The Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry claims the forestry sector is “healthier” than it was in recent years.

Bill Mauro said the Liberal government will be committing $60 million to forest access roads as well as making the forestry sector eligible for the Jobs and Prosperity Fund, which sits at $2.7 billion. This is the first time the forestry sector has been included in the fund.

These two announcements follow the province’s commitment to make the Northern Industrial Electricity Rate program permanent while spending $120 million per year.

Mauro said the forestry sector is still not where it was before 2005 but things appear to be improving.

“We’re healthier,” he said. “You are seeing investments in Ontario and there are still challenges. I’m not here pretending to be Pollyannaish about this. There are challenges in this, especially in the newsprint side. The sawmilling industry is strong and getting stronger and we created a new industry with the pellet piece here in Northwestern Ontario. There is reason for optimism and we’re doing our best to help them grow.”

Mauro explained the funding for the roads program was $38 million last year but they were able to bring that up by $22 million. He called it a key program for forestry companies.

The program focuses on construction and maintenance of primary and secondary access roads.

Since the forestry crunch in 2005 and 2006, he said there was few forestry companies being active in Northern Ontario. He said they knew the industry would come back but wouldn’t be the same when it did.

“We’re seeing, on the newsprint side for example, huge declines in newsprint production because the demand isn’t there,” he said.

“They need help. This program is one of the things we can put out there that will help them remain economically viable in a very competitive industry.”