Haliburton’s Cockwell hopes to use new role to promote Ontario’s forests

By Mike Baker

Having recently taken on a leading role with provincial non-profit Forests Ontario, Haliburton’s Malcolm Cockwell is committed to protecting what he believes is Canada’s greatest natural resource.

The long-time managing director of the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve has been a leading voice, locally, for many years on issues related to forest management. Now he plans to expand his reach, and provide that same level of engagement and support provincewide after recently taking on the role of president with Forests Ontario.

“This is an exciting opportunity for me to step up, do my part and assist with the stewardship of all of Ontario’s forests,” Cockwell said. “I’ve been on the board of directors with the organization for the last six years. I’m probably one of the longest serving board members, so the timing felt right to step up. I know the industry, and I know the challenges we’re facing.”
He added, “I am looking forward to supporting the dedicated, talented staff at Forests Ontario over the coming years.”

Forests Ontario is a not-for-profit charity dedicated to re-greening the province through the support of tree planting, forest restoration, stewardship, education and awareness.

Cockwell’s priority moving forward will be promoting some of the “amazing” parks and forests across the province, while bolstering the many programs and initiatives Forests Ontario provides.

“Educating the public about the opportunities available to them is becoming increasingly important, even more so during the pandemic. We’ve got people who, basically, are stuck inside and are hungry for opportunities to get into green space, and especially forests. Then, being able to educate people about the importance of forests, how they’re managed and how they’re conserved is always important.”

That education traditionally begins in the classroom, Cockwell says. In a normal year, Forests Ontario would run hundreds of presentations and seminars in elementary and high schools all across the province, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it’s been over a year since they’ve been able to engage students in-person. That has led to the organization taking many of its recent programs and initiatives, such as the Ontario Envirothon, online.

Ontario Envirothon is an environmentally-themed academic competition that immerses students in hands-on learning and discovery. Through the program, Forests Ontario offers budding environmental leaders a chance to explore education and career paths in the natural sciences and network with potential mentors. For more information on the initiative, and other Forests Ontario programs, visit forestsontario.ca.

While Cockwell has established a fine career for himself in the forestry industry, he admits he was something of a late bloomer. He only realized that it was possible to earn a living working in, and with nature, once he was already studying at university. That’s why he feels it’s so important to educate the youth of today about the wealth of opportunities available right on their doorstep.

“Canada is a forested country. There’s so much in this industry that is so good for so many people, and a lot of us go through school, or approach post-secondary without really knowing what’s out there,” Cockwell said. “When I started out, I didn’t intend on getting into forestry – I wanted to become a journalist, or a lawyer. Then I got to school, learned about the incredibly rewarding careers and pivoted. It would be nice if there was more information out there, and students knew about all the opportunities they have.”

Here in town, Cockwell is the managing director of the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, a for-profit entity that owns and operates around 100,000 acres of land across the county. The company runs a research facility, education centre, wolf centre and three sawmills, employing around 150 people year-round.

“I like to call us a sustainable multi-use private land stewardship company,” Cockwell said. “Sustainable meaning that we’re doing everything we do in a manner that we can do it for an extremely long time. Our management planning window is often beyond 100 years, which I think is pretty good proof of being sustainable. Multi-use means that we’re not just in one business, we’re actually involved in dozens of businesses. And then when you look at our land and what we do, I think we define what it is to be multi-use. We’re looking at things from a conservation perspective, a growth and timber yield production perspective, looking at the value the sawmills bring, and then considering the recreational perspective too.

“And while most people think we’re a provincial park, we’re not. Our land is private land. We are a for-profit business, but for-profit in a responsible way. Stewardship is really important to us – to us, that means doing what we do for more than just the money. We are committed to earning our social license and being the best possible landowners for this piece of property – fulfilling our land ethos, which is to make the property better from an ecological perspective,” Cockwell concluded.

For more on Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, visit haliburtonforest.com.