A rural municipality in southwest Nova Scotia is pushing back against the provincial government and a mill consortium over concerns it has with clear cutting, and is urging for a moratorium on the practice in its region.

The County of Annapolis wants Crown land that falls within its boundaries excluded from an agreement between the province and WestFor, a consortium of 13 mills that manages western Crown land. 

Warden Timothy Habinski has twice asked the province to leave land within Annapolis County out of the agreement for one year. He also wants to see a copy of the licence agreement, but the response to both requests has been no.

Habinski said people in his region are worried about the health of the forests, especially after 94 hectares next to Kejimkujik National Park were green-lighted for clear cutting last summer. He likened that decision to bashing the wall out of a house and expecting the rest of the house to remain the same.

"We are the people who actually live on the land that's being directly affected," he told CBC's Information Morning

"When we have large-scale forestry operations here in Annapolis County, very little benefit ever winds up in the county but the impact upon the county can be very, very significant."

Time to review the agreement

Habinski first wrote to the premier in March asking for a one-year moratorium so council could review the agreement and see what it means for the region.

Lloyd Hines, then the minister in charge of the Department of Natural Resources, responded in April saying that wouldn't happen but that the province was open to meeting with the municipality. 

After another letter from Habinski, deputy minister Julie Towers wrote earlier this month that the Forest Utilization License Agreement, the contract between the province and WestFor, is still being developed and cannot be shared until it's finalized. 

WestFor has been operating on an interim agreement, although the province has been working on implementing a 10-year licence.

Towers wrote that the province is in the process of hiring an independent expert to review forestry practices "to ensure we strike the right balance for our forests and that no future long-term timber harvesting licences will be awarded on Crown land until the work is complete."

Forestry review deadline

Premier Stephen McNeil promised an independent forestry review during the provincial election campaign even though critics argued the issue had been studied to death.

It was expected to wrap up this September, but that deadline is now uncertain. 

"I really don't have a timeline specifically," Margaret Miller, the new minister of natural resources, told reporters this week. "Obviously everybody wants it done yesterday … but we want to make sure we've got that right person who's going to bring that right balance." 

Miller said her department is still developing the terms of reference and has yet to hire the independent expert who will run the review. She said there are few details on what the review will entail, including whether there will be public consultation.

"We're going to allow that person quite a bit of leeway to determine how he wants to move forward," she said.

'There are implications for what happens'

With little information from the province, Habinski said it's fallen on municipal councillors to study forestry best practices and management.

"What would be much more effective than just waving a red flag and saying 'please stop' is if we had a proposal," he said. "We could say, 'We'd like to see this happen to the land, rather than that.'"

Although forestry is a provincial responsibility, Habinski sees an important role for municipalities in advocating on behalf of their residents. 

"This is the air we breathe and the water that we drink and there are implications for what happens," he said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning, Phlis McGregor and Jean Laroche