GA reductions cripple local mills

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Sophie Demers 

The forestry industry has a long history in Pontiac. With the recent announcement that the Davidson mill will not reopen, it leaves only one active sawmill in the area, Commonwealth Plywood, in Rapides-des-Joachims, which reopened last fall.

Many Pontiac residents, forestry workers, business owners and local politicians have voiced concerns.

Sawmills get their wood supply through guaranteed supply agreements (GA). These enable them to purchase a certain volume of wood from public forest areas each year. This guaranteed document details the quantity, as well as the species of wood they can buy.

“One challenge is getting wood supply at an economical cost,” said Bill Caine Junior, president of Commonwealth Plywood, in a recent interview. “Almost immediately after reopening, allocated resources were reduced by 30%.”

Bruno St-Cyr, co-owner of Davidson Mill, faced similar frustrations when proposing to open his mill. The Ministère des ressources naturelles et des Forêts (MNRF) weren’t able to meet the supply needs Davidson required to reopen.

When the MNRF was asked about the decrease in GA, they responded that some of the sawmills in the region closed. They also stated Commonwealth Plywood’s GA was decreased by 12% for the 2023-2028 period, from 93,200 m³ to 81,400 m³. According to the Ministry, there was a general decrease in GA for the 2023-2028 period across the Outaouais, but they didn’t give an explicit reason why.

However, in a letter to St-Cyr, the Ministry said part of the reasoning for future reduction in GA is that they are currently developing a strategy for woodland and mountain caribou. This left many perplexed as there are no caribou in the region. According to the map created by the Ministry themselves, depicting the areas where caribou reside, the closest population of mountain caribou is near Val d-Or. “The allowable cut assigned to the territories concerned by this strategy may be revised downward during the five-year period,” according to the Ministry’s letter.

Sandra Amstrong, Mayor of Mansfield, is concerned about local wood supplies allocated outside of the Pontiac. The MNRF say GA allocations are based on regions, not municipalities and even the current sawmill in the Pontiac receives wood supply from other regions. Criteria for GA vary but take into account if it’s in the public interest to allow the cut and if it aligns with sustainable development.

When asked how the Ministry is supporting forestry in the region, they highlighted their various financial assistance programs. They added that forest product processing companies in the Outaouais and Laurentians regions have benefited from $9.7 million in financial support via the Wood Innovation Program.