Nova Scotia

No answers to how key land model will work in N.S. as frustration grows over delays

Details about what areas will be designated for various types of forestry are among the outstanding questions.

Calls are increasing for a temporary moratorium on clear cutting and other practices

The Nova Scotia government continues to work on bringing in recommendations from the Lahey review, which was delivered in August 2018. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

There is still no word on how Nova Scotia plans to implement a key recommendation from the Lahey report that would see Crown land designated into zones, as advocates express frustration over a lack of answers and action from the government.

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin has said the province is working to expedite implementation of the forestry report's recommendations, an effort that included the introduction of two pieces of legislation last week.

But unknowns remain about major parts of the report, which was released in 2018, and how those recommendations will look.

"It feels like someone is punching you in the gut," said Jacob Fillmore, who launched a hunger strike more than a week ago in response to what he believes are troubling forestry practices in the province.

"It's really hard to watch. It's hard to see."

Industry waiting for details

A key recommendation of the report by University of King's College president Bill Lahey is the so-called triad model that will designate Crown land as one of three zones of varying size: land reserved for conservation, land reserved for high-production forestry, and the largest amount reserved for soft-touch, or ecological forestry.

The general manager of WestFor, a management consortium for a group of sawmills, said industry members are keenly awaiting details about where those zones will be located.

"We haven't seen the details yet," said Marcus Zwicker. "Today we're working with one set of guidelines across the whole landscape."

Uncertainty about approved harvest plans

That won't be the case when the triad model is rolled out, meaning approved harvest plans that are on the books but have not been executed might have to be changed to account for the zone they fall in.

Last week, Rankin said it was too soon to know if such plans would be grandfathered under the interim management guidelines or necessitate another evaluation based on Lahey's report.

Rankin has committed to implementing the recommendations of the Lahey review on forestry practices this year. (Communications Nova Scotia)

"We'll need to have a legal interpretation there to see, if they're approved, if there could be any retroactivity," he told reporters at Province House.

While the interim management guidelines require the retention of more trees than the previous rules, they are not as stringent as what Lahey calls for, depending on the zone.

Right now, harvest plans require retention of 10 to 30 per cent of the trees on a block of Crown land depending on site condition.

The new management guide that's being reviewed for the soft-touch zone, which applies to Acadian forests, calls for retention of 20 to 67 per cent, depending on a variety of factors. (While the Lahey report will lead to less clear cutting, it does not entirely do away with it.)

Calls for 'a temporary standstill'

As work continues toward that process, a growing number of people are calling for a moratorium on all clear cutting until the Lahey guidelines are in place.

Zwicker said reducing cutting to the extent people are advocating for would cause the industry to grind to a halt and create a shortage of forestry products.

"What they're asking for is a moratorium on 98 per cent of the forest treatments that private and public operators in the province of Nova Scotia do," he said.

Marilyn Cameron, who operates a market garden farm and woodlot with her husband in Grafton, isn't so sure that's a bad thing — at least for now.

"It's a temporary standstill," she said. "I'm not talking about years and years down the road, but ... this report has been out for [almost] three years and they've had more than enough time."

About 40 people gathered outside Province House on Tuesday at a rally calling for a temporary moratorium on clear cutting and other forestry practices. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Cameron spearheaded a campaign that's seen thousands of postcards sent to the lands and forestry minister calling for the temporary moratorium.

Temporary moratorium not currently on the table

She said she was motivated to act in part because of growing amounts of clear cutting she's witnessed around parts of the Annapolis Valley, and the effects it's having on the forests' ability to hold water.

The postcard campaign, like a rally that took place Tuesday outside Province House, was also driven by concerns for biodiversity loss and the protection of species at risk, in particular the mainland moose. The government is still working to complete court orders related to species at risk after being found not to have fulfilled its legislated obligations.

When Rankin's government introduced the Biodiversity Act and amendments to the Crown Lands Act last week, it was intended to show the province's commitment to addressing concerns about land management.

The premier has told reporters those efforts will continue and the public will see meaningful progress this year, but so far the idea of a temporary moratorium on clear cutting has not been considered.