HALIFAX — Nova Scotia will adopt sustainable forestry practices that will see reduced clearcutting on Crown land, although the province’s lands and forestry minister is unable to say yet by how much.

Iain Rankin said forest policies will be guided by ecological practices through the so-called “triad” model — some areas protected from all forestry, others dedicated to high production including clearcutting, and others harvested with a “lighter touch” and limited clearcutting.

The approach was one of the main recommendations in a report last August by University of King’s College president Bill Lahey.

“I want Nova Scotians to know that they will see changes in how we conduct forestry on public land,” Rankin said Monday as he released his response to Lahey’s report.

He said his department would immediately look to revise its forest management guide, which dictates the types of forestry that can be done on Crown land, over the next year.

While that’s carried out, a set of interim retention guidelines will see an immediate reduction of clearcutting on Crown land, Rankin said.

However, the minister said the government is avoiding a set target for now, while it studies the reduction numbers included in Lahey’s report. Lahey said his recommended changes would reduce clearcutting from an estimated 65 per cent of all harvesting on Crown land to between 20 and 25 per cent.

“It’s about putting the science and ecological considerations first before you arrive at a number and not putting a political target … and then working backwards to find the science to justify that target,” said Rankin. “It requires full analysis.”

According to federal figures, about 90 per cent of wood harvested in Nova Scotia is clear cut.

However, Lahey’s report said about 80 per cent of forest harvesting uses clearcutting — the practice is used on about 90 per cent of private lands, and about 65 per cent of Crown lands.

It said about 18 per cent of all land in Nova Scotia is owned by forestry companies.

Rankin said his department would begin work on a process to identify appropriate areas for high production forestry on Crown land. Once those are identified, the province will allow the regulated use of herbicides, although public funds won’t be used.

In August, Lahey said a reduction in clearcutting on Crown land could reduce the overall wood supply for industry, but Rankin said he doesn’t believe that’s the case.

“We don’t accept that there will be a reduction or a contraction,” Rankin said. “We believe that we can sustainably grow this industry. There will be more opportunities for industry as they adopt this (ecological) model.”

Jeff Bishop, executive director of Forest Nova Scotia, said companies in the forest sector are encouraged the province is taking more time to consider how to implement its ecological approach.

“I’m hoping at some point that we’ll all be in agreement with where this is going to move us,” said Bishop. “We think there is flexibility within the triad approach.”

Rankin said his department also accepts Lahey’s call for improved openness and transparency and will establish, within the next year, an independent process for environmental reviews for long term forest management licences that will include public input.

As well, there will be a report on the government’s progress that will be led by Lahey.

Lahey said Monday that although he was hoping for more specifics from the government, he was pleased by the number of issues that were itemized as priorities.

“They’ve set a direction which is consistent with my report. The question now becomes are they going to push it to accomplish what in the report I said could be accomplished.”

Lahey pointed to the release of the interim retention guidelines as “critically important” to determining the amount of clearcutting on Crown land.

The guidelines issued Monday call for between 10 to 30 per cent stand-retention depending on the tree composition in harvested areas.

“I think when you match forestry technique to the kinds of forests that we have you’re going to end up with a significant reduction in clearcutting,” said Lahey.

Ray Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator at the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, said while he was surprised by the lack of detail in the province’s response, there are some encouraging signs.

“I think they (government) get it and I think they are trying to move in the right direction as far as Crown land goes,” he said. “The devil will be in the details and the implementation.”

Rankin said policy changes for private land would come as the changes for Crown land are implemented and assessed and there will also be a review of existing Crown and private silviculture programs.

The government will also introduce a Biodiversity Act in 2019 to cover the legislative changes required for ecological forestry.