By Vivian Collings
The energy and excitement of the standing-room-only presentation made by Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve’s managing director Malcolm Cockwell on Jan. 11 about the future of the Forest was palpable.
Winter coats could be heard swishing as their owners slipped them off during the first few minutes of the very first public screening of Against the Grain – A Story of a Maverick and his Forest.
Whispers were sparse and limited.
Gasps and “wows” were intermittently audible throughout both the documentary and presentation; an inspiring comparison of the forest’s past passionate leader and future innovative team.
Time stood still in the room heated by enthusiasm for nearly two and a half hours.
There were too many keen questions from listeners to be answered by the end.
The presentation, Inside Haliburton Forest, was an installment of the Yours Outdoors Speakers Series held at the HHOA Fish Hatchery on the second Wednesday of each month.
It began with the screening of Against the Grain, a documentary created by Sticks and Stones Productions in 2016 about Peter Schleifenbaum, Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve’s founder and “Maverick.”
“I would fully agree, and I would say I know the fellow very well, especially from back in that period, Peter was and is a Maverick in so many ways,” Cockwell said. “Something that I would say with full conviction is that there are very few people that I’ve met in my life that have the same level of vision, courage, and guts that Peter has when it comes to pursuing his convictions.”
The never-before-seen feature highlighted Schleifenbaum’s passion for the Forest and the innovative ideas he had, from wolves, to submarine tours, to EcoLog Homes, to help keep the Forest’s 100,000 acres protected.
Schleifenbaum is now retired from his countless roles at HFWR.
“I might be his successor in title at Haliburton Forest, but I do not identify as a Maverick at all. I identify as a professional forester that is a manager of the operations at Haliburton Forest, and there’s a big difference between them,” Cockwell said.
Rather than taking on all roles himself, Cockwell is among a team of others that work together to keep operations at the Forest running smoothly, which is one of the biggest differences between the Forest in 2016 and the Forest now.
“Haliburton Forest was very much run by one brilliant guy back in 2016,” Cockwell said. “There are between eight and 12 people today that run Haliburton Forest.”
The most significant thing to stay the same at Haliburton Forest: “Before anything else, it is first and foremost, and hopefully always, a large private forest of approximately 100,000 acres.”
On top of their own land, Haliburton Forest is now responsible for 1 million acres of Crown Land. They also provide forest management services to other landowners, which adds 200,000 acres of land to their management.
Cockwell showed a photo of a picturesque lake surrounded by red and orange-leaved trees in front of the backdrop of a clear blue sky.
“It looked pretty much like this 500 years ago, and hopefully, if my colleagues and I do our jobs properly, it’ll still look like this 500 years from now.”
Cockwell explained that the land itself is just one aspect of their business. As of 2017, they now have a forest products division and a tourism and recreation division, each comprised of many other businesses.
The Forest now employs around 175 people in comparison to 45 people in 2016.
Cockwell went on a “whirlwind tour” of each of the business units under the umbrella of Haliburton Forest.
“If you own a lot of something and it doesn’t hurt you to share it, and in fact, if it benefits you to share it, you’ve got to share it,” Cockwell said, explaining why the Forest does as much as it does. “It’s the right thing to do to make it accessible to other people.”
Haliburton Forest is currently the largest hardwood lumber producer in Ontario.
“We have to work profitably if we want to make the whole thing work. The best way to protect Haliburton Forest from division or development in the future is by making sure it’s profitable.”
Looking to the future
Cockwell outlined his vision for where Haliburton Forest will be in 2030; seven years from now as opposed to seven years since the documentary was made.
In regards to the community and environment, he hopes there will be a huge focus on invasive pests.
“I really really hope that by 2030, invasive pests are the daily news about the environment and that climate change goes on the backburner that it belongs on … I’m not saying that climate change doesn’t matter, but invasive pests is a much bigger deal to the environment and our community.”
He explained that 10 per cent of our forests have or will die from beech bark disease.
“You’ve got to make sure there’s an environment to protect in the first place.”
Speaking about the businesses themselves, in the tourism sector, he said they won’t get much bigger, but they do hope to get better.
“We’ll be far ahead of where we are today, and we’ll be recognized as a global gem as opposed to a regional or national gem. Hopefully, by 2030, we’ve found a really good way to spin that off to our local partners … so that across this region, we’re sharing that and also benefiting from it.”
He hopes the forest product businesses like sawmills and biochar facilities will continue expanding.
He expects they will be five to 10 times the size they are today by 2030.
“At some point, we’ll be big enough, and we’ll have to turn our attention to really optimizing.”
Cockwell foresees that Haliburton Forest Biochar becomes a main producer of biochar to be used in advanced manufacturing for things like thermoplastics.
To learn more about Haliburton Forest Biochar’s recent expansion, visit haliburtonecho.ca/haliburton-forest-biochar-announces-10-million-expansion/.
“We believe fundamentally, all of my colleagues and I, that the land is going to outlive us. We’re only here for a little glimpse of time, and it’s going to be here long after we’re gone,” Cockwell said.