New Brunswick

Public sidelined in forest talks, expert says

A UNB forestry professor says the public is being left out of the planning for the future of the province's forest industry.
A forestry expert says the public is being left out of the discussion on the future of the province's forests. (CBC)

A University of New Brunswick forestry professor says the public is being left out of the planning for the future of the province’s forest industry.

The Department of Natural Resources has received two high-profile reports recently.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup is preparing to release a new forestry plan by the end of February.

Tom Beckley, a professor in UNB’s Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management, helped gather public input on forestry for the province in 2007.

He said that all the public is getting after two new reports is a 30-day online comment period.

"I think it's completely inadequate. Start with the fact that we have huge literacy problem, more than 50 per cent are functionally illiterate, I just don't think you're going to reach enough people," Beckley said in an interview on Tuesday.

The provincial government is allowing the public to provide online feedback for the next 30 days about the forestry reports.

Beckley said the only ways for people to have a say in forestry are as a member of an advisory committee for a Crown licence holder or by taking part in public hearings which happen about every 10 years.

The forestry expert said those options are not ideal.

"Both of those are extremely costly in terms of the time commitment or the fear factor you have to get up in front of 14 MLAs and 200 people and give a speech and not everyone wants to do that," Beckley said.

The upcoming decision on the annual allowable cut may have a significant impact on industry or the environment.

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.

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.

Time to move beyond reports

Groups representing the province's largest industrial players and the small woodlots have found little common ground in recent years about how the provincial government should deal with its forest policy choices.

However, there is one element of agreement.

Mark Arsenault, the president and chief executive officer of the New Brunswick Forest Products Association, and Andrew Clark, the president of the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners, both say it is time to move beyond government reports.

Arsenault said the forest industry is starting to rebound. He said Arbec is talking about buying 300,000 cubic metres of wood in Miramichi from private lots.

"That's a lot of wood that's going to start moving on that front," he said in an interview on Monday.

Meanwhile, Clark said the solution can't be left up to the market because the provincial government is such a dominant player. The provincial government is the largest seller on the market and owns half of New Brunswick's wood supply.

"Where we have a lot of problems is trying to sell wood to people who don't need to buy our wood because they have access to enough Crown, enough of their own," he said.

Arsenault said the buyers and sellers were very close to an agreement before everything was put on hold for the government reports.

Clark said he agrees it's time for a decision and hopes the Natural Resources minister won't shy away from making a tough decision.