Nova Scotia

Forestry minister, premier downplay email about clear-cutting reductions

Premier Stephen McNeil and his forestry minister are distancing the government from an email a senior official sent to major mills in Nova Scotia about changes to clear-cutting practices.

'That was a directive not sent by the minister, not sent by the department,' says Stephen McNeil

A photo from a clearcut in Halifax County. (Submitted)

Premier Stephen McNeil and his forestry minister are distancing the government from an email a senior official sent to major mills in Nova Scotia about changes to clear-cutting practices.

Allan Smith, director of resource management for the Department of Lands and Forestry, sent the email on Sept. 11.

The letter, which CBC News has obtained, says "all forest management keys that direct you to non-clearcut treatments should be followed," and that "the department is serious about reducing the amount of clear cutting where possible."

But on Tuesday, Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin called the email "friendly advice."

A department spokesperson said the intention was to give guidance to licence holders and the people who review harvest plans for Crown land as the department works toward a more ecological approach to forestry.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin says an email about clear cutting to mills in the province from a senior official in his department was "friendly advice." (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"I think we just wanted to ensure that we are communicating with industry and that there could be changes coming," Rankin told reporters at Province House.

Last month the province received a review on forestry by University of King's College president Bill Lahey that called for stricter ecological management. One of the major recommendations in the report is a drastic reduction in clear cutting on Crown land in favour of other harvest methods.

Rankin said no final decisions have been made about any policies or regulation changes stemming from the report, despite what Smith's email might indicate.

"Currently they're just recommendations," he said.

Premier Stephen McNeil dismissed the idea the email indicates anything about his government's plans. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

McNeil dismissed the idea the email indicates any type of position for the government.

"Quite frankly, that was a directive not sent by the minister, not sent by the department," he said.

"It was someone in the department who had their own interpretation of what we were going to do with the Lahey report."

Smith's email listed other changes, including directives about the number of trees that must be left as part of a clearcut. The director of business development for Port Hawkesbury Paper said the changes outlined would add significant costs to operations.

Rankin disputed that view.

"I don't accept that there is any cost associated with any decisions we've made so far," he said.

Building on previous work

Rankin said the contents of the email include things the department has been working on for a while.

"If we can improve how we assess whether land is clear cut or not, if we can look at retention improvements, those types of things — that's what the department has been focused on. The report will help us build on that strategy."

That includes the 100-metre buffer between clearcuts and the province's protected areas, candidate areas for protection, national parks and Nature Conservancy lands, said Rankin.

That's been an interim practice on Crown land for the last year and Rankin said it would be a continued requirement in harvest plans at least until the government determines how it will implement the report.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca