Province to buy land from struggling forestry sector members
All of the $1.5M budget for purchases will focus on industry members
Nova Scotia's Lands and Forestry Department is focusing all of its budget for buying land this year on people connected to the industry who might need help following the closure of Northern Pulp.
Each year, the department has $1.5 million to buy land from a variety of sources, but this year it will focus entirely on people in the forestry sector who have land to sell. The land must be appraised by an accredited third party and sold at fair market value.
Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin acknowledged it's a small step to help a reeling industry, but said it's part of a broader effort.
"It may help with some businesses, it may not help with others," he said in an interview.
The fact that land purchased through the program would become Crown land doesn't mean it would automatically be designated for harvesting, said Rankin. For example, it could have biodiversity value that makes it attractive for protection purposes, or simply for expanding boundaries next to adjacent land already owned by the province.
Jeff Bishop, the executive director of Forest Nova Scotia and a member of the province's forestry transition team, said some people will welcome the help, but it also presents a difficult decision.
"A decision to sell off your assets is not an easy one, but the province recognizes that, in this difficult time, it may be an opportunity for folks to do that at a fair market value and receive some benefit from that while also, at the same time, growing the Crown land assets of the province."
Since Northern Pulp was forced to close at the end of January because the company could not get environmental approval to build a new effluent treatment facility, Bishop said the industry has been "treading water."
There are people who are finding a way to continue operating, even if it's at a scaled-back rate, and others who aren't operating anymore, said Bishop. For many landowners it's meant holding off of making harvests.
Lumber markets have maintained enough security that there remains a place to sell that product, but Bishop said sawmills are still left with the challenge of finding places for their byproducts, including wood chips.
Meanwhile, Rankin said initiatives by the provincial government to help the industry find a way forward in a world that doesn't include Northern Pulp and an expectation that forestry will be done in a more sustainable way, continue.
Rankin said announcements would soon be made related to a $50-million trust fund for the industry, including the names of the trustees.
"I know that there are a range of business proposals that they're looking at," he said.
Adjusting business models
The government is spending more money on road building and silviculture this year to help keep people working in the woods, and soon Rankin's department will announce the successful tenders for a district heating pilot project, which is intended to create new markets for wood chips while providing a fuel source at a locked in, dependable price.
His department will continue to look for alternative markets for wood chips, but Rankin said many sawmills have relied in the past on designs that focus on high volume and low value. With Northern Pulp gone, the value of byproducts is even lower and that's not apt to change.
It's for that reason the minister said the focus must continue to be on expanding value-added products and finding new uses for things such as pulpwood and chips, because they aren't going away even if value-added products can be expanded.
"The industry is going to have to work together to embrace ecological forestry and with that means finding ways to add value to their products," he said. "So it's not just about finding markets for the chips, but it's about how do they adjust their business model for other opportunities and embrace the transition."
Rankin said there are research projects in their infancy that could eventually help, and changes to building codes that allow for more wood to be used in construction projects is another step, but the search continues for more answers.