The recent story about the illegal harvest of a significant area in Long Lake Provincial Park was shocking for many.

How could this happen? A beautiful area of forest, not only protected as a park, but also visible to a significant number of people who drive by on their way to and from work every day, was cut down. Twenty acres or more of land were cut before anyone realized what happened.

As the Dec. 2 letter to the editor from Mark Sweeny and Jennifer James correctly points out, this story might be surprising to many, but for Nova Scotia’s woodlot owners it is not so unusual. Stories of trespass and wood theft are well known.

These are not small problems. Wood theft on a private woodlot can easily amount to individual losses of tens of thousands of dollars. It’s rarely prosecuted in forestry and the common practice, if someone ever pursues it, is to compensate the landowner with only the stumpage value of the trees cut.

It would be like stealing a car, wrecking it, and maybe — if you get caught — being expected to pay for the car. Only with forest land, the value is more than financial and it may take a generation or more to rebuild.

Embedded in the experience of many landowners is an undercurrent of suspicion and broken trust.

When you talk to landowners about managing their forest, lack of trust is often the most significant obstacle to overcome, and it’s no wonder why. It only takes one story like this to raise doubts in the whole sector.

In Nova Scotia, we still live with the luxury of viewing our forest resources as almost inexhaustible. There are, after all, a lot of trees here and there aren’t all that many of us. It’s easy to forget how rare this place is in the world. This unique perspective allows us to behave with an attitude that forests have no real value until they are converted to a usable product.

In parts of the world where you see the most progressive conservation and forestry management systems, reforms were often preceded by a history where forests were almost completely laid bare. This was true in Scandinavia, in Germany, and closer to home in Southern Ontario. I hope we’ll never get to that point in Nova Scotia, but we need to reconsider how we view the value of our forests and how we support the people who care for them.

It is also increasingly clear that the business models that ran the forest industry for the past few generations are not the ones that will work for the next generation. The world is changing. Commodity products must compete globally, production capacity is increasingly expensive and large-scale, and social expectations are all driving a need for transformation in the industry.

Mills are doing their best to survive. So are the harvesting contractors. So are woodlot owners. Trying to keep up with the pressure within old business models just makes the problems worse. There isn’t enough money in the wood being cut and sold. Something’s got to give somewhere. Unfortunately, the landowners often seem to be the ones who get shorted. Whose fault is this? How do we change it?

Perhaps the Long Lake story invites us to start by looking carefully at our regulatory structure. Do we have policies that only react to problems after they’ve come up, or ones that support and encourage the things we want to occur?

There is little in the way of regulations to inspire confidence that land is being harvested appropriately or that wood sold to a mill actually comes from a legitimate source. In most other places in Canada, there is at least a regulated bill of lading system for the transportation of timber that verifies the origin of wood. Nothing like this exists in Nova Scotia.

Many in the forest industry are already frustrated by the policies and regulations we do have, yet at the same time, those structures are not achieving the results many in the general public expect.

It’s time to be a little more proactive with the available tools of investments, taxes and regulations to foster a prosperous forestry sector in Nova Scotia that we can all be proud of.