997, only five of the original tenants had to be replaced (and there were over 100 candidates to replace them).

The CFS provides $500,000 annually to the corporation, as it does to every model forest, and the money is used for administrative and experimental programs. "We gave the tenants some training at the beginning of their tenure," explains Richard Savard, President and CEO of the Bas St. Laurent Model Forest Corporation. "But they have to earn their income from their allotment. Actually, very little of our budget goes to support the tenant farm because it’s almost self-sufficient."

Each tenant farmer is allotted 1,000 hectares, and all are responsible for the development and profitability of their holdings. They carry out the necessary forest management operations, and harvest wood according to a plan approved by the Model Forest Corporation. Each tenant also has to deal with the management of their business, and handle the sub-contracts for trucking, hauling, road work and associated activities.

The tenant farmer markets his own logs, but Abitibi-Consolidated, who do not have a mill in the immediate area, have a right of first refusal at market price on all soft-wood logs. They direct where the wood (balsam fir and some white spruce) is to go and the chips get shipped to their pulp mill in Beaupre, some 250 kilometres away. Hardwood logs—mostly birch and maple—are sold to local mills.

Gilles Tessier is one of the tenant farmers and has pooled resources with two of his fellow tenants, one of them his brother. "We set up our own company between the three of us," he explains. "And we do the cleaning, thinning and logging operations as a group. When we need it, we get extra help. Some tenants just have loose arrangements. They may share a forwarder or equipment or help each other for the big jobs. Others like it better on their own."

Each tenant has to deliver on his commitments and stay within his allowable cut, but other than that there is plenty of flexibility in the system. They are also eligible for all provincial programs available to private forest lot owners for replanting and other silvicultural activities.

"Overall, the tenants hire one or two forest workers to help out in season," says Savard. "They don’t use a whole lot of heavy equipment because our first objective was to provide work in the community." According to Tessier, current ten-ants agree with this approach, but he also thinks that some mechanization may have to be introduced in time, if only to attract the next generation.

Income will obviously be another factor in attracting people to the tenant farm, and the issue was hotly debated at the symposium. On average, the tenants seem to be making around $30,000 a year, but tenant farmers are self-employed, and the farm people are quick to point out that an equivalent salary would probably be $40,000 or more.

There are variations, depending on how much time the tenant spends on his lot, and what he does to supplement his logging income. Some tenants went into maple syrup operations, and the pickings have been good lately, especially as the traditional commercial bushes took a serious beating from the ice-storm last year. Others, like Tessier and his brother, have additional woodlots—he says he gets 80 per cent of his income from the forest farm, the balance from the woodlots, and he has work almost year-round. Tenants average 40 weeks of work on the forest farm, but some may spend less time— seven or eight months—on the farm.

There’s also potential income from other forest resources, essentially fishing, hunting and tourism. Under the forest management plan, areas not currently suitable for wood production have been set aside for these activities, and the group is busy developing them through collective arrangements to promote integrated resource management.

At the moment, they have four cabins, and the company employs six people, some of them tenants’ spouses. Tessier, who heads the separate company this year, says that resources other than logging have not yet made much of an impact on ten-ants’ incomes, but they’re optimistic that non-logging activities will eventually con-tribute to stabilizing incomes when wood prices are depressed.

For every cubic metre of wood they sell, the tenants pay cutting rights to the corporation, and this is used to cover taxes and administrative costs. Some of the money goes to a fund that will be used to compensate tenants for improvements on their holdings when they leave or retire. A third portion nominally goes to the landowner, but Abitibi-Consolidated has so far elected to re-invest this into the Corporation.

Which raises the question of what’s in it for Abitibi-Consolidated? The company was an enthusiastic proponent of the tenant farm right from the beginning. The forest had been harvested three times over the previous 75 years.

"The forest was in a regenerating phase, and it needed attention," says Fernand Potvin, woodlands manager with Abitibi-Consolidated. "Thanks to the ten-ant farm project, we have a first-class forest improvement program, with first-class people doing the job. It’s done on a sustainable basis, the project contributes to the viability of the local economy, and our own investment is appreciating in the process."

Under different conditions, buying pulp-wood at market price might be more costly than producing it themselves, but on the other hand, they have a guaranteed supply. Potvin also points out that there are some side benefits. "Logging operations always tend to be blamed for problems like game scarcity. The tenant farm has shown that resource management is the issue, not logging. In 1994, the moose count was down to four head per 10 square kilometres—it’s now reached 15 to 17, and yet there’s just as much, if not more, logging going on than before."

Another major potential benefit, according to Richard Savard, is that the forest would qualify almost instantly for certification under a sustainable management plan. Abitibi-Consolidated’s commitment is covered under an evergreen contract which, at the moment, runs to 2009, and nobody is talking of reconsidering the company’s options.

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Tenants are responsible for their own harvesting, as well as the subcontracts for trucking, road work and other associated activities. Some tenants have pooled resources to share the use of logging equipment such as forwarders.

One of the topics under discussion at the Rimouski symposium was whether or not the tenant farm has been successful. The farm people talk of a few problems, like the low value of some hardwoods, and they readily admit that there’s a long way to go on the development of resources other than logging. But overall, they viewed their experience as fully successful, keeping in mind that their objective was not to maximize wood production but to create a basis for long-term economic viability in the area. They are confident that the farm will survive, even if the Canadian Forest Service were to abolish the model forest program in 2002.

As for the question about whether the formula might be applicable elsewhere, no one was outright negative, but the issue touches on land tenure and, to a large extent, social and economic values. Large, privately owned forests like Abitibi’s are an exception in Quebec, where most logs are harvested on public forests under a license system.

Woodlands that border on municipalities looking to the forest as a basis for economic viability, or mere survival, are frequently a mix of public and private lots, some of them on municipal land. In this con-text, any extension of the Forest Tenant Farm model would need to be adapted to different circumstances. It would also require political determination and support from the major lumber companies and other stakeholders.

Gilbert Paille, President and CEO of FERIC, and a speaker at the symposium, notes that many formulas have been tried since the late 1960s, when rural areas like the Bas St. Laurent region went on the offensive to rebuild their economic viability. Most experiments failed, but he gives this tenant farm a more than even chance of success.

As for transplanting the model, Paille, like Abitibi’s Fernand Potvin, stresses that you first need to define your objectives and get agreement on them. Only then can you look at the Forest Tenant Farm or variations on the concept, and see if it’s the best formula. In the Bas St. Laurent, in the Hautes Laurentides, and elsewhere in Quebec, different approaches are being pursued, and it appears unlikely that any single solution might apply to all situations, let alone be accepted by all parties. But the tenant farm south of Rimouski stands as a good example that it’s worth exploring the different options for the one that might work, apparently for everybody, including the moose.


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