Under The Shadow Of The Saw: The Value Of The Catchacoma Forest


PETER CURRIER – Greenzine‘s mission – to localize the climate crisis – is unavoidably interwoven with public procedures and policy. Vested interest, the profit motive, pork-barreling, and the obsession with “growth” are all at odds with our foundational values of social equity, sustainability, resilience, local initiative and a democratic sense of shared economic destiny.

An excellent example of this is the four year effort of the Catchacoma Forest Stewardship Committee. CFSC has advocated tirelessly for the preservation of the Catchacoma Forest Old Growth Hemlock stand that is under threat of logging in northern Peterborough County.

The CFSC attempts to find sympathetic political ears in advocating for the Forest’s preservation but these efforts are falling on ears deafened by profit and appalling ignorance of the life-supporting role of the natural environment.

While giving protection status for the Catchacoma Forest would be a no-brainer for overseers with an ounce of foresight and wisdom, Premier Doug Ford and his hench people have governed with little thought for anything beyond money and staying in power with support of those with lots of it. Motivated by resource consumption and sale, Ford is self-declared as favouring business and private enterprise over public interest.

Two other examples of this: the Green Belt fiasco and the health care system. The favouritism extended to private sector developers in this case is emblematic of the Ontario Conservative Party government’s fixation on “friends” and the profligate consumption of natural resources.

Regarding the health care sector, here is the Council of Canadians on Doug Ford’s much admired role model, former Ontario Conservative Premier Mike Harris:

“Harris has profited a lot from his part time boardroom-based job with Chartwell. According to the Toronto Star, he was paid $229,500 last year. The Star also reports that “Harris had more than $7 million in Chartwell holdings at the end of 2019 (its last fiscal year) – including $4.29 million in ‘deferred trust units’ (akin to shares) that reflect his accumulated compensation over the years (deferred until retirement).”
Arguably, the former Premier took in that windfall and left long-term health care short-changed, contributing to the more than 16,000 deaths from COVID in Ontario nursing homes.

In the several years since the Catchacoma Forest campaign began, many approaches have been made to local and provincial politicians in hopes that conservation commitments would be honoured by granting protection status to the Catchacoma Old Growth Hemlock Forest. [See the Greenzine ‘Hew and Cry’ in the Environment section of the Greenzine where these local community approaches are detailed.]

None of these overtures has been responsibly received. In pursuing protection for the Forest, the CFSC has been stonewalled at every level of Ontario politics.

When several CFSC members met with Peterborough Mayor Jeff Leal in early May, 2023, Leal claimed to have spoken with MPP Smith about the Forest.The CFSC has not learned of the outcome, and Smith remains unresponsive. MPP Smith once observed that conservationists are often dismissed as granola-eating, berki-wearing tree huggers. But the economics of woodland conservation in climate catastrophe prevention are as compelling as the ecological, educational, recreational and mental health benefits of intact forests.

So what about money? Are forests more valuable as stumps or trees?

“Natural capital” (NC) is the total asset stock value of all goods and services that an ecosystem provides expressed in dollars (Natural Capital Coalition 2019). Timber value (TV) is the off-the-stump market value of logs. Research on the economics of the Catchacoma Forest concluded that “A comparison of the NC with the TV for each scenario shows that the NC is roughly ten times greater than the TV across all scenarios.” The inarguable fact is that, given current climate change and biospheric exigencies, many forests are much more valuable on the stump than off.

The 20-minute documentary “Conserving Catchacoma” by Mitch Bowmile was a Peterborough Reframe Film Festival documentary in 2021. It is a boots-on-the-ground look at protecting Catchacoma’s Old Growth Hemlock from the perspective of many stakeholders.

Supporters and friends of the Forest are many: The Municipality of Trent Lakes Council, Cavendish Ratepayers Assn Inc.(CCRAI) and the Catchacoma Cottagers Association (CCA) have all sent letters to the MECP or the MNRF supporting conservation efforts.

With so much at stake, the CFSC and Friends of the Forest will continue the campaign until the shadow of the saw no longer hangs over the Old Growth Hemlock Catchacoma Forest.

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