'We can't just make stuff up,' says forestry expert on management practices

Provincial forestry policy not only needs closer attention, it needs improving, says Gary Schneider, supervisor of the Macphail Ecological Forestry Project. (Brittany Spencer/CBC - image credit)
Provincial forestry policy not only needs closer attention, it needs improving, says Gary Schneider, supervisor of the Macphail Ecological Forestry Project. (Brittany Spencer/CBC - image credit)

P.E.I. needs better information on where wood chips for heating, part of its plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, are coming from, says a forestry expert in the wake of the provincial auditor general's report.

Forest management was included in last week's annual report from  P.E.I. Auditor General Darren Noonan. Noonan wrote the province is not following its own forest management practices, and expressed concerned that the State of the Forest report, published once a decade, is late again.

Noonan also said the province needs to do a better job tracking where biomass wood is being harvested.

Gary Schneider, supervisor of the Macphail Ecological Forestry Project, was not surprised by the AG's findings.

"If we're going to say the wood is being harvested sustainably we need to know that. We can't just make stuff up and say it in public," Schneider told Island Morning host Laura Chapin.

Randy McAndrew/CBC
Randy McAndrew/CBC

Noonan wrote in particular about the province's biomass heating program, which uses wood chips to provide heat to more than 30 public buildings, most of them schools. The biomass heating plan is supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but in 2019, as the program was being expanded, both the government and the opposition expressed concern it could do more harm than good if not managed properly.

"I had heard two ministers, including the present minister in charge of forestry, say publicly that the wood chips were being harvested through sustainable forest management," said Schneider.

"I kept pointing out in public that they were incorrect. People swore up and and down they were monitoring it, but they had no one monitoring it for quite a while."

Once a decade not enough

In an email to CBC News, the P.E.I. Environment Department acknowledged that is has been having trouble gathering information on where the wood chips for the heating program are coming from.

"The Department has been unable to complete a report on where the biomass wood is coming from because we have not received the required information," the email said.

"However, we will prepare a report with the information we do have and expect it to be available later this year."

The province needs to not only follow its forestry management practices, said Schneider, but update them.

Producing a State of the Forest report only once every 10 years means the province is always working with outdated information, he said. He noted that in the late 1980s the province produced a report annually outlining the department's spending and projects.

The province is also spending too much money subsidizing projects that do not benefit the forest, he said.

Kathy Stuart, chair of the P.E.I. Woodlot Owners association, would not comment on any specific issues raised by the auditor general, but said because of the decades required for any return on investment to property owners, the province needs to continue to support woodlot owners.

In its email to CBC, the Environment Department said it would be launching a review of current policy and programs in the near future.