After lots of meetings across the Island and many months of discussions, Island forest owners are about to move forward with a new woodlot owners’ association. Almost 88% of the Island’s forest land is owned and managed by private land owners. Privately owned forests provide income and employment to hundreds of Islanders and wood from private lands is used to make building materials, paper products, and firewood to heat our homes. Medicinal plants such as ground hemlock are harvested for use in cancer treatments while nuts, berries and twigs are used to make foods and decorative products. As at the same time these forests provide wildlife habitats, clean air and water, protect our soil, beautify our landscape and offer places for recreation and solitude.
The importance of these forested lands to all Islanders cannot be overemphasized but often the interests and concerns of the owners are overlooked or poorly understood by decision makers. Unlike farmers and fishermen who have groups that represent their ideas and concerns, Island forest owners tend to act individually. This often limits their ability to voice their collective concerns, deal with wood buying companies, or develop the many other values of their lands in an effective and consistent manner.
Over the years, a variety of woodlot owners’ organizations have come and gone. In some cases, these groups were formed to address specific economic and marketing opportunities. Others gave voice to concerns over issues that mattered to land owners. In each case, these associations had many positive impacts for their membership but changing economic times, land owner population demographics, and new private land forest issues led to a gradual decline in interest and participation for most groups.
This story of forest owner groups that come and go is not unique to the Island. Similar groups in other parts of eastern Canada have had varying degrees of success reflecting the issues and opportunities of the time. Still, today most provinces have organized and effective forest owner groups that help their members meet a variety of needs and interests in areas such as education, silviculture, recreation, environmental stewardship and marketing forest products.
Finding the right direction and focus for the new Island organization is an ongoing process but a steering group has been working to identify and distill the key concerns and opportunities participants offered at the various meetings. By asking what forest owners want and expect first, and then developing ideas and strategies that could address those issues, they felt the chances of success would be much greater over the long term.