Nova Scotia

Northern Pulp shutdown could affect province's approach to high-production forestry

The loss of Northern Pulp, which was the largest buyer of low-grade wood in the province, could affect how much area is designated for high-production forestry.

Public comment period closes Friday on discussion paper

The Lahey Report was released in 2018 and made several recommendations related to Nova Scotia's forestry practices. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The closure of Northern Pulp could affect how the Nova Scotia government implements the recommendations of the Lahey Report, the major review that looked at forestry practices in the province.

One of the central recommendations of the 2018 report is a so-called triad model for ecological forest management. It would see a portion of Crown land left completely untouched, a portion — the largest of the three — see "light-touch" forestry, and a portion — the smallest of the three — designated for high-production forestry.

The Lands and Forestry Department recently released a discussion paper on high-production forestry, on which the public has until Friday to file comments.

Although the paper notes that about 18 per cent, or 330,000 hectares of Crown land is suitable for high-production work that would use a plantation approach, Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said that isn't necessarily how much land will actually be designated for that style of work.

"That's a starting point," he told reporters on Wednesday following a cabinet meeting in Halifax.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said the triad model for forest management will reduce clear cutting in the province. (CBC)

Rankin said landing on a final number will happen after consultation.

"It will depend on what the public and the stakeholders think of the criteria and what works for fibre supply."

According to the discussion paper, plantation forestry would produce high yields of timber, which would in turn allow for what Rankin called "a significant reduction" in clear cutting on the Crown land that would be open to lighter-touch forestry.

The high-production work would focus on fast-growing species that are subject to competition control using herbicides and thinning. Fertilizer would also likely be used, all with an aim of having rotations of 35-40 years.

The three key criteria for an area to host high-production work would be that the land is capable of supporting rapid tree growth, that the area is conducive to "economic efficiency" and that it be selected with consideration for existing land use.

The loss of Northern Pulp, which was the largest buyer of low-grade wood in the province, could affect how much area is designated for high-production forestry, but Rankin said a mitigating factor is that sawmills operating in the province still need supply.

"If there is a success in finding markets for all the low-value [wood] that was going to Northern Pulp, in the long-term volumes would remain relatively the same. If there's not, then there will be reductions."

Not the time to reduce supply

Rankin said his department is looking at fibre allocations on Crown land in the central and western zones of the province as part of those discussions. Sawmills in the central zone tell his department they want similar amounts of volume as what they've had in the past. The need in the western area would not be as high as it was when Northern Pulp was operating, but Rankin said sawmills there still need supply, too.

"It's not really the time to tell sawmills that they would be reduced in supply, especially given some of the private woodlot supply — we have private woodlot owners that are not selling. So [mills] require that Crown fibre."

So far the message from sawmills is that "things are going relatively well for finding markets through domestic means," said Rankin.

As part of ensuring mills have necessary supply, the province announced Wednesday that the forestry sector can apply for special permits to move wood along closed roads while spring weight restrictions are in place, something that would be considered on a case-by-case basis depending on road and weather conditions.

Permits possible to keep working in the woods

Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines said there's nothing new about the permits and only a relatively small amount are issued each year. But his department is also aware of the challenges facing the forestry sector and wanted to help where it can, he said.

"We are going to look at short distances and for restricted times enabling those permits so that people in that industry will be able to act efficiently," he told reporters.

Stephen Cole, a forester and partner with woodlot management company H.C. Haynes, said normally when the ground is frozen crews are able to build up supply ahead of road closures when they can no longer access areas.

"This year, because of the market troubles with Northern Pulp, we had a whole bunch of wood that we couldn't sell, couldn't get paid for, much of which is still sitting on woodlots that people can't collect cheques on around the countryside," he said in a phone interview.

"If we could move a little extra wood while the roads are closed this year, it would just help some people kind of limp along a little, if you will."

Cole said there would need to be very cold temperatures before a company would even bother trying to get a permit.

"We wouldn't even talk about this unless the road is frozen."

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