Forestry ministers meet in Elk Ridge for annual forum

Bailey Sutherland, Daily Herald

Canada’s forest ministers met in Saskatchewan this week to discuss issues relating to forestry and conservation.

Saskatchewan Environment Minister Dustin Duncan, current Chair of Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, hosted the annual meeting for

Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial forest ministers to discuss challenges and opportunities facing Canada’s forest sector. The three-day  meeting was hosted at the Elk Ridge resort in Waskesiu from August 12th to 14th.

“The CCFM provides an important forum to discuss shared priorities and emerging trends in the forest sector across Canada,” Minister Duncan said in a press release.  “Although each jurisdiction has unique circumstances, there is tremendous value in identifying opportunities to work together on shared issues, and to hear about the many achievements that support a vision for a strong and sustainable forest sector.”

In addition to the Ministers’ discussions on forest sector competitiveness, job creation, trade and innovation, and a field tour of a nearby wildfire risk reduction project, the meeting also included the Forum on the Forests. 

During the Forum, the Ministers invited a variety of experts and stakeholders to discuss a range of advancements and opportunities, including Indigenous engagement in the forest sector, new approaches to wildland fires, and strengthening Canada’s environmental reputation.

The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) discussed several key forest sector priorities at this year’s meeting:

• Ministers agreed to further collaborate to promote the environmental reputation of the forest sector and further position Canada as a world leader in sustainable forest management and environmental stewardship.

• The Council agreed to advance a whole-of-government approach to wildland fire management.

• Ministers will continue to implement the Council’s Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada, with a report expected at their next meeting.

• Ministers discussed softwood lumber, reaffirming the importance of a coordinated approach to support and defend the forest sector.

• Innovation across the forest sector remains at the core of Council discussions.

“We have a lot of things in common when it comes to managing the forest industry in Canada, and we have some unique challenges”, says Minister Duncan.  He highlighted some important issues during the CCFM meeting that are particular to Saskatchewan. Duncan says, “One of these unique challenges is the spread of Mountain Pine Beetle in our Northern Boreal Forest”, which Duncan says acts as a “natural barrier” to the beetles. According to Duncan, the forest ministry in Saskatchewan has teamed up with Alberta to help them fight the spread of these beetles before they spread further east, and the CCFM meeting was an opportunity for the two provinces to discuss strategies with the rest of Canada on how they can work together with the help of the federal government to tackle issues within the forest industry. “We’re not in this alone, we shouldn’t be in this alone. We need federal help, we need other provinces to understand what we’re doing and why it is a benefit to them so that they don’t end up with Mountain Pine Beetle”.

As the meeting’s last order of business, Minister Duncan turned the CCFM Chair over to the Northwest Territories, who will host the group’s 2020 gathering.

“The Northwest Territories is proud to take on the CCFM Chair role,” Northwest Territories Environment and Natural Resources Deputy Minister Dr. Joe Dragon said in a press release.  “We look forward to maintaining the momentum gained this past year on issues such as collaboration with Indigenous communities and increasing wildland fire resiliency.”

The final day of the annual conference provided an opportunity for everyone to discuss common issues, including the forest sector’s reputation in Canada, forest fire resilience, woodland caribou protection, wood fibre supply, innovation and bioeconomy. Minister Duncan announced the Public Safety Agency of Saskatchewan that will be integrating the province’s Wildfire Management Branch from the Ministry of Environment, as well as the Emergency Management Branch of the Government Relations Ministry into one new agency. He is hoping that this change will create a better-coordinated approach when it comes to emergency management issues, like receiving help or sending help to other jurisdictions that are battling wildfires.

Canada’s Council of Forest Ministers is an annual forum that was established in 1985 to help federal, provincial and territorial governments work together on common concerns relating to the forest sector. The CCFM provides leadership on national and international issues, and sets direction for the stewardship and sustainable management of forests in Canada.

Duncan says the last three days of meetings were “really good” and the ministers that attended “couldn’t say enough about Saskatchewan hospitality, particular the people of Elk Ridge, Waskesiu and Prince Albert”.