THUNDER BAY – The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry says the provincial budget will help boost the recovering forestry sector.
Bill Mauro on Friday held a media conference where he identified $60 million for forest access roads and the industry’s eligibility for the $2.7 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund as two pieces in the budget that will provide assistance to the beleaguered industry.
The budget, which was tabled by the Liberal government in Queen’s Park just one day prior, featured an increase to $60 million specifically earmarked for construction and maintenance of access roads to forestry sites.
The increase returns the forestry access road spending to 2012-2013 levels, after it dipped to $50 million the next year and went as low as $38.7 million in last year’s budget.
“If they’re going into a new area construction of that road is eligible,” Mauro said. “Where they’re still cutting in areas that are already being logged and need to be maintained the road money can help and support them with that work.”
The inclusion of the forestry industry into the 10-year Jobs and Prosperity Fund is expected to increase production capacity and expand into new markets.
It was announced during the budget tabling at Queen’s Park the province would be adding in an extra $200 million.
Mauro said the specifics of how the fund will benefit the industry are still being worked out but he hopes it might lead to job creation.
“Anything you can do on the capital side to help them invest in their operation speaks to the long-term viability and we need to keep them here. It’s incredibly competitive out there and this program has the potential to be significant for them in terms of their capital investments,” he said.
While the industry is still down from its peak, there are signs forestry is undergoing a reinvention that allows it to play a significant role in the provincial economy.
“It’s certainly healthier. We’re not where we were before 2005,” Mauro said.
“We were in the neighbourhood of eight million cubic metres being harvested at the bottom of the forestry crisis. I think we’re now up to 12 or 14 cubic million metres being harvested.”
While the newsprint market might never completely rebound, Mauro pointed to sawmills and the creation of the wood pellet industry as factors in revitalization.
The province annually invests in construction and maintenance of more than 21,000 kilometres of forest access road infrastructure.