It’s time for woodlot owners, the industry and governments to start thinking outside the woodbox.
That’s the message guest speaker Peter deMarsh delivered to the Federation of Nova Scotia Woodland Owners at the association’s annual meeting at the Holiday Inn in Truro on Saturday.
“The industry is going to have to start paying more,” said deMarsh, the Canadian federation president who lives just outside Fredericton and owns two woodlots of 80 and 60 hectares.
“Silviculture programs need to be improved and strengthened,” deMarsh said. “We need compensation for natural disasters and to begin to look at ways in which municipal water supplies that are coming from forested landscapes, that something is paid back (to the landowners).
“We don’t live on islands, we’re not isolated from society, we depend a lot on society and we also recognize the ways in which society depends on us. There has to be more recognition of those multiple connections and the money that is attached to it.”
DeMarsh said the Nova Scotia federation had to lobby, beg and lobby some more to eke out some government compensation for the forests damaged in hurricane Juan.
“What’s needed is a broad framework, at least at the provincial level,” he said of Juan, the ice storms in Quebec and Ontario and the mountain pine beetle infestation in British Columbia.
“These events have been treated like a big surprise, a big shock. Surely we are at the point where it’s not if but when – and rather than wait until it happens to figure out what kind of compensation should be provided,” something ought to be already in place.
He said the principle is simple. Silviculture, the planting and thinning of tree stands, benefits society by created jobs in sawmills and pulp mills.
“Governments are getting tax revenue from all those salaries and incomes. Where society is benefitting, it should help share the cost. Very few of us would say that society should bear the whole cost but it should certainly be sharing the cost.”
He said the same principle applies to drinking water that is preserved and protected when woodlots, particularly those near streams and rivers, are managed properly.
The federal association recently approached government about an RRSP-type program for timber sellers.
“You could deposit the money before tax in that savings account, withdraw it when you needed to do some silviculture work, planting or road-building or some legitimate forest-management activity. When you withdraw, it’s subject to tax but you would withdraw it when you have expenses to apply against it. The situation now is that it is very hard to match the revenue and the expense.”
DeMarsh said the federation was told by civil servants that if such a program were offered to woodlot owners, other groups would look for the same. Those groups, bureaucrats argued, would include authors and horse breeders.
DeMarsh’s words reached the ears of only 22 Nova Scotia federation members in attendance, even though there are nearly 1,300 members province-wide who meet the criteria of owning at least 15 hectares of woodland.
“Part of it is timing,” John MacDougall, executive director of the provincial federation, said of an annual meeting that is usually held in April.
“A lot of woodlot owners are busy doing other things now that the ground has dried. A lot of them are farmers.
“And it’s demographics. We’re getting older.”
It was estimated that only 64 per cent of the Nova Scotia woodland owners actively participating in the industry in 2001 were still active in 2011. DeMarsh said those numbers are consistent across the country.
“It’s not the number who are owning woodland that are going down, it’s the number who are actively managing and harvesting or doing silviculture themselves,” deMarsh said. “The markets are really, really terrible and people are getting older, its a combination of things.”
DeMarsh encouraged associations to promote social media interaction to get younger woodland owners participating in the industry.