Nova Scotia’s Liberal leader says it’s time to review forestry practices in the province, but environmental advocates say that work has already been done and it was Stephen McNeil’s government that resisted acting upon it.
McNeil and his party released their platform for the environment on Monday.
It calls for the continued enforcement of a moratorium on fracking (one was never officially announced but onshore development hasn’t been happening) and the creation of a coastal protection act, biodiversity act and a biodiversity council to advise government.
While all of those measures are receiving praise and support from environmentalists concerned about the effects of rising sea levels, climate change and protection for lakes, endangered species and plants, it’s the talk about forestry that has some puzzled.
McNeil said he became convinced of the need for a thorough and independent forestry review as he heard from private woodlot owners struggling to get their fibre to market and citizens concerned about the levels of harvesting on Crown land and methods used.
“The Liberal team believes in listening to Nova Scotians because in matters of generational impact, governments are wise when they listen to the people and act on that advice,” McNeil told reporters.
Consultations have ‘been done to death’
But Raymond Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, said that advice is already available.
He noted that some of the most extensive consultation in recent memory in Nova Scotia went into the natural resources strategy developed under the former Tory and NDP governments.
One of the key recommendations to come from the strategy, which included community input, was reducing levels of clear cutting as a harvest method by 50 per cent. Currently, it accounts for up to 90 per cent of harvests.
In August, the Liberal government announced it was backing away from the reduction target when it released an update to the strategy.
Plourde said it’s neither “logical or necessary” to have a whole new study.
“That’s been done to death,” he said. “They just need to implement [existing commitments].”
Plourde said the announcement this week is an acknowledgement that there’s something wrong with forestry practices in the province. But a commitment to simply study the situation doesn’t mean change will come or that any change that might come is what’s required.
McNeil said it’s worth doing more work for a variety of reasons, including a lack of clarity on the definition of clear cutting and ensuring a balance between supporting industry jobs and protecting the environment.
“Some people feel that balance has not been struck,” he said.
“And that’s why we’re going outside looking for some complete independent advice, quite frankly, away from our department and away from industry and away from community.”
Strategy found the middle ground
But Plourde said the unique thing about the natural resources strategy was its ability to strike that very balance.
He knows there are some people who would like to see a complete ban on clear cutting and others who think the recommendation for a 50 per cent rollback is too much.
“They found the middle ground,” he said of the strategy’s authors.
“The tough part is not studying something in an academic sense. The tough part is actually in making decisions and making them stick.”
The biggest problem any government will have is overcoming resistance from within the department, said Plourde, where it’s his view industry interests are overly represented.
McNeil said he expects the review would be complete by September.