Nova Scotia 'serious about reducing' clear cutting: email

While officials with the province are saying little publicly about their plans for recommendations from a review on forestry practices, work behind the scenes has already started to reduce the amount of clear cutting on Crown land.

Implementing a 100-metre buffer between clearcut and protected areas among changes outlined in letter

The provincial government has sent directives to the major players in the forestry industry that will reduce clear cutting on Crown land. (Submitted)

Work has started behind the scenes in Nova Scotia to reduce clear cutting on Crown land, a month after a review recommended much stricter ecological management of lands owned by the province.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said in an interview last week the province accepts "the premise that we could do more for ecological-based forestry," but government officials haven't committed publicly to implementing forestry recommendations made by Bill Lahey.

However, a department email addressed to major players in the industry on Sept. 11, which CBC News has obtained, shows steps are already being taken that will see reductions in clear cutting.

"For the time being, all forest management keys that direct you to non-clearcut treatments should be followed," writes Allan Smith, the province's director of resource management.

Smith notes that "development of revised forest management guides and prescriptions are a priority but will take time," but he also says "the department is serious about reducing the amount of clear cutting where possible, and by increasing retention within areas prescribed for clearcut."

The email goes on to list a number of changes that should be followed going forward, including not allowing the clear cutting of trees that can grow and reproduce under a shaded canopy except in "exceptional circumstances," including salvage.

"Unacceptable growing stock is to no longer be a determining factor in prescribing a clearcut," says Smith.

Clearcuts must be justified

The email also says opportunities for a partial harvest should be considered where possible. When a clearcut is "the only reasonable" option, the department is to receive "a good description of the stand features for justification."

In an effort to increase biodiversity, Smith instructs that "patches of smaller, or immature wood within a stand should no longer be harvested simply for the sake of convenience and to clean up the site."

"We should be looking for ways to increase the post-harvest heterogeneity of harvest areas," he says.

A 100-metre buffer

In what would address a major public concern, Smith also writes that "there shall be a 100-metre setback (buffer) between any clearcut treatment" and any of the province's protected areas, candidates for protected designation, national parks and Nature Conservancy lands.

"All other treatments can go up to protected areas boundaries," he writes.

Smith also encourages recipients of the email to familiarize themselves with the portion of the Lahey report that discusses irregular shelterwood harvesting, a process that's less ecologically intensive than clear cutting and allows new trees to become established before mature ones are cut.

"You should be able to discuss the possibility of this option with Crown foresters in the future."

Adding 'significant costs' to operations

Allan Eddy, director of business development for Port Hawkesbury Paper, said the changes are "going to add some significant costs to the operation" of the mill. He's concerned there wasn't enough consultation ahead of time.

Eddy said it's too soon to know what it will mean for how the mill operates, in part because it's not clear if the changes are an interim step or intended for the long term. The wide range for how much wood should be left during a cut leaves a lot of room for interpretation, he said.

"It's very complex and everybody is going to need to understand that better."

The owner of Northern Pulp, Paper Excellence Canada, said it is reviewing the proposed changes and assessing how to implement the recommendations.

Other recipients of the email include representatives for Great Northern Timber, Westfor Management Inc., Taylor Lumber and the Medway Community Forest Cooperative.

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About the Author

Michael Gorman

Reporter

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca