Leading the Way
Logger Rejean Cyr has been a leader in environmental logging but may shut down his operation due to government regulations.
By Tony Kryzanowski
When Ontario logger Rejean Cyr invited groups of environmental lobbyists to tour blocks he had clearcut, he raised a few eyebrows and made some enemies. However, public relations efforts like this-as well as a history of sustainable forest practices-have earned him the respect of many involved in the forest industry. Last year he was presented with a Forest Stewardship Recognition Award from Wildlife Habitat Canada, after being nominated by forestry giant Domtar. It relates to his efforts to maintain a moose corridor, but as far as Cyr is concerned, making the effort was no big deal. The owner of Rejean Cyr Logging of Elliot Lake, Ontario has been in business for 40 years and was an environmentalist back when it was still called conservation.
While the Wildlife Habitat Canada award was appreciated, his preservation of one moose corridor is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his involvement with the environment. For example, he is also proud of the osprey nest that he helped preserve several years ago. It was costly for him to leave a forest buffer around the nest, but his decision paid off because the nest is still occupied today. "We care about wildlife-not just the moose and deer," says Cyr. "We care about birds, insects, about everything." In addition to inviting environmentalists to tour his cutblocks and inspect his harvesting practices, Cyr also has encouraged the public to enjoy the use of the area's forest resource.
As part of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Forest, it consists of hardwoods such as maple, beech and birch, as well as conifers like red and white pine and eastern hemlock. "Some loggers don't like my approach and they told me two years ago at a meeting that I made a bunch of enemies when I asked some environmentalists to come look at my job," says Cyr. "Some loggers don't like that we are friends with these environmentalists, but I think that is a mistake. The only way to survive in the logging business is to be friends with these environmentalists. They are not crazy people. They know what they are doing and we have to work together."
While some disapprove of his conciliatory approach, he says other local loggers support his efforts. As a further gesture of goodwill on behalf of the forest industry, Cyr also arranged for railcar loads of free firewood to be transported to areas where people were without power due to the ice storm that hit parts of eastern Canada in 1998. However, after four decades in the logging business and having earned a reputation as the unofficial poster boy for sustainable forestry practices and wildlife preservation, Cyr is thinking seriously of shutting the doors on his business. Ironically, it has to do with some stiff sustainable forestry regulations- called the Crown Forest Sustainability Act-that the Ontario government has imposed on Lake Huron North Shore loggers.
Leaning heavily on the practice of tree marking, it has severely restricted the type and quality of trees that loggers working in the area can harvest and created a huge surplus of low-grade pulpwood. The objective is to allow better quality hardwoods and conifers to reach maturity. This will eventually allow the forest to yield higher volumes of saw and veneer logs, as well as to maintain certain density and wildlife habitat standards for each stand. Serge Tenaglia, Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) district manager for the Sault Ste Marie District, was surprised to hear that Cyr was considering throwing in the towel, but says the regulations introduced in 1995 were necessary. "I think everybody recognizes that the practices that we had years ago were unacceptable from a sustainability perspective," says Tenaglia. "What we were doing was high grading. We were taking the best out of the forest and what we were leaving behind was not necessarily good quality stems. That just degrades the stands."
Cyr says 95 per cent of the fibre he harvests now is pulpwood and, according to the regulations, he is not allowed to move to his next cutblock until he has disposed of all the merchantable wood from the block he is in. Given that there is such an overabundance of low-grade pulpwood now being produced from the North Shore because of the new regulations, he is really caught in a financial vice. "Pretty soon we are going to have to do something else because there is no money," says Cyr. "If we want to keep the philosophy that you protect all the forest and wildlife and make sure our guys are doing a really good job, there's not enough money in it. We are going to hit the wall pretty soon and going to have to do something else."
Cyr has gone a long way to support the new regulations, having abandoned most of his mechanical harvesting equipment in favour of chainsaws and cable skidders. About 90 per cent of his logging is now done manually. "We don't want to use a feller buncher because it destroys too many small trees, and there is too much impact on the soil and water," says Cyr. "I prefer to use a skidder and chainsaw." However, he is searching for ways to live within the government's new approach economically. "Before, all of those big patches of hardwood were clearcut, so it was very, very easy to do," says Cyr. "Now in the last 10 years, we started to selective cut, so it is very expensive to put a road in there and remove only one third of the wood and make sure that we don't destroy the trees that we leave behind." While larger companies own most Sustainable Forest Licences (SFLs) in Ontario, many independent loggers like Cyr own their own SFLs in the North Shore region.
The new act has placed more responsibility and cost on licence holders in terms of block management, compliance monitoring, inspection reports, engineered bridge structures and water crossings, training, as well as road and bridge liability. Coupled with these extra costs, the marking program has created an overabundance of low-grade hardwoods and low-grade pulp so that the logger has a hard time selling all the products that can be produced in his licence area. Domtar itself is consuming about 665,000 cubic metres of pulpwood annually and a number of other pulp mills in the area are doing all they can to absorb the overabundance.
Some pulpwood is being sold at a loss to US pulp mills, with North Shore contractors hoping to absorb that loss with the return they receive from the small number of saw and veneer logs that they can recover from their cutblocks under the new legislation. Some loggers are selling a lot of it as firewood. MNR's Tenaglia acknowledges that there will be short-term financial pain for loggers. "I'm hearing from a number of different fronts that all the regulations the Ministry is imposing are more costly," says Tenaglia. "There is no doubt about it. The other question is how many operators have quit because of the constraints. I don't know that very many have quit and outright left their operations because of the pressures that we have put on them. In fact, I see a lot of the operators are certainly consolidating and are trying to grow."
The government has recognized that there will be a long term overabundance of low-grade pulpwood as a result of its new act and has requested proposals from companies to build manufacturing facilities to absorb the low grade pulp locally. Among the potential uses for the pulpwood are the manufacture of oriented strandboard, specialty flooring, or the recovery of four-foot veneer logs. Cyr concludes that economic viability under the new Act goes beyond finding a market for low-grade pulp. It also has to do with the quality and availability of workers to manually harvest trees under these strict guidelines. He hopes that the government has heard his concerns and will offer some training shortly. "They made a 90 degree turn and they didn't have any people to teach us how to do it," says Cyr. "They should have given the contractors and workers some training before they made those changes. We still have a problem."
He says there is a chance that the government will finally provide some cash for training assistance "to upgrade the woodcutter and teach the new, young workers how to do their job in the forest, adopt that new careful logging philosophy, and protect the wildlife and water." Up to now, Cyr has had to train his own staff and, without the cash to keep employees from jumping ship, keeping workers satisfied has been a frustrating experience. Cyr can't say for sure whether the process is finally on the right track, but he is certain of one thing. "If we're going to survive, we are going to have to make some changes," he says. What's working to his advantage is his reputation. It seems that both government and industry share his concerns- and want to do what it takes to keep loggers like him in business.
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