Rod Cumberland

Former Natural Resources biologist Rod Cumberland says the province's new forest strategy is not a good balance, as the government claims. (CBC)

A retired New Brunswick biologist says the province's new forest management plan is a recipe for environmental problems and not the "good balance" the Alward government claims.

Rod Cumberland contends many scientists on the provincial payroll are equally alarmed, but are too afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

"We have a forestry issue in New Brunswick because we have a bullying issue; we have people daily using tyranny to get their way and to spin their stories; we have a media monopoly that controls freedom of speech to most New Brunswickers," Cumberland wrote in a scathing open letter to the media.

"Government employees across the province are muzzled on an issue that they can and should speak to without fear of repercussions."

Deputy Premier and Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Under the new forest strategy, released last week, industry can cut about 20 per cent more softwood from Crown land annually, or 660,000 cubic metres.

To help achieve that, the amount of Crown land that is off-limits to the forest industry — such as old growth forest and deer wintering habitat — has been reduced to 23 per cent, from the traditional level of 30 per cent.

The Alward government released a 10-year forestry plan in 2012, but the industry had been lobbying for guaranteed long-term access to Crown land and promising to spend up to $1 billion on mill upgrades and silviculture in return. 

"How on earth has government been able to release not one, but two forest management plans in as many years — each strikingly different — yet each claiming to be balanced?" wrote Cumberland.

The 2012 plan respected the views expressed by biologists and First Nations, then Natural Resources minister Bruce Northrup had said, noted Cumberland.

"Has the science from these biologists changed in two short years? Have the opinions of the leaders of the First Nations?  Have the opinions of conservationists and environmental groups, maple sugar producers and private woodlot owners or the public who owns the land?"

Cumberland says the "new wood grab" will cut 278 existing deer yards, which the government says are vacant. But the more than 75,000 hectares have not been revisited by provincial staff since 2010 to determine if deer are still using them, said Cumberland, who was the province's deer biologist for 15 years before recently leaving the position.

"Will the deer hunters of the province — when they are informed that this will directly reduce deer population and harvest targets to the low numbers seen in 2010 following two severe winters — will they think this provides balance?" he asked.