Nova Scotia says its meeting goals to increase accountability, consultation and sustainability in resource development, releasing an update Tuesday on a provincial government 10-year natural resources strategy.
The update officially abandoned a controversial recommendation in the 2011 Path We Share plan: a 50 per cent reduction in clear cutting. It says that recommendation was made on out of date information.
"But times have changed. We've learned more. We now have a better understanding of what it means to take an ecosystem-based, landscape-scale approach to land management," the report states.
"In some areas, clear-cutting will not have an impact on the total health of the forest—it may even improve it. In others, clear-cutting could have a negative impact."
"I'm very proud of the progress we've made," Natural Resources Minister Hines tells CBC News.
The 2011 plan identified four goals from consultations with Nova Scotians. They were collaborative leadership, sustainable development, knowledge sharing, and good governance.
Crown land forest sharing
The most tangible achievement cited by government in its five-year progress report is the 15,000-hectare Medway Community Forest Co-op pilot project.
It's the first time in Atlantic Canada Crown land has been leased to local people for the local economy.
The government also pointed to an updated Mineral Resources Act and a new online feature allowing the public to track how and where Crown land is being harvested.
The target has been reached to designate 12 per cent of the province as protected, although the goal was set long before the Path We Share strategy was issued by the former NDP government.
"Collaboration has got to be the biggest improvement, really, the ability and the recognition to consult. As the steward of a public resource, which is our forests, we need to be cognizant and provide runways for the public to speak to us, and we've been able to do that," Hines said.
Real changes 'swept under the rug'
A very different opinion comes from environmentalist Matt Miller of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.
He said, with the exception of the community forest, progressive steps demanded by the public and included in the original strategy have disappeared.
The most sweeping was plans to reduce forest clear cutting by 50 per cent over five years.
"What we are seeing today is they've really just swept those commitments under the rug, because they haven't met those commitments. They haven't even tried to meet those commitments," Miller said.
Aside from forestry, Miller said a loophole remains in place that exempts quarries smaller than four hectares from environmental assessments.
The policy has led to the development of single or neighbouring quarries sized at 3.99 hectares, he said.
Forest industry reacts
Jeff Bishop of the industry group Forest Nova Scotia welcomed the decision to move away from a 50-per cent target reduction in clear cutting.
"Setting hard targets on clear cutting is an example of where we were very concerned when we saw those initial things in the strategy process," Bishop said.
He applauded the province for setting harvest levels on what the ecosystem and land is capable of handling.
"Much better than setting an arbitrary — in my word — an arbitrary goal of a 50-per cent reduction," he said.
Auditor general criticism
In its five-year progress report, the Department of Natural Resources acknowledged criticism from Nova Scotia's Auditor General Michael Pickup.
In November 2015, he said DNR needed to improve the way it monitored implementation of long-term strategic plans for forests, and in June 2016, cited the department for failing to meet all of its legislated obligations for the conservation and recovery of species at risk.
The department said it has accepted all of the auditor general's recommendations and is acting on them.
"Are we perfect? Of course we're not. But are we sincerely trying to do the best job we can for Nova Scotians? I can assure you we are," said Hines.
The next key step — or test — on forest management in Nova Scotia will be the development of a new Crown land forest policy to be released this fall.
DNR is grappling with public consultation, limits on clear cutting, elimination of whole-tree harvesting and whether to maintain a ban on herbicide use for Crown land