Recently opinions (May the forest be with you, Oct. 29) have generated public discussion about a number of forest practices and have questioned the science behind timber harvesting on Nova Scotia’s government owned Crown land and land owned by private individuals.

I am responding so Nova Scotians will fully understand that the decision making in my department is based on science and the natural resources stewardship that is mandated of it.

Anyone looking at the workforce of the Department of Natural Resources will see that this is a science-based department — not an arm of industry, special interest groups, landowners, or otherwise.

This is a department of professionals: biologists, geologists, surveyors, foresters, ecologists, soil scientists, hydrologists, entomologists, park planners, forest technicians, firefighters and other professions.

These are Nova Scotians who care deeply about our land, water, and air, and a sustainable future. They are committed to balancing the economic environmental and social benefits of natural resources, and we are truly proud of them.

Recently, I appointed a science advisory committee who will advise me on the refinements and research required to strengthen science-based decision-making as we manage our forests at the landscape scale.

I am also listening to Nova Scotians who communicate with me about natural resources topics, including timber harvests. Under our government, since 2014, all proposed Crown timber harvests are posted online for public input. If you are just learning about this, then please sign up for notices.

As a result of the online harvest map, hundreds of Nova Scotians have provided input on locations of proposed harvests. Prior to the maps going up online, Nova Scotians did not have the opportunity to contribute to the decision making.

Now, public comments are always taken into account and this has resulted in timber harvests being adjusted or deferred in locations such as Ingramport, Scout Island in the St. Margarets Bay area, and near Kejimkujik National Park.

The science is of utmost importance with a harvest plan. Harvests on Crown land are developed using forest management guides based on input from a pre-treatment assessment carried out in the field by a trained forest professional.

This process is also recommended for private landowners who own most land in Nova Scotia. We are also finalizing a biodiversity stewardship field guide to help private landowners in managing their lands.

Forest management guides take into account several factors including forest ecosystem classification for soils and vegetation, the amount of timber volume per hectare, the health and vigor of existing trees, the lifespan and shade tolerance of species present, existing regeneration of immature trees and seedlings, as well as the potential blowdown hazard for the site.

The harvest prescription, either a type of clear-cut harvest or a type of partial harvest, is the result of using the guides on a case-by-case basis with the actual data from the field.

Special considerations about a potential harvest site are made in the case of endangered or at-risk species, such as the Blanding’s Turtle.

The harvest planning work is carried out by well-respected forest ecologists, forest soil scientists, biologists and other professionals in DNR who have developed leading-edge tools and practices.

These tools include ecological landscape classification, forest ecosystem classification, ecological landscape analysis, pre-treatment assessment and forest management guides.

We encourage private landowners to use the same tools on their own lands.

Nova Scotia has the smallest fraction of government-owned Crown land in Canada following P.E.I. It’s important to note that close to 65 per cent of our forests are privately owned and we can only promote but not tell landowners how those lands are managed.

While landowners have the right to make their own forest management decisions, they are required to ensure environmental integrity by following the Wildlife Habitat and Watercourses Protection regulations.

These laws require watercourse special management zones and legacy trees and wildlife habitat be retained during forest harvesting on forest lands — both private and Crown.

I encourage anyone who is interested in science to learn about how the Department of Natural Resources manages forests.

There is much to learn about vegetation types, ecosystems, silviculture, and forest practices by visiting and spending time reading at the Nova Scotia forestry website.

I also encourage Nova Scotians to download the forests section of the five-year update on the Path We Share: a Natural Resources Strategy for Nova Scotia [PDF].

Using a science-based approach, we will sustain forests for the enjoyment of Nova Scotians and support close to 12,000 jobs connected to forestry.

The forests have great economic, ecological and recreation values, and we’re proud of the accomplishments we’re making to manage this important resource.

Lloyd Hines is minister of natural resources for Nova Scotia.