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Forestry in Algonquin Provincial Park puts products in pantries

August 17, 2015

By: Muskoka Region

There could be a bit of Algonquin Provincial Park in nearly every bag of Doritos.

And Jeff Muzzi, resource forester for Ensyn Technologies Inc. based in Renfrew, says there are also traces of the province’s oldest park in a variety of brand name barbecue sauces, potato chips, bacon, spice mixes and more.

It is because the company turns lumber mill sawdust into products such as liquid and crystalized smoke flavouring.

And there is a direct connection to the park.

“We do use sawdust from mills like McRae (Lumber Company), Murray (Brothers Lumber) and others that harvest in Algonquin park,” said Muzzi at Algonquin Loggers’ Day on July 25, an interactive annual event hosted by the Friends of Algonquin Park at the Algonquin Logging Museum to share information about both historic and modern forestry in the park.

He stood at a display table full of items containing wood byproducts, explaining the role of the forest in their existence to those who passed by. The company refines sawdust, previously considered a logging industry waste product, into value-added oil with seemingly endless possibilities, he said.

“Our affiliated company, Red Arrow, produces all the smoke flavouring for President’s Choice, so it’s in everything, whether it’s barbecue sauce, potato chips, bacon,” he said. “And we do a lot of stuff for Maple Leaf, Le Grille spices, Club House.”

And he said it is more than food safe.

“As a matter of fact it’s Kosher,” he smiled. “ All of our process is Kosher. We get the rabbi in every six months.”

But he noted food flavouring is only a fraction of the product produced by the company, which also has plants in the United States, Brazil and Malaysia.

He said the company’s focus is heating oil and transportation oil produced from sawdust.

“We take sawdust, turn it into a liquid, slightly refine it, all in a closed, energy neutral system, and we export our oil to the United States for heating hospitals,” he said. “And we actually have cars running on this stuff in the States.”

He said the carbon-neutral sawdust byproduct, approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency, displaced fossil fuel consumption.

“It’s nothing but good,” he said. “You don’t cut down trees to make oil – you’re just taking a residue product and turning it into a value-added product.”

The innovative products are just a sample of the items created from lumber harvested in the park.

But harvesting lumber in Algonquin Provincial Park is nothing new.

Private logging companies were operating in the park even before the province designated it as parkland in 1893. The roughly 7,650-square kilometre park is about one and a half times the size of Prince Edward Island.

The Algonquin Forestry Authority, a Crown agency, is responsible for managing forestry operations within the park.

It was created in 1974 under the Algonquin Forestry Authority Act. More than a dozen logging company licences were transferred to the agency upon its creation.

The responsibilities of the Algonquin Forestry Authority include timber cutting, forest management, silviculture or regeneration, pest management, legislation compliance monitoring, manuals and guidelines.

It issues contracts for the harvesting work.

The forestry practices in the park, according to the environmental commissioner of Ontario, are progressive compared to those used on other Crown land, but they still come under criticism from advocates of logging bans in the park.

But there are a series of policies that govern forestry practices in the park, such as the Provincial Parks Act, Algonquin Forestry Authority Act, Crown Forest Sustainability Act and Algonquin Park Forestry Agreement.

Jeff Leavey, general manager for the forestry authority, was on hand at Algonquin Loggers’ Day, too, to celebrate the agency’s 40th anniversary.

“It all started with the master plan and that’s when they came up with the multiple-use concept to have the park be pretty much everything for everybody,” said Leavey.

He said the master plan aimed to protect both wildlife and recreational values within the park, while also allowing the continuation of the forestry industry.

“When the Algonquin Forestry Authority was put in place, our mandate was to deliver to mills and keep those jobs sustainable. And that’s what we do today,” he said. “It’s as much about sustainable forestry as it is about sustainable economic, social, employment and lumber issues.”

He emphasized, however, that forestry in the park must be based on sustainable practices so that recreation, wildlife and industry can continue to co-exist.

He said a multi-year forest management planning process helps make that a reality.

“We use sophisticated modelling to grow the forest out over time based on the tree species that are there, the natural effects on those tree species and, essentially, how they live, grow and die,” he said. “Our intervention – the harvesting in this case – mimics the disturbance that was here before settlement, including fires, windthrow and so on.”

He noted that, in any given year, no more than one per cent of the park is subject to logging by the forestry authority’s contractors. He added that the forestry authority does benefit financially from logging in the park and the revenue offsets costs.

“We are a self-sustaining agency. We don’t cost the taxpayers any money. But we have to grow the timber and make sure it is sustainable in order to ensure we can pay our bills and pay our contractors for the work,” he said. “We’re not-for-profit in a sense. Any profit we make in one year is carried forward to the next and spent on roads or what have you.”

Gordon Cumming, chief forester for the forestry authority, said most of the harvesting happens in the winter when fewer visitors are in the park. The summertime, he said, is when most of the forestry authority’s silviculture work is done.

“We planted over half a million trees this summer and we do that every year,” said Cumming.

And forestry planning continues through the summer, too, he said.

“There is a forest inventory for the whole park that tells us exactly what is growing where. And we use that inventory to develop long-term plans,” he said. “We use models to project harvest volumes and wildlife habitats and old growth 100 years into the future. And those models are what we use to determine what a sustainable harvest level is.”

He said once the harvest level is determined, a 10-year plan is then created, which guides annual work schedules.

Those schedules, he said, determine not only how much of the forest will be harvested, but also which harvesting method will be used.

He said three methods are employed in the park – selection, shelterwood and, to a far lesser extent, clear cutting. Selection and shelterwood cutting are the predominant methods with about three per cent of the harvest completed through clear cutting, he said.

He said the decision about which method to use is based on the tree species in the harvest area.

“We’re lucky in the park that a lot of the tree species are shade tolerant, so they can be managed using partial-cutting systems,” he said.

He said selection and shelterwood logging involve harvesting about a third of the trees in predetermined areas. Areas are harvested on a roughly 20-year rotation. The harvest opens the canopy to sunlight and encourages forest regeneration, he said.

“They retain forest cover at all times, which is very compatible with the recreation that goes on in the park,” he said. “A lot of people wouldn’t even know if they walked away from the canoe routes that the areas were actually being managed, because the trees are still there.”

And the small amount of clear cutting included in the harvest methods has its forest management purpose, too, he said.

“The clear-cut system is used for the shade intolerant tree species. It is for those species that need sunlight conditions. You need to open up the forest and get that sunlight in, in order to regenerate those types of trees,” he said. “And you also need some early successional habitat.”

He noted that all three harvest systems are meant to emulate natural disturbances.

“We try to do what nature does through our forest management practices,” he said. “In the north, it’s emulating forest fires and in the south it’s emulating fire activity as well, but smaller fires, and blow-down events, things like that.”

Critics argue that logging in the park is not sustainable, regardless of the practices employed.

Gord Miller, provincial environmental commissioner, stated last year that the government should commit to end logging in the park, noting it had been banned in all of the other 338 provincial parks in Ontario.

“I am deeply disturbed that Ontario’s flagship park continues to receive the lowest level of protection of any of the province’s protected areas,” stated the commissioner. “This flies in the face of the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, 2006, which says that ecological integrity should be the top priority for managing and operating all parks.”

He also argued that there is enough lumber outside the park to sustain the industry, which makes logging inside the park unnecessary.

And he is not alone. Petitions and roadside billboards at the outskirts of the park advocate for the cessation of park logging, too.

But Cumming noted the park is still vibrant ecologically after more than 180 years of logging. And, since the forestry authority’s creation four decades ago, the sustainability of the practice has only advanced, he said.

“There is a reason why we have the largest concentration of natural, self-sustaining brook trout lakes in the world. It’s because sustainable forestry practices have protected those values,” he said. “Sometimes when I hear some of these groups come forward to say we need to stop it because these values are threatened, well, how are they still there after 180 years of logging?

“It’s more sustainable than it ever has been.”

By: Muskoka Region

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