Woodlot owners look to Lahey report as 'road, not roadblock' to prosperity
A different management regime, forest composition could sustain Nova Scotia's forestry industry
Snow crunches under Andy Kekacs's feet as he trudges through the woods, stopping to point out the telltale signs of a sensitively harvested block of land.
Lots of animal tracks, no signs of barking or scarring, and enough space between large, high-value trees to allow sunlight to reach new ones are all signs of a job well done, he says.
"The stand we're in now shows — and the Lahey report makes clear — we can manage forests well," says Kekacs, executive director of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association.
"We can manage them to produce valuable products that can sustain rural economies at the same time, but we have to have the will to do that."
The Independent Review of Forestry Practices in Nova Scotia — commonly known as the Lahey report — by University of King's College president Bill Lahey was the culmination of years of public opposition to and criticism of the way forestry was being conducted in the province. Of particular concern was clear cutting on Crown land.
Delivered in August, the report called for reducing clear cutting on Crown land to between 20 and 25 per cent from 65 per cent.
Using what's known as the triad model, some areas would be designated for intensive commercial forestry, some would be protected from all commercial activity, and the majority — about 50 per cent of Crown land, according to the government — would be reserved for a softer touch, with little to no clear cutting permitted.
The private woodlot Kekacs is showing off on this day exemplifies the latter of those three categories.
"When we think about what our forests would look like if humans hadn't done a lot in them, they'd look a lot like this," he says.
"I suspect Bill Lahey would love this."
The Lahey report was largely embraced by small woodlot owners, in part because they saw the need for a change in approach if the forests in Nova Scotia are to look the way most people want them to look, while also providing economic development for land owners and the people who work in the forestry sector managing that land.
Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin signaled last month his government accepts the findings of the report and would work toward making ecological forestry the norm in Nova Scotia, although he's held off on committing to firm targets related to clear cutting reductions.
Still, the news that protecting and enhancing forest ecosystems and biodiversity would become his department's top policy and that the forest management guide would be updated to give more weight to ecological considerations was resoundingly welcomed.
Making the transition to working this way, however, won't be easy for everyone. Greg Watson knows a thing or two about that.
The manager of North Nova Forest Owners Co-op, which includes 300 landowners and 28,000 hectares of holdings in central Nova Scotia, said it was about a decade ago the co-op changed its approach from even-age management to uneven-age management focused on partial harvests in an effort to grow trees with higher value and emphasize regeneration.
Done right, the approach can still allow for regular trips to a block of land for harvesting, while also promoting and enhancing new growth of trees.
"We think a little bigger now. We're thinking about the soils," says Watson. "We want our forests to be productive and grow lots of wood and grow good products the same as everybody else and we've just taken this approach."
It's not necessarily the easiest approach. It can be more expensive and time consuming at the front end of the job as harvest plans are developed, and the people working the woods need to be trained.
But the co-op's use of databases, GPS and other computer mapping technology, as well as working alongside contractors who have come to understand exactly what landowners in the co-op want, have resulted in a refined operation.
Creating sustainable opportunities
Whatever challenges the shift might entail, Kekacs says he sees the Lahey report as "the road, not the roadblock" to getting to a better place.
He says Lahey was right to call for a focus on the forest first. Economic opportunities will come from creating the kind of valuable forests the report envisioned and most Nova Scotians say they prefer to see, says Kekacs.
"Right now our forests are engineered in a way to produce products to support the current system. We need to move to a different forest management regime and a different forest composition to create for ourselves the opportunities that will sustain us into the future."