Algonquin Park challenged to maintain balance
SEAN CHASE/DAILY OBSERVER Renfrew County Council recently hosted the Algonquin Forestry Authority (AFA). The crown organization, that oversees Algonquin Park, is marking its 40th anniversary this year. In the photo (left to right) are Dave Stewart, chairman of the AFA board of directors, Warden Peter Emon, AFA general manager Jeff Leavey and board vice-chairman Dave Lemke.
Algonquin Park remains a critical part of Renfrew County's economy, however, Ontario's largest provincial park faces many challenges.
Those trials were spelled out for County Council by a delegation from the Algonquin Forestry Authority (AFA), the provincial crown agency responsible for sustainable forest management in Algonquin Park. The organization oversees the harvesting and distribution of wood products to mills in communities adjacent to the park.
Established in 1893, the 7,653-square kilometre park is the oldest provincial park in Canada. It is also the only designated park within the province to allow industrial logging to take place within its borders.
When it was set up in 1974, the AFA took over the licences of 20 timber companies committing to maintain a supply of certain volumes and products. This commitment is based on what the forest can sustainably provide. In 1983, transferred the responsibility for forest management, silviculture, wood measurement, and maintenance of public access roads from the Ministry of Natural Resources to the AFA.
However, Dave Stewart, chairman of the AFA board of directors, said it is important to maintain a balance that keeps Algonquin Park sustainable for the forestry industry, while ensuring its place as a recreational getaway for an annual one million visitors.
"It is one of the best examples of multiple use in the world," said Stewart, a former county warden. "The challenges we face are significant but the benefits are extraordinary."
Logging operations in the park result in $20 million worth of sales in forest products, while another $18.6 million was paid to contractors employed throughout the region. The park supplies 40 per cent of the industrial wood supply from crown land in the province's southern region.
In terms of socio-economic impact, Jeff Leavey, general manager of the AFA, explained that more than 300 people are employed directly in the park as a result of the forestry industry, while another 3,000 are employed in mills throughout the region. That means more than 500 jobs in Renfrew County alone. Recreation users bring in $60 million annually, including $23.7 million in campground rentals. Last year, the authority received only three complaints about logging from tourists.
County council remains concerned that Queen's Park could be influenced to eliminate logging in the park altogether. In 2005, the Minister of Natural Resources asked the Ontario Parks board of directors to provide advice on how to lighten the ecological footprint of logging in Algonquin Park. The board recommended that 241,032 hectares to be added to the protection zones, expanding the protected zones to 409,482 hectares, 54 per cent of the park, which would have an adverse effect on the county’s forestry industry. Killaloe-Hagarty-Richards Mayor Janice Visneskie, a staunch defender of the industry, said the AFA has struck that important balance between maintain a recreational forest, while ensure the harvest continues.
"We are known worldwide because of the AFA's efforts and the sustainable forests you are able to do," she said.
Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet added there is pressure generating in Toronto to reduce the logging footprint in the park.
"We still have to be very vigilant about the future of logging in Algonquin Park," said Sweet.
In addition to forestry and recreation, the park supports scientific research, ecological projects, the preservation of aboriginal culture and youth camps. Leavey said the AFA fosters stakeholder participation through public consultation. Those groups include the Local Citizen's Committee, the Forest Certification Advisory Group and the Algonquins of Ontario.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist