Lands and Forestry minister says province committed to Lahey Report recommendations
Iain Rankin says progress is being made, but concedes it's difficult work
Next week, the Lahey Report on forestry practices in Nova Scotia will turn two years old. And while advocates for taking a more ecological approach to forestry say they've yet to see meaningful progress, Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin says change is coming.
"A number of things are happening," Rankin said in an interview. He said his ministerial advisory committee has continued to meet monthly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic using virtual technology and project team reports continue to come in.
"I recognize people want to see change immediately, but we need to ensure that we're moving forward in a cautious, appropriate way with our stakeholders with us."
The report, authored by University of King's College president Bill Lahey, called for more priority to be placed on ecological forestry. That means less clear cutting and more of an emphasis on protecting land and biodiversity and allowing the forests to grow.
Lahey called for a triad model, where a portion of land is off limits to industry, a portion is available for soft touch forestry and a portion — the smallest of the triad — is designated for high-production activity.
As changes are made, Rankin said his expectation remains that biodiversity value and nature will come first. The minister said he believes members of the forestry industry have mostly accepted that they're going to need to change their usual procedures when it comes to working the woods.
"Those two things have not always been seen, I guess, as being acceptable to do at the same time," he said.
"But this is why we had the report commissioned and we have a road map in front of us for how to achieve that. It's not easy and it's not going to get any easier."
One of the things that contributed to making things more challenging is the shutdown of Northern Pulp. The Pictou County mill closed in January after it failed to secure approval to build a new effluent treatment facility.
That's left many people without a place to send low-value wood products, but Rankin said he believes people are trying to adapt. As part of that effort, the government will soon make announcements about district heating projects, which would create a market for at least some low-value products, although nothing close to what Northern Pulp was taking. Several other "larger-scale projects" are also in the works, said Rankin.
"We're talking about leveraging higher volumes of that low-value pulp wood, both private and Crown land," he said. "When those things are in place, then you'll see more opportunity for partial harvesting on both private and Crown [land]."
A key aspect of the road map Rankin talks about is a new forest management guide. A first draft was shared with stakeholders and submitted to the evaluation team, led by Lahey. Proposed changes from Lahey's group are now being incorporated while Rankin's department awaits more feedback.
"The guide will be strengthened by the time it gets out for general public [consultation]," something the minister said he expects to happen "in the next month or two."
It's being developed in tandem with the high-production leg of the triad, said Rankin, so industry players — particularly sawmills — continue to have access to the fibre supply they need. While he knows there are people who disagree with the approach, Rankin said the only way to eventually achieve a more ecological approach is to have that high-production leg of the triad in place.
Meanwhile, a progress review by Lahey on the government's work to date in meeting his recommendations continues. Rankin isn't sure when it will be complete, but said it should be soon and it would be his expectation the report will be made public.
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