The Prince Edward Island government unveiled a pilot project on Wednesday to allow more trees to be cut on land close to waterways, but the buffer zone law is getting mixed reviews from landowners.

The province’s established buffer zone law creates green spaces to protect rivers. All fields on P.E.I. must have a 15-metre buffer zone separating them from waterways.

The Woodlot Owners Association helped design the new pilot program to allow selective cutting in buffer zones.

The group’s chair, Bruce Craig, doesn't like what he sees in some buffer zones in East Prince. The wooded corridor is intended to protect the stream and the fish in it, but Craig says the older trees, some of which have fallen down, are actually doing harm.

“Stripped all the soil and everything has been taken off the ground when the tree comes down,” he explained.


A buffer zone is a protected area alongside watercourses and wetlands. (Province of P.E.I.)

The environment minister introduced the program as a means of improving P.E.I. forest lands.

“To increase species diversity, promote wildlife corridors or habitat, increase forest health or provide for restoration of the Acadian forest,” Janice Sherr told the legislature.

Excess logging feared 

Loggers will be specially trained and licensed and landowners will have to file a management plan.

The province says government inspectors will make on-site visits.

“We're only going to allow hand cutting.  We're not going to allow mechanized machinery into the buffer zone,” said Greg Wilson, manager of environmental permitting on the Island.

P.E.I.'s buffer zone laws have stirred controversy since their creation 15 years ago.

Some landowners have challenged them in court.

Fish kills, which buffer zones are supposed to reduce, still happen

Gary Schneider of the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project fears the pilot program could open the door to excess logging.

"There's not a whole bunch of woods left in some of those stands along those streams, but they're incredibly important because in a lot of places, they're a majority of the wooded area in some of those watersheds,” he said.

Craig says there likely won't be big money in the pilot program for landowners or for loggers.

He says he plans to get a management plan and licence to do the cutting himself, using a horse to haul logs, one by one.

Training for loggers will be offered in next month.

Craig hopes to begin his selective cutting this fall.