Nova Scotia

Report calls for business expansion at Nova Scotia tree nursery

A consultant's report released under Nova Scotia's freedom of information law says the provincially owned Strathlorne Forest Nursery is underutilized. The report recommends several ways to expand business opportunities.

Strathlorne Forest Nursery underutilized, says consultant's report

A consultant's report released under Nova Scotia's freedom of information law says the Strathlorne Forest Nursery in Inverness County is underutilized and has capacity to create new business opportunities. (Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources)

Some people in Inverness County are wondering what happened to the Nova Scotia government's study into creating new business at the Strathlorne Forest Nursery.

In 2016, the government held public consultation on the topic, but no report was released.

The Department of Lands and Forestry only made the consultant's report available last week after CBC made a freedom of information request.

The report says the large tree farm just south of the town of Inverness has lots of land, along with buildings and greenhouses, but it is underutilized.

The nursery was built in the 1970s to produce seedlings after the spruce budworm devastated the province's forests.

The utilization report, which cost the province $30,000, says the nursery is producing about three million trees a year, but needs to produce five million to break even.

Inverness County Coun. Jim Mustard says the province should let a local group start working on opportunities for new forestry and agricultural products or innovative new businesses. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The report says the provincially owned nursery has the capacity to lease its underused facility to grow sod for nearby golf courses, or rent out the nursery's helipad, or grow medical marijuana, among other suggestions.

Coun. Jim Mustard, who represents the Strathlorne area for Inverness County, said the report should have been made available three years ago.

"It just seems that once again the province put a fair amount of money into the consultation with no idea how to follow up with that."

Mustard said the province should let a local group start working on opportunities and ideas for new forestry and agricultural products or innovative new businesses.

"That there's been no followup once again is just taking a community for a ride that ends up going nowhere."

The facility has three full-time employees and two dozen seasonal positions.

Mustard said the nursery has always been important to the county, but expanding its operation would also help the provincial economy.

Inverness County chief administrative officer Keith MacDonald says the effects of Hurricane Dorian underscore the need for better emergency preparedness in the county. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Keith MacDonald, Inverness County's chief administrative officer, was CEO of the Cape Breton Partnership economic development agency in 2016. He was involved in consultation meetings on the nursery utilization.

He said local people were excited about the possibility of generating new business opportunities at the facility.

"We received really positive feedback from all of the consultation pieces," he said.

At the time, there was some fear that the nursery would close, but MacDonald said it's still operating and there are lots of opportunities to make it more viable.

Some investment needed

The report says with some provincial investment, the nursery operations can be consolidated and buildings and land could be freed up for lease to new or existing businesses.

Julie Towers, deputy minister of the Department of Lands and Forestry, said she doesn't know why the nursery utilization report was never released.

She said it may be that the department was just busy with William Lahey's report into forest practices in the province.

That report said protecting ecosystems and biodiversity should take precedence over social and economic uses of the province's forests.

Utilization review on hold

Towers said the department is continuing to invest in the Strathlorne nursery and may consider expanding in the future.

"We're certainly open to that and I think that's absolutely still a possibility, but it has to be a good match," she said.

However, those plans will have to wait until the outcome of the forest practices review becomes clearer, Towers said.

The nursery utilization report was supposed to include a business plan, the deputy minister said, but the department is still trying to figure out what kinds of trees — and how many of each species — will be needed as a result of the Lahey report.

"There's no point in working on it until we determine all the implementation of the forest practices review," said Towers.

"This entire situation is really one of timing and alignment."

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About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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