New Brunswick's new Crown forest policy will eliminate restrictions on cutting Acadian forest areas, relax clearcutting rules and lessen government oversight of industrial forest operations, says Green party Leader David Coon.
Coon says he has obtained briefing notes from the Department of Natural Resources that outline how a 21 per cent increase in the annual allowable cut of softwood on Crown land will be achieved under the new policy.
Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud refused to respond to Coon's comments on Wednesday.
"You will have all the details on our forestry plan that was announced a couple of weeks ago in a few weeks, or months," he told reporters.
But Deputy Opposition Leader Donald Arseneault says that's too late.
"So far, the minister of Natural Resources is only talking about the economic side and he's failed New Brunswickers in providing the science of how this decision was made," he said.
It was previously known that 48 per cent of the increased allocation will come through reducing the province's conservation forest — the area that is off-limits for cutting by industry — from the 2012 level of 31 per cent to a level of 23 per cent for the next 10 years.
The documents leaked to Coon and the Green Party show an additional 22 per cent of the extra wood, or 142,000 cubic metres a year, will come through elimination of the Acadian forest standard that mandated only selection cutting in those areas.
The Acadian forest is a mix of older trees including sugar maple, birch, beech, red spruce and hemlock that Coon says "give us the very best colours in the fall."
"We know this is some of the most endangered forest type in North America," says Coon.
"The prescription was you can't clear cut in those areas, you can only selection cut, because if you clear cut it will be converted to a different kind of forest and it won't come back as an Acadian, sort of classic, forest," says Coon.
The documents indicate the requirement for selective harvesting is being repealed.
'Acadian forest stands will be permitted to be clearcut to the very last one. Gone. So that's appalling.' - David Coon, Green party leader
"Acadian forest stands will be permitted to be clearcut to the very last one," says Coon.
"Gone. So that's appalling."
The documents also indicate the maximum size of clearcuts will be increased to 100 hectares from the previous maximum of 75 hectares. The requirements to leave forest patches in clearcuts will be reduced by 10 per cent.
"People may have seen these driving along the highways, wondering why little patches have been left, which is supposed to be for wildlife," said Coon.
The amount of time before an adjacent area can be clear cut is being reduced to five years from the current minimum of 10 years, says Coon.
Coon concerned about new oversight system
The Green Party leader is also concerned about a move to results-based management, which lessens oversight of industry operations on Crown land by Department of Natural Resources officials.
Up until now, industry would need to advise the department on its cutting plan for each block of Crown land, but that requirement is being dropped, says Coon.
"We're going to abandon that prescriptive approach and go to results-based management, which is sort of hands off, turn the keys over to the companies who have the licences and then evaluate the results at the end of the day — when of course, it's too late if you don't like the results," said Coon.
Results-based management has been implemented in Maine.
"Results-based management is a boon to the companies because it's cheaper for them," says Coon.
"They don't have to pay the kind of attention they do on a block-by-block basis and interact with DNR around that."
Coon says the resulting Department of Natural Resources budget cut of $10 million is likely to mean job losses in the department.
"With this approach, you turn the keys over to the companies," he said.
"You don't need the kind of oversight we have now. So $10 million, that means jobs lost or people assigned to lower-paying jobs. We'll see."
Under the government's new forest policy, Coon says he believes, "Crown land will look very much like the private lands managed by J.D. Irving — very industrialized forest growth with significant impacts on all of the values that New Brunswickers set as their No. 1 priority.
"So we're going to lose populations of wildlife. We're going to see significant impacts on our wetlands, further impacts on our rivers and streams."
Coon is seeking a copy of the Crown land contract the government signed with J.D. Irving through the provinces Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The government has another two weeks to respond to his request.
"We need to know how much it's going to cost us to break these contracts because they've got to be broken," says Coon.
"We've got to repeal this radical approach to forest management on Crown lands."