Forestry experts are anxiously awaiting the New Brunswick government's new strategy for Crown land use, saying that opening more conservation land to development could endanger the animals and plants that live there.
Graham Forbes, a professor at the University of New Brunswick and director of the New Brunswick Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, is concerned that the province may allow companies more access to Crown land at the expense of conservation and species protection.
The forest industry has been lobbying for years to get more wood from public forests, saying that's essential to upgrade its operations.
At the same time, scientists like Forbes have warned government not to reduce the amount of protected woodland.
"They already decreased the amount of conserved forest from 31 to 28 per cent two years ago. And now there's talk of going well below that," said Forbes.
"And I can't see how they can justify it at all. Based on the Crown Forest Lands Act, the New Brunswick Wildlife policy, which have requirements to maintain rival populations of native species."
Forbes says concerns over species at risk have increased with expectations that the forest industry will be given more Crown land access.
"With an increase in wood supply, or cutting of wood, and a decrease in the conserved forest, there'll be less of these old forest patches habitats and they'll probably be smaller and they'll probably be isolated, and therefore, not doing the job that society expects them to be doing: protect wildlife and keep some old forest in the province."
Land belongs to taxpayers
Forest sociologist Tom Beckley said an increase in cutting could leave taxpayers on the hook.
"They could come back with suing us for damages if they make these investments in their mills and then they don't have the fibre, because, you know, of acts of nature, not because of acts of policy."
There is also concern about the lack of public input into any new policy, said Forbes.
Roberta Clowater, of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, says the government has not consulted the public about giving industry more wood.
"They are the trustee of our values on public land. And the public has said, time and time again, our priorities are for water, wildlife, air, basic ecological sustainability of the forest. And, as a byproduct, producing timber for economic development purposes," Clowater said.
The new forestry policy is set to be released next month.