Nova Scotia forest policy moving in wrong direction

  • Published on Aug 29 2016 |
  • by Chris Miller |
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In the span of only a few months, the Nova Scotia government has taken several major steps backwards with the management of its forest industry.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) unilaterally dropped its Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on public lands within the Medway District of southwestern Nova Scotia. The decision to drop FSC was taken just before the results of an independent audit on its environmental performance were to be released publicly. The current Minister framed this as a decision to reduce redundancy, choosing the SFI certification system over FSC, but this flies-in-the-face of the statement from the previous Minister of Natural Resources who said FSC certification would be expanded to include all public lands in western Nova Scotia. This was the start in a series of major reversals in government policy on forestry.

Earlier this month, DNR released its 5-year review of the Natural Resources Strategy. In that document, DNR appears to abandon efforts to reduce clearcutting by 50%.  They also seem to embrace whole-tree harvesting and open the door to public funding for herbicide spraying.  These sorts of decisions should be raising alarm bells. It signals that the department is looking to big industrial forestry as the future, with more intensive forest harvesting (more clearcuts; more biomass harvests; more spraying). A better future for our forest industry is one where we choose quality over quantity, and ensure that our forests are resilient to changes over the long-term.

One of the few areas where Nova Scotia has made good progress managing its forests is with protected areas. The responsibility for this rests largely with the Department of Environment, though you’d be hard pressed to reach that conclusion reading through the 5-year natural resources strategy review, where DNR seems to take credit for the success of this program in achieving national recognition.  Through my job as a conservation biologist, I have the advantage of receiving occasional glimpses into the inner machinations of government, and it’s pretty obvious that DNR is actually one of the biggest obstacles to the creation of new protected areas, constantly throwing up internal roadblocks. So, to read that DNR is suddenly a champion of shrinking the industrial footprint to avoid these precious few remaining natural areas induced laughing…actual real laughing, not just a token LOL.

It’s also come to light that DNR is proposing to clearcut forested lands right up to the boundary of Kejimkujik National Park, in an area of known significance of the endangered Blanding’s turtle. This is way out-of-step with the public desire to better protect our national parks, rather than running roughshod over them. This proposal also exposed that the provincial government apparently has no policy or plan whatsoever to guide forest harvesting on public lands in close proximity to protected areas.  If best practices were used, a buffer zone would need to be established that would set a minimum distance from the protected area boundary, inside of which no clearcutting would be permitted. It’s important that our protected areas are never allowed to become islands in a sea of industrial disturbance. A quick review of publicly-available information reveals than many other protected areas have clearcuts and harvests proposed on their boundaries.

Nova Scotians genuinely care about the forest. We live in a spectacular part of the world and it is our responsibility to look after it. The steps DNR has taken in recent months clearly moves us in the wrong direction.

~Chris Miller