Nova Scotia

Lahey forestry report author issues scathing update on lack of progress after 3 years

The author of a report calling for a shift to ecological forestry practices in Nova Scotia says he’s seen no evidence of change on the ground since he released the document in 2018.

William Lahey concludes Department of Natural Resources has yet to fully embrace ecological forestry

The site of a clear cut in Digby County this fall. The area was blockaded last by protesters trying to prevent logging. (Nina Newington)

The author of a report calling for a shift to ecological forestry practices in Nova Scotia says he's seen little to no evidence of change on the ground since he released the document in 2018.

William Lahey, president of the University of King's College, released an evaluation on Tuesday of the government's progress to date on his recommendations. It was not complimentary.

"None of the work underway on [report] recommendations has resulted in much if any actual change on the ground in how forestry is being planned, managed, or conducted, and I have no indication of when any of it will," the evaluation said.

"From the information at my disposal, I am not able to conclude that much or any change has happened in how forestry is practised based on the work the department has done on implementing the [recommendations]."

Lahey notes that while work has started on 40 of the 44 recommendations, implementation beyond policy and planning is only underway on 10 of them. He said progress within the Department of Natural Resources has noticeably improved only in the last six months.

"Combined with the fact that only five recommendations have been fully implemented, and that the implementation phase of work on recommendations has not started on roughly two-thirds of all recommendations, implementation cannot so far be judged a success," the evaluation said.

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Land continues to be degraded

The former Liberal government ordered the report in the face of increased public pressure about the way the woods were being managed.

Lahey's report found that the forests needed a break from years of heavy activity that centred mainly on clearcutting. Among other things, his recommendations called for a drastic reduction in clearcutting and for Crown land to be divided into three parts: some reserved for conservation; the majority reserved for light-touch ecological forestry; and some for high-production forestry.

To date, the so-called triad model still has not been implemented and Lahey notes in his evaluation the consequences of the delays.

"It is a particular concern that forestry that is not ecological forestry continues to be conducted on Crown lands that will be largely reserved for ecological forestry once the triad is finally implemented on Crown land.

"Since this current forestry is not guided by the yet-to-be implemented silvicultural guide or limited by the yet-to-be-approved Old Forest Policy, it could be seriously degrading the very forests that implementation of the triad on Crown land would be protecting from clearcutting."

William Lahey's evaluation of government progress on his ecological forestry report was released Tuesday. (Submitted by University of King's College)

Efforts by the department to make progress have lacked a clear articulation of an overall implementation strategy, Lahey found. In attempting to understand the reason for delays, Lahey points to several issues, including:

  • The difficulty the department is having adjusting its mindset and culture from business as usual to increased protection for ecosystems and even understanding a fundamental change is required.

  • Resistance from within and outside the department to a shift to ecological forestry.

  • Delays the department has faced getting approval to proceed with certain steps.

  • Disruption caused by the closure of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County and the pandemic.

While the majority of these delays fall at the feet of the former Liberal government, the new Progressive Conservative government is not immune from criticism.

Lahey draws attention to the recent Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act the Tories passed, and the fact it gives the government until 2023 to implement the triad model and, thus, ecological forestry, on Crown lands.

Focus must now include private lands

While interim changes were made shortly after his report was released to reduce the amount of clearcutting on Crown land while work was done on the recommendations, Lahey notes that at this point that simply isn't enough.

"It follows that the longer the delay in making the transition to ecological forestry, the greater the ecological loss in the parts of the forest that will eventually come under an ecological forestry regime," the evaluation said.

"The situation requires urgent attention, out of the same laudable motivation that inspired the interim retention guidelines, until the new [management guide] can be fully implemented."

Lahey calls on the department to expand its focus beyond Crown land, particularly in relation to recommendations in his report that were intended for both Crown and private lands. The four report recommendations that have seen no action all apply to private land.

He also concludes that the department must appoint a "chief forester" who is committed to ecological forestry and can oversee the necessary steps to co-ordinate the shift.

Minister reviewing report

Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton said in an interview that he and department staff would spend the next few weeks reviewing the report and making plans, but he remains confident with the path being followed.

He noted it wasn't long after the Tories came to power that the new silviculture and management guide was released and consultation started on an old-growth forest policy.

"We're staying committed as a government to moving to the ecological forestry activities and we're going to stay spearheaded towards that," he said.

When it comes to the understanding of and willingness to embrace ecological forestry, Rushton said that's an ongoing effort within government and more broadly.

"As we grow and move toward the triad model of ecological forestry, it's going to be an educational opportunity for all Nova Scotians, including people in the sector, concerned Nova Scotians, and that includes some of the people in our department."

Tory Rushton is Nova Scotia's minister of natural resources and renewables. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

One area where the minister and Lahey appear to differ is whether changes need to happen on private land. Although Lahey noted that his 2018 report never said private land should be exempt from changes in the way it's managed, Rushton said the focus for his government, as it was for the Liberals, will be on Crown land.

"We need to be leaders on our land before we'd ever, ever start taking a stab at communicating with private landowners," he said.

Regular reviews required

The department needs to "fully embrace transparency and accountability as standard operating procedure and as a culture," Lahey writes.

"It is not clear that the department has embraced the ecological paradigm called for in the [report]. Instead, it appears to be still operating within a paradigm in which forest production and ecological systems are regarded as values to be balanced against one another, with the balance in favour of the former where the two come into essential conflict."

Lahey recommends that progress be evaluated every three years, something the report said would be helped by a more robust implementation plan from government.