New N.B. forestry policy vital: professor
Last Updated: Friday, September 10, 2010 | 2:07 PM ET
By Daniel McHardie, CBC News
New Brunswick's forest sector can no longer be relied up be the province's main economic driver, writes Thomas Beckley, a forestry expert at the University of New Brunswick. (Jeff Bassett/Canadian Press)The days when New Brunswick could rely on the forest industry to be the province's primary economic driver may be over and the next government must overhaul its forest management policies, an expert in the field says.
In an analysis for CBC News, Thomas Beckley, a professor with the University of New Brunswick's faculty of forestry and environmental management, writes the forestry sector can no longer be relied on for jobs.
"Providing jobs and generating wealth are important, but these are secondary or tertiary priorities for most New Brunswickers," Beckley writes.
"While we have made some improvements over the years on the environmental side of forest management, the gap between the policies citizens desire and the policies governments put forth does not appear to be narrowing and it may indeed be widening."
The forest industry has been fading in many New Brunswick communities in the last decade. Mills have closed in Dalhousie and Miramichi, while mills in communities such as Nackawic have been restarted to produce different products.
Only British Columbia relies more on its forest industry for wealth generation than New Brunswick. In 2005, the sector represented almost 10 per cent of New Brunswick's gross domestic product.
Forestry issues are cropping up on the campaign trail as the Sept. 27 election nears.
The Liberals have unveiled a series of policy changes they say will help the industry. When party leader Shawn Graham talks about his party's commitment to create 20,000 new jobs, he often talks about switching his focus to new sectors.
The Progressive Conservatives have called for a forestry summit to be held in the months after the Sept. 27 election, where it would ask for input on forestry policy.
Party leader David Alward said he would also create hardwood and softwood timber harvesting objectives and set out a multi-year silviculture proposal that would include funding increases.
The New Democratic Party is promising to hike stumpage fees to log on Crown land and to offer woodlot owners a multi-year silviculture funding package.
Industry at crossroads
Thomas Beckley, a professor at UNB's faculty of forestry and environmental management, writes that past governments have developed policies that favour traditional industry players. (Courtesy of Thomas Beckley)However, the industry is at a crossroads. It is struggling to compete with a Canadian currency that has remained near parity with the U.S. greenback, the downturn in the global economy as well as the weakened export markets into the United States.
Recent New Brunswick governments have attempted to overhaul forest management policy, but Beckley writes the changes have been to the advantage of the large existing players.
Shawn Graham's Liberal government introduced three different reports on the future of the forest industry in the last four years.
Those reports should have ushered in a period of co-operation and consultation between all groups involved in the forest industry to hammer out a new future for the sector, Beckley said .
Instead, he noted, only a brief period of public consultation was offered.
"Token recognition was given to public desires for greater environmental protection, but overall, more of the forest was made available for harvest and for manipulation to grow more fiber faster," he writes.
"This 'top-down' approach to policy development was taken even though one of the clearest findings from the public opinion survey was that citizens were frustrated in their lack of ability to provide meaningful input on policy directions."
In a new forest management strategy, Beckley writes, the New Brunswick government should stop finding ways to export low-value raw wood products.
Instead, he said, the provincial government should find ways to harvest less wood but create more economic wealth with it.
The problem is that any politicians want to "grow more trees, faster," the UNB forestry professor said, rather that developing policies that support a new entrepreneurial culture.
"There has been a perpetual debate on forest policy for the last decade, and while we are clearly in crisis our policy solutions have been more backward than forward looking," he writes.