Northrup seeks public input on forest plan

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup says citizens have a month to provide feedback on a report that outlines proposed timber objectives for private woodlots.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup says citizens have a month to weigh in on a new report that charts possible timber objectives for private woodlots.

This is the second report on the province's forest industry that the provincial government has received in recent months. The Crown Land Task Force report was submitted to Northrup's office in November 2011.

The provincial government must now use the two reports to set wood supply objectives for both Crown land and private woodlots.

"Establishing timber objectives for Crown and private land will focus the efforts of private woodlot owners, industry and government on putting in place the right policies and practices to improve the competitiveness of our forest sector," Northrup said in a statement.

"This will allow us to grow this sector."

Northrup said people have until Feb. 24 to submit their views on the task force's recommendations. 

Don Floyd, Robert Ritchie and Tony Rotherdam were on the task force investigating options for private woodlots.

The future of the province's Crown lands and private woodlots has been a contentious issue in the province.

The task force report said there are no easy solutions to ease the controversy.

"We see no easy solution to overcoming the imperfect market conditions for wood from private woodlots in New Brunswick," the report said.

Private lands being clear cut

The 50-page report highlighted several issues. For instance, the report said that current forest conditions are struggling.

"DNR monitoring data indicate that many (but we do not know what percentage) of New Brunswick’s private woodlots are clearcut with little concern for regeneration of the next forest. Many of these areas eventually regenerate as low-grade, shade-intolerant hardwood or mixed-wood stands," the report stated.

The authors also indicated that the $6 million in provincial funding set aside each year for silviculture — or planting new trees — for private woodlots is not spent in an efficient manner. By comparison, the provincial government spends $24 million each year for silviculture on Crown land.

The task force is calling for those funds to be reviewed and have their "cost-effectiveness" to be evaluated.

The authors also criticized the release of public information about forest statistics. The report said that more information should be readily available to the public and that some information that is required to be disclosed is not complete.

"The pervasive lack of transparency in both Crown forest and private woodlot policy suggests that 'opaque' best describes DNR’s and the Commission’s approach to sharing public information," the report said.

"Opacity leads some citizens to believe that decisions are being made by 'insiders' who seek to profit from public policy discussions held behind closed doors, and it undermines citizens’ faith in civic process."

One statistic that is clear is that less wood is coming off of private woodlots.

The market share for the private woodlot sector fell to nine per cent in 2010-11 from 28 per cent in 1990-91.

"Many woodlot owners see themselves in direct competition with the Crown, and in their opinion, the Crown keeps its wood prices low to stimulate economic benefits and indirect revenue generation," the report said.

Wood allocation plan delayed

Northup has said the 2012-17 wood allocation plan would be announced in February. This report was supposed to be announced last year.

The natural resources minister has said in the past that he wants to strike a balance between protecting the forests and not hurting the struggling industry.

The annual allowable cut decision is based on computer modelling and other projections of whether industrial cutting will leave enough wood for the province's forests to keep regenerating themselves.

The provincial government's latest forecast would have reduced the amount of wood forestry companies could cut on public land over a five-year cycle starting next year.

Jim Irving, the president of J.D. Irving Ltd., told a business audience in January that the forest industry didn't want a "free ride."

He told the Saint John Board of Trade the provincial government should allow the forestry sector to maximize the use of Crown lands to grow the maximum amount of timber, but hold companies accountable for productivity and value-added products.

Three Irving-owned mills were closed in 2011. In the case of the Deersdale mill shutdown, the company said it was closing because there was not enough wood.

A woodlot group questioned the Irving company's tactics in October.

Dave Palmer, the general manager of the York-Sunbury-Charlotte Forest Products Marketing Board, said the company is using the closure as a bargaining tactic.