Environment

Nova Scotia Crown land to see ‘immediate’ reductions in clear cutting

McNeil government released response to the Lahey forestry review on Monday

The Nova Scotia government says it will reduce clear cutting on Crown land, as part of its response to the Lahey forestry practices report.

Iain Rankin, minister of lands and forestry, said Nova Scotians will see “immediate” changes in clear cutting, a forestry practice where most or all trees in an area are uniformly cut down. However, he couldn’t estimate how big the reduction will be.

“It’s about putting the science and ecological considerations first, before you arrive at a number, and not putting a political target … and then working backwards to justify that target,” Rankin said Monday.

A reduction of clear cutting on Crown and private land is one of the main recommendations in a report submitted to the government by Bill Lahey, former deputy minister of environment and current president of the University of King’s College, in August. The report gives 45 recommendations and calls for prioritizing the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity in the government’s forestry practices.

Response to forestry practices review

The recommendations also include establishing a new legislative and accountability framework, and managing forests within a “triad model” which will categorize them into three areas. The first is high-production areas where specific species are grown and harvested for commercial industries, like pulp and paper. The second area covers the wider landscape, where conservation and low-intensity forestry are combined, and the third category covers legally protected forests.

The government’s response to Lahey’s recommendations comes after about three months of deliberation.

“We accept the spirit of every one of those recommendations,” said Rankin. “We may not implement them exactly how they’re proposed, but generally we are accepting this report as a package.”

Rankin said the department will work with some of the report’s authors, including Lahey, and stakeholders to make changes to the province’s forest management guide. The amended guide is expected to be released within 12 months and will influence decisions regarding ecological protection and biodiversity.

“It’s not something that should be rushed,” said Rankin.

Less clear cutting

The government also released an interim retention guide on Monday to address clear cutting. The new tree-retention guidelines will apply to high-production and wider landscape areas that make up two-thirds of Crown land. Clear cutting is already prohibited in conservation forests, which make up one-third of Crown land.

Rankin said his department still needs to assess which are high production and which are wider landscape areas.

Deputy Minister Julie Towers said the process would be completed within the next year. Until then, retention guidelines will apply anywhere there is harvesting on Crown land. Mapping the areas is also essential to implementing the triad model.

Lahey’s report predicts a 10 to 20 per cent short-term decrease in wood harvested from Crown land, if clear cutting is reduced.

Rankin doesn’t agree there will be a decrease.

“We believe that we can sustainably grow the industry,” he said.

No changes for private land

Rankin didn’t say when the new guidelines will be applied to private land. According to Lahey’s report, about 30 per cent of forest is managed by the Crown and the remaining 70 per cent by private land owners.

“In the interim period, we suggest and hope that private land holders will look at what we’re doing and emulate some of those ecological based practices on their land,” said Rankin.

He said the department needs to address “foundational elements” before proceeding with the rest of the recommendations. This includes doing a peer review of the department’s approach to natural disturbance regimes and improving transparency of the department’s decisions.

Herbicides to be allowed on Crown land

Lahey recommended licensees and Crown land have access to herbicides through public funding. Rankin said herbicide application will be allowed in high production areas, but no funding will be available.

Raymond Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, was not happy with the government’s decision to allow spraying on Crown land.

“We should be beyond spraying chemicals in the environment in 2018,” he said to reporters after the announcement.

Plourde is also concerned with the government’s plan to explore opportunities for small-scale wood energy projects. He said the government should first stop using large biomass electricity generators in Liverpool and Port Hawkesbury. Plourde would also like for there to be a ban on the bulk export of forest biomass to Europe.

Despite these concerns, Plourde said the government is “trying to move in the right direction.”

Following the announcement, NDP forestry critic Lisa Roberts said she doesn’t expect the report to satisfy concerned Nova Scotians.

“It seems like we’ve waited a long time for this small change,” she said.