The province has committed to fine-tuning the way it manages Crown land in environmentally sensitive areas.
On Thursday, the province announced it will postpone harvesting in designated environmentally sensitive areas until special management practices are in place, except on land already approved for harvest during the spring road closure.
The Natural Resources Department will also establish a working group to develop guidelines for environmentally sensitive areas, three stakeholder committees to give feedback on forest management and a science advisory committee to give advice and identify research gaps.
The changes come after public outcry about a clearcut near Panuke Lake last summer that saw about 40 hectares of land harvested in the St. Margarets Bay area. The clearcut took place between May and August on land that was mostly covered with red spruce and balsam fir that had an average age of about 75 years.
Last October, Natural Resources Minister Zach Churchill asked the volunteer group Mersey Woodlands Advisory Committee to review the harvest, and that group wrote its own report, available at novascotia.ca/natr/forestry/panuke/pdf/FINAL-SOUTH-PANUKE-HARVEST-REPORT-2015.pdf, and commissioned an independent audit.
Both reports, released Thursday, confirmed that the harvest abided by all regulations. But they made several recommendations to improve forestry management in the province.
Among those were recommendations to obtain Forest Stewardship Council certification for all mainland provincial Crown lands, to increase the percentage of non-clearcut harvesting sites, to standardize decision-making about harvesting and to give the public more information about harvest plans.
While the province did agree to some of the reports’ recommendations, the Ecology Action Centre said the government’s response, available at novascotia.ca/natr/forestry/panuke/pdf/panuke-response.pdf, doesn’t go far enough.
“The issue is that they haven’t done enough land-use planning and identification of values and communication of how those values are going to be protected in order to move forward with forestry at the rate they have,” said Matt Miller, the centre’s forestry co-ordinator.
Miller said he was disappointed that the province didn’t embrace the recommendation to certify all mainland Crown land with the council.
“I’m concerned that the government hasn’t signalled that that’s something they’re going to do. I think that is the No. 1 thing that the minister could do to really provide that reassurance to the public that the forestry (that’s) happening is sustainable.”
He said time will tell whether the province follows through on its new commitments.
“We really will have to wait and see how these committees and how the government responds, because this is hardly the first time an independent panel has called on the minister of the Department of Natural Resources to reform the way we manage our forest. … We’ve seen deadlines missed, we’ve seen commitments gone unfulfilled.
“This department, in particular, has a poor track record in really responding to calls for change and meeting the commitments that they have made.”