Ontario’s forest products economy has seen “breathtaking change” over recent years, says Bill Towill, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.  By one Ministry estimate, for example, more than half of those directly employed by the sector in 2001 no longer have their jobs.
And we gasped. 
“We” are a broad-ranging group of Minnesotans who, this week, stand before the stunning beauty and hard lessons of Ontario’s forests to learn and share.  We are the Blandin Foundation’s “Seeing the Forest AND the Trees” tour participants, a group of about 30 that landed this morning in Thunder Bay.
Our hosts, many of the province’s top natural resources officials, have been extraordinarily generous with their time and candid insights so that we can take home a lot more than sourvenir t-shirts.  For example, Bill Thornton, Assistant Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, says their forest economies are facing a “fundamental tranformation.” Because of the sector’s critical impact in the province, where more than 70% of manufacturing GDP is from forest products, Bill explained how coalitions of provincial leaders, municipal officials, industry, unions and others won hard-fought provincial policy changes to help spur recovery.
With possums in the south and polar bears in the north, this diverse land offers a wide range of lessons for us–bioenergy, biochemicals, impacts of a no-coal energy policy, climate change, American housing markets, rising costs and shrinking margins, and more.  The chatter on the bus back to the Best Western tonight was peppered with comparisons to Minnesota and of both opportunity and challenge. 
Check out the Vital Forests/Vital Communities section of the Foundation’s web site for more information about the Productivity Tour, and stay tuned for news of our plans for Scandinavia this fall.