Province bulldozes Agro Woodlot Program

Manitoba Woodlot Association “disappointed” that the one-of-a-kind 
program assisting small-scale forestry has been cancelled

Manitoba’s Agro Woodlot Program has fallen to the provincial budget axe.

Short-term contracts for four forestry technicians based in communities in the southern part of the province were allowed to expire in March, and grants for logging based on beneficial management practices will no longer be offered.

A provincial spokesperson confirmed the Manitoba Agro Woodlot Program is now being delivered by GO teams across the province.

The long-term costs will be much higher than the short-term savings, said Allan Webb, secretary treasurer of the Manitoba Woodlot Association, because the program helped farmers and landowners capitalize on the formerly overlooked economic value of well-managed forests.

“I was very disappointed, but I wasn’t terribly surprised because natural resource management isn’t a priority in this province,” said Webb.

The Agro Woodlot Program staff were doing “really good stuff that nobody else was,” he said. That included training people how to operate chainsaws safely, how to estimate the value of standing timber, and providing advice and sample contracts for landowners dealing with private loggers, he said.

It’s doubtful that GO team staff, who probably aren’t familiar with the intricacies of forestry, will be able to provide meaningful hands-on assistance, he added.

Webb also questioned the wisdom of shutting down a one-of-a-kind program aimed at turning a neglected and often wasted resource into hard cash and jobs for people in rural areas. Less assistance for people wanting to start up small-scale sawmill operations will likely result in more finished products being imported from Ontario or the U.S., he said.

“A lot of landowners didn’t realize that they had a valuable resource,” said Webb, who predicted the result will likely mean more potentially valuable bush pushed into ugly piles and burned.

How valuable is the resource?

A March presentation by Agro Woodlot staff pegged the value of firewood at $150 to $275 per cord, and kiln-dried burr oak at $3.20 per lineal foot.

For example, four cords of ash or oak saw logs are worth $400 to $600, or $100 in stumpage fees for the landowner. If turned into rough cut lumber, that same four cords could fetch $3,000, or $7,000 if turned into tongue-and-groove flooring. If an ambitious sawyer were to install, sand and stain that same four cords of sawlogs, it would be worth $14,000, they said.

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