BILL LAHEY IDENTIFIES PATH FORWARD FOR FORESTRY IN NOVA SCOTIA. WILL PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT ACT?
Published on Aug 23 2018
On Tuesday, an important independent assessment of Nova Scotia’s forest industry was publicly released. The full report is written by Bill Lahey and can be viewed here.
This is a key moment for forest policy in Nova Scotia, since we are clearly at a decision point. Will Nova Scotia stick with the status quo of clearcut after clearcut, or will we switch to a better type of forestry; one that places more emphasis on quality over quantity?
I must admit, at first I was a bit skeptical of this independent review, since it is only the latest in a long line of independent reports that have recommended important changes to Nova Scotia’s forest industry, but those reports, for the most part, have gathered dust. So, I was skeptical, but then Bill Lahey was announced as the individual who would be carrying out this latest independent assessment and that changed things for me.
I’ve worked with Bill in his former capacity as Deputy Minister of Nova Scotia Environment, before being appointed President of University of King’s College in Halifax. We interacted on the protection of Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes and the implementation of the Colin Stewart Forest Forum recommendations for creating new protected areas in Nova Scotia.
Bill was one of the driving forces behind the cutting edge piece of Nova Scotia legislation known as the “Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act” (EGSPA), which has helped the province achieve important progress on a range of environmental issues, even through various election cycles.
Bill has also undertaken other independent reviews for the provincial government, most notably the aquaculture regulatory assessment released in 2015. He’s a straight shooter. He’s smart. And he doesn’t shy away from tough or complex issues. I’ve also found him to be very considerate and genuinely interested in people, their concerns, and how that relates to good government.
So, when the Lahey Report was released yesterday, I was very eager to read through it and to see how Bill tackled this important, yet tricky file.
CPAWS Nova Scotia provided input into the review process. We specifically made recommendations for the province to work within the ecological limits of the forest; to finish the protected areas system (which should be the benchmark of any well designed forest management strategy); to focus on spatial planning as a means for reducing clearcutting and improving forestry practices; to commit to undertaking a high conservation value forest assessment for all public lands in Nova Scotia; to establish long-term deferrals; and to move oversight for approving forest management plans from the Department of Natural Resources to Nova Scotia Environment through the Environmental Assessment process.
People who participated in the review process were given the opportunity to have a briefing on the report at 9am on Tuesday, two hours before it was to be publicly released at 11am.
So, what does the report say?
First of all, if you are a policy wonk, this report does not disappoint. It is jammed packed with all sorts of information, and analyses, and critical thinking. There are several technical bulletins that accompany the main report.
The main thrust of the document is that Lahey wants the province to move away from the current model of industrial-scale forestry toward something that is more “ecological forestry”. That means the priority MUST be placed on healthy forests and biodiversity, not maximizing wood fibre for pulp mills and biomass burners.
To get there, Lahey lays out a path that has quite a bit of tough love, for everyone.
He recommends using a triad approach, which means dividing up the landscape into three general zones: 1) Protection, 2) Forest matrix, and 3) Intensive forestry. It’s like a 3-legged stool, which in theory, should lead to increased protection and force an increasing amount of harvests into the existing human footprint, rather than the rough scattershot of clearcuts that so dominate the landscape today.
This is NOT a new approach. It’s something that has been promoted for a long time. But, on-the-ground in Nova Scotia, it’s pretty hard to conclude that intense forestry is not the predominant leg in that stool, with so many roads and clearcuts and short harvesting rotations. Lahey essentially lays out a roadmap that makes it harder for the government to avoid doing the triad approach properly.
According to Lahey, if the recommendations in the report are followed, it will result in a reduction in the amount of clearcutting from current levels or ~65% on Crown lands to approximately 20-25% of all harvests. That would be a substantial reduction from the status quo and would correspond with an estimated 10-20% drop in the amount of wood supply being harvested from public lands. Lahey essentially concludes that public forests cannot support the current levels of harvesting, particularly clearcutting, and that this must be reduced to make the transition to ecological forestry on public lands.
The report notes that this may push more of the harvesting footprint onto private lands, since so much of Nova Scotia is privately owned. It could also result in a contraction in the forest industry. Either way, we simply cannot push the forests beyond their ecological limits, especially with the uncertainty of impacts from climate change and invasive species. Healthy forests create more options for the future, while industrial scale forestry does not.
There are some very specific recommendations in the Lahey report as well. It rightly identifies that the work to establish protected areas in Nova Scotia is “unfinished” and that the province is falling behind the national protected areas target of protecting at least 17% of the landmass. Additionally, the report says that clearcutting should NOT occur adjacent to protected areas. This is something that CPAWS Nova Scotia has been pushing for for quite some time. The report also identifies inadequacies in protecting old forest in Nova Scotia and calls for a land use planning process for public lands in western Nova Scotia, including the former Bowater lands, as well as an expansion to the Medway Community Forest.
The report also recommends moving approvals for forestry plans to the environmental assessment process (or equivalent), meaning this would require oversight from other provincial departments, not just the Department of Natural Resources. That would be a huge improvement. It will make the process more transparent and will give the public better access to information sooner in the review process.
I mentioned that there was tough love for everyone, and there is. Industry will have to try to figure out how they can improve their forestry practices, to move away from over-reliance on clearcutting. Acadian forests are very different from Canada’s boreal forests. Natural disturbances are generally smaller, and for many stand types, it’s dominated by gap-fill dynamics. This means that clearcuts often don’t mimic those natural disturbance regimes, and lighter touch forestry is required instead.
For environmentalists, the triad approach means that in exchange for increased protection measures there are places on the landscape where forestry becomes MORE intensive. That’s a tough pill to swallow, since the status quo is already very intense.
I think the Lahey report goes too far in saying herbicide spraying should be allowed in these areas of intensified forestry. Stora-Enso (now Port Hawkesbury Paper Ltd.) has already demonstrated that it’s possible to avoid using herbicide applications in the Acadian forest through using modified harvest techniques and better use of shade to control regrowth. It’s possible to implement the triad approach without relying on herbicides.
All eyes need to be on the provincial government. It received the report at the same time that it was released publicly, so I’m sure it will take a little bit of time for them to review and digest the recommendations. However, surely the recommendations in this report can’t come as a big surprise. It’s obvious that Nova Scotia has gone too far down the road of industrial scale forestry and we need to pull back from that.
In a year-end interview last December, the Premier was asked about the pending Lahey report and, at that time, he indicated that he would implement its recommendations.
This is what the Premier said:
“I asked him [Lahey] to do this work because I need a path forward so his report will be accepted. Without seeing it, it’s hard to (say for certain) but my intention is to implement the recommendations he puts forward.”
Bill Lahey has now delivered the report and has successfully identified a potential path forward that is reasonable and moves us in the right direction. No more stalling. Now is the time to act!! Over to you Nova Scotia government.
By: ~Chris Miller, Executive Director, CPAWS Nova Scotia
(I just want to conclude by saying thank you to Bill Lahey for tackling this important issue head-on and with the required rigour that allows workable solutions to be identified. I also thank him for listening to the input from CPAWS-NS and for incorporating some of our suggestions into his report.)