Pontiac's public forests - Mansfield demands wood export prohibition, MRC asks for Ministry action plan

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Added: Wed, 01/30/2019 - 3:45pm
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Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC & MANSFIELD – Following years of frustration from local residents concerning the export of wood from the Pontiac's public forests, the Council of Mayors resolved to ask the Minister of Economy and Innovation Québec and the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks to establish a common strategy to support the MRC Pontiac in its initiatives to revive its forestry industry, during their regular meeting, January 16.
With productive forests representing 78% of the Pontiac's total area, for years forestry was the region's largest economic driver, which explains why it was severely hit by the national forestry crisis in 2006 that ultimately resulted in the
closure of the Litchfield paper mill in 2008, as well as many others.
“Over the years, the government hasn't taken the Pontiac's [situation] seriously. There's been investment in the industry elsewhere, but not enough in the Pontiac,” said Regent Dugas, MRC Pontiac Director of Territory. He noted the investments the MRC Pontiac has made since 2010 in studies and the creation of Fibre Pontiac, aimed at stimulating the economy by capitalizing on the Pontiac's abundant pulpwood (Biomass Conversion Centre).
“We need the government to understand it's been 10 years since our mills closed and the region is extremely frustrated with how long it's taking to get them re-established. We want government action, support, assistance and much faster-paced solutions to the problems our forest industry is facing,” added Warden Jane Toller. 
The MRC's resolution was spurred by a much more aggressive one adopted by the Municipality of Mansfield two days prior, which requested that the provincial government declare a complete moratorium on forestry activities on Pontiac's public lands until its forestry industry revives. They also requested that the government award the MRC Pontiac a special status for forestry, that would reduce provincial investment rules and other relief.
“The region's precarious economy makes it difficult for local entrepreneurs
to attract investors ... A number of forestry contractors are trying to get back
on their feet and resume activities (industries in Davidson, Litchfield, Shawville ...) but have used up their monetary resources during the fight,” says Mansfield's resolution, which notes that groups of residents have approached council with plans for protests of “foreign” forestry activities (ex: road blocks).
“For many years, we've had to sit and watch truckloads of our good wood leaving the region as we struggle to get our local mills running again. There will be nothing left for us in the future. The mills around us are running, but not ours,” explained Gilles Dionne, mayor of Mansfield, who said the main objective of
the request is to put pressure on large companies and the government to “get something going” (ie: respond to the problem). 
While the moratorium would cease all activity on public lands if granted, Dionne believes the impact on local workers would be minimal. “Most local workers are cutting on private lands. It's mostly large, outside companies that are harvesting and benefiting from our public lands,” he said.
However, this potential loss of local jobs is one of the reasons the MRC took a
different approach to addressing the same problem. “Some activity is better than none. We don't want to affect jobs that are already here. We understand the reasons behind Mansfield's request, but we are building on it, attaching a positive demand to it ,” said Toller.
The warden also noted the MRC risks not getting the same cooperation from
the government for other requests - $2 million investment in the Bois Franc Road and to designate 150,000 hectares of land in the Pontiac as a community forest – if there is a demand for a cutting moratorium.
During their last meeting, the Council of Mayors created a Forestry Committee that multiple mayors will sit on. According to Toller, the MRC is assessing the region's former mills to determine what is needed for them to reopen.