New Brunswick

Private woodlot owners want 'actual proof' their market share will increase

Private woodlot owners are calling for legislative changes that spell out the larger market share they've been promised by the Progressive Conservative government.

Market share of private woodlot owners has decreased since 1980s as mills have made use of Crown forest

The New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners believes an increased market share would boost the provincial economy. (Canadian Press)

Private woodlot owners are calling for legislative changes that spell out the larger market share they've been promised by the Progressive Conservative government.

The government announced last month it was freezing the amount of wood the big mills can take from publicly owned Crown land and giving woodlot owners a larger share of the market supplying the mills. The freeze would last five years.

The promise was welcomed by woodlot owners and conservationists, but both say the government needs to back it up with a change in the law.

"The proof will be in the legislative change," said Lois Corbett, the executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

"So it is either going to be an empty gesture, lots of great talk, or it will be something that will be able to hold up in the legislative minutes and see actual proof."

Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland made the announcement on Dec. 19, saying the change would spur more economic growth.

Rick Doucett, the president of the association, said he'd like to see the woodlot owners' market share increase to 30 per cent. (CBC)

Holland wasn't explicit about the percentage of wood that private woodlots would provide to mills. 

In 2015, Auditor General Kim MacPherson wrote in a report that the provincial government was not complying with a section of the Crown Lands and Forests Act.

That law says the minister of natural resources "shall ensure that private woodlots are a source of wood supply consistent with the principles of proportional supply and sustained yield."

Holland didn't say whether the changes are designed to comply with MacPherson's recommendations, but did say the government was responding to what private woodlot owners have been saying.

The president of the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners said the announcement is a step in the right direction but he wants to see it put to legislation. 

"I mean our objective is obviously for private landowners to be able to sell every stick of wood that they have available into the marketplace and not be competing with public resources and that's the ultimate goal," said Rick Doucett.

Half of the province's wood is on publicly owned Crown land, which is licensed to four big companies: J.D. Irving Ltd., Fornebu Lumber, Twin Rivers Paper Company and AV Group, which is made up of AV Nackawic and AV Cell.

Doucett said private owners only have between 15 and 20 per cent of the market share right now, but he'd like to see that increased to at least 30 per cent. 

Lois Corbett, the executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said the announcement is an acknowledgement that climate change is a reality in the province. (Jon Collicott/CBC)

The market share for private owners reached 28 per cent between the 1960s and 1980s but has decreased over the decades.

"It's been an unfortunate unravelling of the original intention of the Crown Lands and Forest Act," Doucett said. 

"[It] was to make sure that private wood found its way to market first, unfettered by public resource supply and over the years, that act has been eroded by amendments made, through relentless lobbying pressure by certain entities and we're trying to get this reversed."

Corbett said she supports private woodlot owners having more of a market share because it could decrease clear cutting.

Mike Holland, the natural resources and energy development minister, didn't specify a percentage of wood that private woodlots would provide to mills. (CBC)

"If it goes according to the minister's wishes and some of his stakeholders and public interest groups like the conservation council's wishes, it should be a good step for nature," she said. 

"Because what it does is it breaks that corporate hold on one of our most valuable natural treasures — our own Crown forest."

Corbett said she'd like to see changes to the law by mid-March.

"In a weird way, I am seeing an acknowledgement that climate change is happening, that maybe we need to change the way we look at our forests — not just as a supply of North America's toilet paper but as a supply of protection of our streams and rivers and of ourselves — ultimately for our small towns and communities next to the Crown forests."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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