Advisory panel members called for moratorium on clear-cutting in November

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Last November, half of the members of an advisory committee to the Lands and Forestry minister called for a moratorium on clear-cutting on Crown land.
Last November, half of the members of an advisory committee to the Lands and Forestry minister called for a moratorium on clear-cutting on Crown land.

(Submitted)

Half of the members of an advisory committee to the minister of Lands and Forestry wrote to him in November expressing deep concern about continued heavy cutting on Crown land.

They also called for a temporary moratorium.

In submitting the letter to Derek Mombourquette, the members say they are concerned about "the extended delay in achieving the transition to ecological forestry practices" and say the pause in cutting is necessary until the recommendations of the Lahey Report on forestry practices are implemented.

"We believe that not doing so will result in the failure of government's latest attempt at forestry reform, with long-term damage to the ecological health, economic productivity, and socio-cultural values that Nova Scotians receive from this critically important public resource," reads an introductory message submitted along with the letter.

The letter, which the NDP received through a freedom of information request and released Friday, was copied to Premier Stephen McNeil, Lands and Forestry Deputy Minister Julie Towers and William Lahey, the president of University of King's College and author of the report that provides the blueprint for a change in forestry practices.

Little progress since report's release

Lahey's report, which was released two-and-a-half years ago, called for a change to a more ecological management of the forests.

Among the many recommendations was a move to a so-called triad system, where some Crown land is reserved for high-production forestry, some is left untouched for conservation and the largest portion is used for a more light-touch approach that allows the forests to recover from years of heavy cutting.

Overall, the recommendations would lead to a major reduction in clear-cutting. But since the report was released, there has been little public progress.

The draft of the new forest management guide, which outlines how the change would happen, was finally released last month.

The letter from the committee members notes that as people continue to wait for change by the government, harvest plans "that specify heavy cutting are being submitted and approved at a rapid pace, with little apparent regard for the ecological impacts that Lahey warned about."

"It is long past time for government to take significant action to transform forest policy and management in Nova Scotia. The premier, minister and Department of Lands and Forestry did not accept the Lahey review with the caveat that the remaining Crown forests be liquidated before its recommendations were implemented."

A decision for the next premier

Members of the committee who signed the letter are Karen Beazley, Donna Crossland, Angie Gillis, Andrew Kekacs, Ray Plourde, Mary Jane Rodger and Greg Watson.

Mombourquette has previously said he wanted all necessary preparation work ahead of potentially implementing Lahey's report to be complete before a new premier takes office.

Iain Rankin, the former Lands and Forestry minister, won the Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership on Saturday and is expected to be sworn in as premier in the coming weeks.

That means a decision on what happens next will fall to Rankin, and not McNeil. During the leadership campaign, Rankin pledged to implement the major aspects of the Lahey Report, including passing a new Biodiversity Act, this year.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the situation presents Rankin with a chance to show the public his priorities.

"I think that Mr. Rankin has an important opportunity to follow a new direction on this and to change from the foot-dragging and delay that has characterized the government's response to the Lahey recommendations to really dealing seriously with clear-cutting," he said in an interview.

"If he were to follow this advice and bring in the moratorium on Crown [land] until those key, central, pivotal recommendations were implemented, I think this would go a long way towards demonstrating that in fact he means business on the subject."

A statement from the Lands and Forestry Department said the government remains committed to adopting Lahey's recommendations. It notes public consultation on the new management guide closes on Feb. 19.

"Once the new guide is finalized, the next steps will be to determine the details of how [it] will be implemented, including necessary training and the status of previously approved harvests.

"Interim forest management guidelines remain in place throughout this process. These measures have reduced the number of clearcuts approved by the department on Crown land considerably while the ecological forestry model is being implemented."

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