“Some of the most staunch environmentalists I know work in that industry,” Sue Prodaniuk says. Having worked in a communications position in the forestry business for over a decade, she’s met countless representatives of the industry, from the loggers swatting mosquitoes and cutting trees on the front lines to the workers whose vehicles occupy the parking lots at the Resolute mill on the south side of Thunder Bay.
Sue feels that a sustainable forestry industry is more than just a source of jobs or an economic driver. It’s also personally important to the people working within it. “When people talk about companies they’re not just talking about businesses. They’re talking about the people who work for them. And these are people who grew up in the North and love the North,” she says. “You couldn’t have better stewards than the people who work for that company. They hike, they fish, they canoe – they understand how their company’s actions affect the land they live on.”
A Thunder Bay native, Sue’s had the opportunity to watch the way sustainable forestry has affected the land she lives on her whole life, but joining Avenor’s team in 1990 gave her a deeper understanding of the economic impact the industry has on her city. Like many others, Sue has watched forestry cycle through high and low periods. “Forestry will always be part of who we are and what we do and how we sustain ourselves,” she believes, “and it’s always been cyclical.” Having been part of the industry as it began one of its worst cycles, she says she and her peers were expecting forestry to change during the downturn. “Not that it wouldn’t be robust,” she says of those expectations, “but that it would be different.”
And different it is. As it cycles upwards again it seems that forestry has become even more tightly-woven into the fabric of Northwestern Ontario than ever. There is a greater focus on waste reduction and efficiencies, creating more opportunities for local jobs in value-added processes and more synergies with other business. Sue cites the new sawmill on Fort William First Nation as a prime example: added to existing infrastructure, it now lets Resolute Forest Products make use of all but 3” of tree-top. Thunder Bay also boasts one of the biggest paper-recycle mills in North America, providing even more opportunities for development.
From her current position as the Director of Advancement and Communications for Confederation College Sue is well-placed to see some of the other ways the forestry industry is supporting the region. “There are two things I want people to know,” she says. “One – it’s alive and well. And two – it is completely, 100% sustainable.”
When she worked with Resolute and its predecessors, Sue says, “I knew that for every job they provided there were three other jobs created in this community. Everything is tied to that: our education system, the number of schools we have, the people attending those schools… all of it.” Today she sees forestry workers teaching and providing input on program development to ensure the College’s programming stays relevant. The College is about to install a bio-reactor which will heat its main building using slash and other fuel products supplied by Resolute, and a second reactor will be used for hands-on student training and for biomass research for Resolute and other partners. It’s an exciting development that could furnish the region with even more opportunities to share and improve the use of forest resources.