Nova Scotia’s natural resources minister says the province will not place restrictions on the amount of clearcutting private woodlot owners can do on their land.

“That’s up to the private landowners as to how they harvest their property,” Lloyd Hines said following the weekly cabinet meeting Thursday in Halifax.

“Clearcutting is a recognized technique that is used throughout any place where there’s forest to harvest fibre.”

Forester calls for long-term plan

Hines was responding to criticism by veteran Digby County forester Harold Alexander. Last week Alexander said if the province really wants to create a long-term plan for forestry management, it should place restrictions on how private lands can be managed,since they account for about two thirds of all the land in the province.

“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,” he said at the time.

The only current restrictions relate to wildlife habitat and buffers from watercourses. Alexander and four others are travelling to Finland later this month to examine the forestry industry there, which he said could provide a lot of lessons for the industry here. The Natural Resources Department is contributing funding for the trip.

‘What they do on their land is their business’

But Hines said the government’s guiding principle for dealing with private woodlot owners is to “promote and not to prescribe.”

The department uses various outreach techniques, such as the annual woodlot owner of the year awards, he said. There are also strong ties with groups such as the Cape Breton Privateland Partnership and the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners Association.

“We have a good relationship with the private woodlot owners, but we recognize that what they do on their land is their business.”

Alexander argues that while certain land might belong to a private citizen, it remains a part of the environment, and thus a natural resource, long after the owner is gone. Having no rules for harvesting makes the land susceptible if a contractor came along and offered the owner enough money to harvest.

Following a 400-year practice

The minister doesn’t see it that way.

“What we’re doing is what has been the accepted practice in the oldest part of North America to be settled. The people who have this private land have had it back to the land grants [from] 400 years [ago]. They’ve done an excellent job of stewarding the land.”

Many people avail themselves of science and other resources from the department, said Hines. And while he conceded “100-per cent clearcutting is not necessarily good,” the minister said ultimately it’s up to landowners to do what they wish with the properties.

No environmental concerns

Nova Scotia leads the country in the amount of wilderness protected areas (12.2 per cent of the entire province) and Hines said he doesn’t believe the amount of clearcutting happening now poses an environmental threat.

“I think we’d have to clear cut the entire province once a week,” he said. “We have lot of wilderness, lots of uncut areas in the province.”