The Ontario government is looking to develop a strategy to promote economic growth in the forestry sector.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry will be holding a series of roundtable discussions across the province in preparation.

Those sessions will be held in Sault Ste. Marie, Kitchener, Kenora, Kapuskasing, North Bay, Thunder Bay, Pembroke, and Timmins, starting in November.

Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Jeff Yurek announced the provincial government’s plan to develop a forestry strategy on Thursday, September 27th.

The forestry industry generates more than $15 billion dollars in revenue and supports more than 150,000 jobs in Ontario, according to the ministry.

Yurkek said the industry lost 51,000 jobs under the previous government over the last 15 years.

“From what I’ve heard from municipalities and Indigenous groups and stakeholders is, you know, they weren’t listened to,” he said.

“So the first step … is to talk to municipalities, talk to Indigenous communities and talk to the forestry, and find out how we can work together, partner and make northern Ontario prosperous again.”

One issue expected to come up at the roundtables is access to the province’s wood supply.

Less than half a percent of Ontario forests are harvested by the industry.

“However for the past decade, government policy and increased red tape have created significant uncertainty around accessing those allocated wood supplies,” said Chris Heideman vice president of Lavern Heidman & Sons, a sawmill based in eastern Ontario, at a press conference last week.

Both Heideman and Yurek pointed to Ontario’s forest management system, which they say is regarded across the world for its sustainable approach to using forests.

Yurek said the focus for the government will now be on ensuring the industry is also sustainable.

“If you compare the food harvest to forest fires and disease, forest fires and disease take 10 times the amount of wood that is harvested each year,” he said.

“It is a minute amount in total of our forests that are available, so we need to talk and have a discussion [about] how much is needed to make the industry flourish.”

After the roundtables are completed in the spring, Yurek said the next step will be to sit down and develop a plan of action.