Volker Kromm came to Thunder Bay as a young person to support the forestry industry, and despite a convoluted road that finds him in a drastically different line of work from his beginnings as a tree-planter, he’s still supporting it – just not exactly as expected.
In 1975, when Volker hired on with the MNR as a tree-planter, there was no such thing as a Forest Management Agreement. “Forest management was practiced on an ad hoc basis,” he says, and is quick to point out that, ad hoc or not, it was, in fact, managed, even before it was legislated. A couple of years later he joined Abitibi Price’ silviculture team, developing operational strategies for reforestation and helping to implement them. As forestry policy and legislation evolved, he became an active witness to the implementation of the first FMAs. To give him balanced perspective, Abitibi sent him out to various logging sites to join cutting teams. Gradually Volker became heavily involved in Abitibi Price’ reforestation planning, and eventually he became part of the first team in Ontario to implement GIS.
Volker found silviculture exciting, interesting and personally rewarding work. Thunder Bay was a major centre for forestry operations across Northwestern Ontario; Abitibi Price staffed five different mills in the city and was counted as one of the major employers in the region. And then, a decade and a half ago, the bottom fell out.
With the sudden slump in the industry came layoffs. First idled, then closed, the five Abitibi Price mills represented hundreds of jobs that vanished like smoke. With many of his co-workers, Volker found himself out of work; unlike many, his long list of administrative, operations and planning experience made him easily employable in other sectors.
Although no longer employed by the forestry industry, Volker is still an avid follower of forestry news and has strong opinions about the way the industry needs to move forward. “The supply of wood fibre fluctuates on a global basis,” he says, “and when it becomes scarce in other parts of the world we need to be ready to seize the opportunity.” He feels innovation and entrepreneurship should be fostered, and that the encouragement of value-added production should be a priority. “I guess that flies in the face of people who think ‘no use is good use’ of forest products,” he says, “but that’s what I think. Those people need to come for a stroll through one of our “old growth forests” up here and get a quick lesson in the reality of blow-downs and dense tinderbox undergrowth. If you don’t use your forests you’re dependent on fire to rejuvenate them. And we work really hard at fire suppression up here.”
Ironically, Volker is still supporting the forestry industry – by helping, in what he calls “the drought,” to feed the increasing number of unemployed and hungry people in Northwestern Ontario. As the Executive Director of the Regional Food Distribution Association, a Thunder Bay-based charity that serves as a centralized warehousing system for local food banks and feeding programs struggling to meet the increasing need, Volker knows by the jumps in the “hunger count” when layoffs happen, or when severance packages run out.
“As the forestry industry declines,” he says, shaking his head, “my business increases.”