What is a Working Forest?


Peter Schleifenbaum, owner and manager of Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, was asked to open the recent OFA conference with a presentation on his perspectives of what a working forest is. His positive message and outlook kicked off the annual OFA conference off with enthusiasm and set the tone for the day. As a private landowner with a variety of activities taking place on his property, Peter has a unique perspective on what a working forest really means.


Upon failing to find a definition of what he thought described a working forest accurately, Peter developed his own.


“A working forest is a forest where the sustainable production of timber is balanced with other consumptive and non-consumptive uses while contributing to the non-quantifiable benefits received by society”


Peter believes that there are 3 key parts of every working forest: timber production, multi-use and sustainability as an over-arching goal and strategy. A working forest works to balance all of these three components.


To Peter, all of the different components of timber production are part of a working forest- including the process of harvesting, the hauling and the delivery to the mill. He believes the challenge is that in Ontario we are too disconnected with what we are producing from the forest. There should be a greater integration between mills and forests, especially in southern Ontario where we have very high value wood. The harvesting and regeneration should work as an integrated unit, so that we are planning for future healthy forests.


Peter expressed his concern with the challenges that the Ministry of Natural Resources has faced over the past 20 years and the impact that this could have on our working forests. There either needs to be more confidence put in the MNR or a new model may need to be created for forestry in Ontario. Our resources are valuable and we need to start treating them this way.


What is sustainability and what does it mean in the concept of the working forest? There is no ecological sustainability without economic sustainability. You have to pay for what you are doing, including holding some land aside for conservation. Our working forests are providing ecosystem services to the people of Ontario, including clean air, water and wildlife habitat. He sees that the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program (MFTIP) is a way for the public to pay back for those services. Therefore working forests are entitled to MFTIP and we should focus away from it being a tax benefit, and more about it being an entitlement.


In looking to the future of our forests, Peter spoke about 4 major challenges for the working forest: economics, government, climate change, and invasive pests. Beyond these challenges we need to look at our forests as a sustainable resource, and really the only sustainable resource on this globe, if we manage them well. Forests are not just about trees- we know what they are doing and where they will be tomorrow- rather, on a daily basis, we are dealing with people interacting with the forest. People are both the asset and the challenge.


Our working forests provide great benefit to society and balancing various needs from the forest is the goal of sustainability.