If Nova Scotia implements the right cap-and-trade system, it could mean millions for woodlot owners and rural communities.

Dale Prest of non-profit Community Forests International predicts a major shift for the province’s forestry industry.

“From one that rewards a low cost of production that results in clear cutting, to one that rewards maintaining and growing a healthy forest as possible,” he said Friday.

Monday, the province announced its intention to create a cap-and-trade system to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

CFI, based in Sackville, NB, has been surveying the amount of carbon stored in forests that practise environmentally friendly forest management, like individual tree selection and commercial thinning. And they’ve compared this to the amount of carbon stored in traditional forests that used clear cutting as the cheapest and quickest way to monetize.

Their conclusion: healthier forests store more carbon.

Since 2012, the organization has earned $300,000 by selling carbon offsets from their 285-hectare woodlot to customers elsewhere in Canada. They’ve since looked at what opportunities exist within private forest management — a sector struggling to hold on.

If private landowners can get access to larger, regulation markets, ones that can be created by cap-and-trade programs, Prest said it will be like “an injection of cash” into rural communities.

An injection of $50 million in carbon credits, to be exact, that could be fed into North American markets beginning in 2018.

Cap money for the little guy

There are about 30,000 private landowners in Nova Scotia, about five per cent of the population.

Prest said it’s not uncommon for some residents to own 40-80-hectare lots.

“Private forest ownership and private forest management is kind of like a way of life, similar to farming and fishing,” said Prest, who grew up in the province and still works in the forest industry.

Historically, the province has focused on ensuring forestry companies have access to large markets like pulp, paper and sudwood. But those markets are losing their relevance. In turn, private woodlot owners and rural communities aren’t making much money and are suffering as well.

Prest said many woodlot owners in Nova Scotia already practice ecological forest management, but they do so out of pocket.

Mary Jane Rodger, general manager of Medway Community Forest Co-op, would look to help some of these woodlot owners with carbon revaluation.

“We really hope the government can see the potential that this could bring for small, local woodlots,” she said Wednesday.

There’s a catch. In order for all of this to succeed, Prest says the province needs to implement the right cap-and-trade system, one that openly trades with markets in Ontario, Quebec and California.

But the province has initially committed to creating their own system, with all the trading done within Nova Scotia, although they’re open to options.