As the provincial government continues to face criticism for a recent update to its natural resources strategy and its decision to allow companies to spray herbicides, one long-time forester says there is an even bigger problem at hand: the lack of a real long-term plan.

Forestry is an especially important sector for rural parts of the province, which is why Harold Alexander is so troubled by what he says is only a minor effort by the province to harness the potential of the resource.

At the end of the month, Alexander, who has worked the woods in Digby County for more than 30 years, and four other people will travel to Finland.

The group will attempt to learn why that country’s forestry well outpaces the performance of ours, yet remains sustainable and preserves healthy forests, all with a fairly similar split between private and public land.

The debate on clearcutting

“Just because some people who log are raping and pillaging and we’re willing, as a government, to let them do that — I think we need to do something different,” he said.

There is an intense debate in some areas about the amount of clearcutting in this province, particularly on Crown land. In the update of the natural resources strategy, the government backed away from a commitment to reduce the practice to 50 per cent of harvests.

That, along with abandoning a commitment to require a stringent certification system, has some people, such as biologist Bob Bancroft, accusing the government of disregarding the will of the public, whose views helped form the original strategy.

Bancroft is particularly concerned about clearcutting in the western Crown lands, and the environmental impacts that will have. Alexander notes that when a clearcut happens on Crown land, it’s because the government has permitted it.

On private land, however, which makes up the majority of forest in Nova Scotia, there are no regulations for harvesting.

Not all clearcuts are bad, but too often not enough attention is paid to whether or not a stand is mature enough to be worked in and harvested, he said. That leads to what Alexander sees as one of the government’s biggest shortcomings: its unwillingness to regulate what people do with their woodlands.

‘We’re scared to death in Nova Scotia’

Because there are no rules, people with land who are either too old or uninterested in working it, are often willing to sell to contractors for whatever is being offered. Alexander said it’s a cop-out for the government not to get involved.

“We’re scared to death in Nova Scotia — the politicians are scared to death to tell landowners that you can’t have somebody come and cut your land from one end to the other.”

Private landowners should unite

Jim Crooker, a woodlot owner in South Brookfield, Queens County, is making the trip to Finland with Alexander. He said one of the keys to improving the forestry industry and its practices is getting private woodlot owners organized — similar to how they are in Scandinavia — so they can increase their influence.

Private woodlot owners control more than 60 per cent of the province’s forests, but without a more unified voice in the form of a co-op or something else, Crooker isn’t sure the necessary changes for sustainability and increased economic benefits are possible.

Crooker and Bancroft are also concerned about the level of influence large industry players have in the Natural Resources Department.

“I think it’s fair to say the industry has the steering wheel on the forestry bus and the government has been along for the jobs,” said Bancroft.
Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines said he knows this perception exists for some people, but it isn’t true.

“If you were to ask them that question, they would probably fall on the floor laughing,” he said of the large industry players.

The minister makes no secret of the importance of the industry and the jobs connected to the major mills and contractors. But, he said, it’s also his responsibility as minister to “unlock the value” of forestry and create economic activity within the limits of good management.

The sounds fine to Alexander, but without a better plan he believes the province is leaving thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars — not to mention a more sustainable industry — in the woods.