The New Brunswick government is increasing the amount of softwood the forestry sector can take from Crown land by 20 per cent under the province's new forestry strategy.
It's expected to result in the harvesting of an additional 660,000 cubic metres, said Premier David Alward and Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud, who unveiled the long-awaited strategy at a news conference in Fredericton on Wednesday.
"It's about putting more boots in the woods and the mills," with about 500 new forestry jobs and 1,200 construction jobs predicted, said Alward.
The industry is also expected to invest about $600 million, the government said.
J.D. Irving Ltd. plans to announce three "major capital investments" at its forest product operations later this week, according to a news release issued shortly after the forestry plan was unveiled.
The first announcement will be at Irving Pulp & Paper in Saint John on Thursday morning. There will also be announcements at the Grand Lake Timber Sawmill in Chipman on Friday morning and at the Doaktown White Pine Mill on Friday afternoon, it said.
'A strong forestry sector is critical to our economic success.' - Premier David Alward
Jim Irving was among the estimated 100 stakeholders, politicians and members of the media who attended the standing room only event at the Convention Centre.
"A strong forestry sector is critical to our economic success," said Alward. The industry is worth more than $1.45 billion annually and more than 22,000 people in the province rely directly on indirectly on forestry, he said.
Under the new plan, called Putting our Resources to Work: A Strategy for Crown Lands Forest Management, Crown licensees will be held more accountable for achieving specified outcomes from their harvest and management activities, said Robichaud.
The government will develop a "results-based framework" in co-operation with the licensees, which could save the government millions of dollars annually, he said.
The province has committed $1 million to police the strategy.
The anticipated investment by industry will result in an increased need for wood from private wood lot — about 250,000 cubic metres, he said.
The overall timber objective is now about 3.9 million cubic metres of spruce and fir from Crown lands.
First Nations will be allocated an additional 30,000 cubic metres of softwood fibre.
The proportion of clearcutting is not expected to increase, but the government plans to reduce the area of land set aside as exclusive habitat areas.
More harvest will be generated through light thins, reducing the dependency on clear cuts, according to a statement.
"Past silviculture activities on Crown lands will begin to pay off," it said.
New Brunswick has invested more than $400 million in silviculture in the past 35 years.
Protected areas to double
Exclusive habitat areas will be reduced responsibly over a 10- to 15-year period, said Robichaud.
Protected Natural Areas (PNAs) will be almost doubled, amounting to 270,000 hectares, he said. The new permanently-protected areas will be announced within weeks, said Robichaud.
The hardwood objective remains unchanged at 1.8 million cubic metres.
The Alward government released a 10-year forestry plan in 2012, but the industry has been lobbying for guaranteed long-term access to Crown land.
J.D. Irving Ltd. and others forestry firms have said they are willing to spend $1 billion on mill upgrades and silviculture if the provincial government would let them cut more wood on public land in the years to come.
The companies have argued they needed a reliable wood supply in order to have the confidence to invest in the province.
The number of mills in New Brunswick stands at 40. That's down about 47 per cent from the 77 mills in operation a decade ago, according to the government.
Direct forest sector employment has fallen 24 per cent during that period to 13,000 jobs, compared to 17,000, officials said.