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The forgotten forest

There have been plenty of questions of late whether or not the provincial government is keenly interested in advancing the local forest industry.

Sitting on a literal forest of opportunity,, thanks to the expropriation of timber rights following the closure of the Abitibi Bowater mill, the province still hasn’t announced any concrete plans for the industry.

This week the province missed what would have served as at least a symbolic gesture and some indication that forestry in Central Newfoundland is still on the radar.

National Tree Day was celebrated on Sept. 23. To mark the occasion tree planting celebrations were held in Corner Brook and St. John’s.

“The Provincial Government invites residents to celebrate our forests and our forest industry by participating in activities that are taking place throughout the province,” was the wording of a press release

Marking the occasion is certainly a honourable gesture, but conspicuous in its absence from celebratory activities is the Central region.

While the western portion of the province holds a significant part in the past, and future, of the forest industry in this province, the residents and leaders in the Central region still hold out hope that the industry can return to its glory days in their neck of the woods – pun intended.

There appears to be a struggle to gain any footing with this government in terms of a clear plan for the local forest industry.

To that end, the Grand Falls-Windsor town council has concerns about the region’s forest resources on its list of items to discuss with the local candidates who hope to win a seat in this Fall’s provincial general election.

While the likelihood of another producing paper mill ever gracing the region again is slim to none, there is a belief that the resources expropriated from Abitibi Bowater could bring significant economic return for the region.

Case in point is the pending wood pellet production and shipping operation, which appears now to be placed on the proverbial back burner.

Celebrating National Tree Day in Central may not have done much to advance industrial or commercial potential but it would have, at least, proved the region is still on the map and in the minds of political leaders.

In Corner Brook, 200 Grade 5 students were expected to participate in Explore Forestry Day on Sept. 23, the government release said. The event included forestry-related demonstrations, games and a barbeque at Margaret Bowater Park.

The province could also have planned some activities and demonstrations at the Logger’s Museum in Grand Falls-Windsor. Oh, wait, that’s right, they’ve closed that historical connection to this region’s biggest industrial and commercial contributor.

Chalk it up for another opportunity missed, especially since there’s a government dog and pony show making funding announcement stops all over the province these days.

A stopover by the parade of photo ops and positive political talk would have confirmed we’re still in the thought processes of government officials.

Then again, perhaps the Central region was skipped on purpose to avoid the embarrassment of admitting there is no real plan for the future.

The Forest Protection Association of Canada (FPAC) seized the opportunity to remind politicians at all levels about the industry.

David Lindsay, the president and ceo of FPAC noted, “The forest sector is a vital economic driver in Canada and… as Forest Week is happening in the midst of an election campaign, FPAC would also like to remind candidates from all political parties about the ongoing importance of the forest sector.

“Canada’s forest industry is an integral contributor to our nation’s environmental reputation, our collective history, the national economy and the social fabric of hundreds of communities across Canada,”

The social fabric of Central changed with the closing of the mill. Acts like allowing the closure of the Logger’s museum (the announcement came from an arms-length entity but a willful government could have intervened) and even something as seemingly insignificant as snubbing central for tree planting ceremonies only goes to show the political will has also changed.

The revitalization (much less the celebration) of a once powerful and significant industry for this province seems to have died in the halls of the Confederation Building.

The silence felt in this part of the province speaks volumes.

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