Premier Alward will soon make a decision about the New Brunswick public forest that will set its fate for rest of the century. If the media coverage of the issues at hand is any indication, I believe the public lacks a clear idea of what the real issues are. It has been pitched as a fight between the corporate forestry industry and environmentalists over ever-growing demands for conservation. The reality is quite different.
Staff at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which is responsible for managing our public forest sustainably, has informed the industry that for the past two decades they have been cutting Crown forest faster than it is regenerating – in short, current logging rates are unsustainable. To bring logging in line with regeneration, the volume of wood cut from Crown land must be reduced by 10 percent. After 10-15 years the current stock of immature softwood should be harvestable, allowing for logging rates to increase.
The Minister of DNR has a dual mandate to ensure that logging is sustainable (the forest can renew itself) and that other public goals like biodiversity and watershed protection, recreation, and the like, are met. It is within this context that his staff is recommending the 10 percent decrease in harvest rates in the next management cycle (2012 – 2017).
This advice needs to be understood in context. The Acadian Forest, the name given to the complex mix of long-lived hardwoods and softwoods that forms the forest in our region, has been classified as endangered. In 1970, 70 percent of Crown land was considered mature Acadian Forest. This is now down to 45 percent, with all the attendant reductions in dependent species. Current cutting rates would reduce this to 12 percent over the next 20 years. In 50 years, it will be gone. There will be trees, but there will be no Acadian forest as we and earlier generations knew it. There will be no more fall colours.
Trees can be harvested without destroying the forest itself, but not with large-scale clearcutting. InNew Brunswick, 70 percent of our Crown forest is open for clearcut logging. Plantations (intensively managed single species tree farms) are established on 10 percent. Another 26 percent can be logged selectively (no clearcutting) in order to provide particular habitats and watercourse protection. Only 4 percent is set aside as areas where no logging at all can take place.
So what are the issues? Jim Irving, president of J. D. Irving Ltd., wants more areas of Crown land opened for clearcutting and plantations in order to increase, not decrease, the amount of wood taken from Crown land. When he complains that 30 percent of the Crown forest is off-limits because of conservation goals, he means that they can’t clearcut in 26 percent of the forest. They largely avoid these areas because selective harvesting is not economically “efficient.” That’s just business.
He also says that Crown land timber supply is insecure, making it difficult for the industry to invest for growth, because government is catering too much to “environmental” demands. In fact, the annual allowable cut on Crown land has been stable for 15 years. As other forest companies have folded, J. D. Irving’s share of that total has been increasing. The real supply of harvestable softwood has been declining because the industry has been overcutting. The decrease proposed by DNR staff would be a one-time correction to stop the overcutting and get harvesting onto a sustainable footing.
A 10 percent reduction in AAC, according to Mr. Irving, would result in hundreds of job losses. In truth, the issue is not wood supply but price. Private woodlots, making up 30 percent of all woodland, are more than able to make up the difference, but they cannot compete with Crown wood on price. As long as the companies can get a cheaper supply from Crown land, they have no intention of paying more. That’s just business.
Premier Alward has two options. He can choose to uphold his legal mandate to ensure the long term sustainability of the Acadian forest and its multiple values, including long term commercial harvesting, by following the advice of DNR forest scientists.
Or he can follow the advice of Norm Betts and the Crown lands task force and hand our public forest over to industrial management to maximize financial returns. The result will be the ongoing decline and ultimately the demise of the Acadian forest in our province.
These are mutually exclusive goals. The Premier must choose between them. His choice will speak volumes about who really controls the public forest.
Originally published February 15, 2012
Filed under: Creation Care, New Brunswick Politics | Tagged: Conservation, DAvid Alward, environment, government, Janice Harve, Janice Harvey, moral choice, New Brunswick, politics | Leave a comment »