Nova Scotia vows to reduce clear cutting, move toward 'ecological forestry'

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin is promising "significant" changes to the province's forestry sector as the government embraces more sustainable management. But critics say the government's plan lacks important detail.

The government released its response to the Lahey review on forestry practices Monday

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin has delivered his government's response to the Lahey review on forestry practices. (CBC)

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin is promising a more sustainable forestry sector in Nova Scotia and less clear cutting as the province implements recommendations from the Lahey review of forestry practices, although how big that reduction will be remains to be seen.

The government's long-awaited response to the report was released Monday and received positive reactions from critics and industry, though some said the province's plan was short on detail. 

"Forestry is a long-standing economic driver in Nova Scotia and it's important we get it right," Rankin said in a news release.

"We accept Prof. Lahey's findings and will immediately begin work to put in place the tools to achieve ecological forestry in Nova Scotia. This will result in significant changes to the way forests will be managed, including less clear cutting on Crown land."

Bill Lahey, the president of University of King's College, presented his final report in August. 

The predominant theme of the report was reducing clear cutting to 20 to 25 per cent of all harvesting on Crown land from 65 per cent.

The report recommended using a "triad model" that would see some areas used for intensive commercial forestry, some protected from all commercial activity, and some designated for less intensive forestry with little to no clear cutting.

Government officials said Monday the public should see an immediate change in the number of trees left behind following a clear cut. (Submitted)

While Rankin's department will bring in the triad model, he would not put hard targets on the reduction level of clear cuts.

"This is about looking at the ecological perspectives and making sure we have quantitative improvements on the ground rather than choosing an arbitrary target," Rankin told reporters in Halifax.

Lahey also called for greater transparency within the Lands and Forestry Department and a better commitment to protecting species at risk and wildlife habitat.

The government's plan

Rankin's response touched on all of those themes. Among other things, he pledged to:

  • Protect and enhance ecosystems and biodiversity as the department's overarching forest policy priority.
     
  • Implement the triad model.
     
  • Revise the forest management guide, placing more emphasis on ecological values in the decision-making process.
     
  • Increase the focus on wildlife and species at risk with a focus on health and recovery plans.
     
  • Improve openness, transparency and accountability of the department's decisions.
     
  • Explore opportunities for small-scale wood energy projects.
"I want Nova Scotians to know that they will see changes in how we conduct forestry on public land," said Rankin.

The minister said policy changes for private land would be considered as the changes on Crown land are implemented. He noted there was broad support for the Lahey report from small, private woodlot owners.

Lahey said he was pleased overall with the government's plan, but had hoped to see more detail in response to his report.

"I would have liked for a little bit more boldness in terms of what they think they can accomplish, particularly in reducing the amount of clear cutting on Crown land."

Immediate changes for clear cuts

Herbicide use will be permitted in areas identified by the government as appropriate for high-production forestry, however the province won't make funding available for the practice — something that counters one of Lahey's recommendations. 

The Nova Scotia government said it will ask Prof. Bill Lahey to review its progress as recommendations from his report are implemented. (CBC)

It's expected the initial changes to the forest management guide will take about 12 months and no long-term leases will be signed in the meantime.

But change will come even before that, with the government releasing an interim retention guide Monday that comes into effect immediately for all Crown land lease holders.

Jeff Bishop, executive director of Forest Nova Scotia, said he's hopeful that adopting the recommendations won't result in job losses. 

Overall, he said he likes the plan laid out by the province.

"There is still some level of detail to come as we continue to manage lands in the province. You can't just hit the light switch. You're dealing with natural processes of growing trees, in a multitude of places. This is a doable plan." 

Deputy minister Julie Towers said the result would be an immediate change in the number of trees left on land that is clear cut. While eight to 10 per cent of trees were left previously, Towers said the interim guide will see that change to 10 to 30 per cent, depending on the land in question.

And while Lahey predicted less clear cutting would lead to a reduction of Crown land wood supply of 10 to 20 per cent, Rankin disagreed.

"We believe that we can sustainably grow this industry."

Critics wanted more details

While the map outlining the triad areas won't be complete for a while, Rankin said the expectation is less intensive forestry will be used on 50 per cent of Crown land, with the other two legs of the triad accounting for the rest.

He estimated the high-intensity forestry would happen on about 15 per cent of Crown land.

As an added measure of accountability, Rankin said the government would have Lahey review progress as changes are made.

The Ecology Action Centre's wilderness co-ordinator, Raymond Plourde, says the devil is in the details, and he doesn't believe the government's plan is specific enough. (CBC)

Ray Plourde, the wilderness co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, said it seems like the government is finally getting the message about clear cutting. Still, he would have liked to see more information, given how long the government has had since Lahey released his report.

"This is more general than it is specific," he said.

"On first blush, I mean, I think they get it and I think they're trying to move in the right direction as far as Crown land goes."

No to big biomass

One area where Plourde was adamant on the need for more progress was biomass.

He said the only way he would support small-scale biomass energy projects using residual wood from sawmills is if the government stops the high-volume biomass generators in Liverpool and Port Hawkesbury. He also wants to see a banning of bulk exports of biomass to Europe.

"Our little landmass, our highly stressed forest cannot supply even a fraction of the biomass demand of Europe," he said.

The NDP's lands and forestry critic, Lisa Roberts, was also hoping for more details. She said the public has "waited too long to have too few details."

Roberts said she's unsure the government's plan will result in a significant enough difference to satisfy the public concern that prompted the Lahey review.

About the Author

Michael Gorman

Reporter

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Mainstreet Halifax