Private woodlot owners are raising concerns about a proposed new bylaw by the City of Miramichi which would require city approval before property owners could clear cut their land.
"It's very alarming, to say the least," said Kevin Forgrave, executive director of the Northumberland Woodlot Owners Association. "And it's a large infringement on all the family forest owners in the area. Miramichi is a rural setting and it's going to impact a lot of people."
Currently, there are about 400 private woodlot owners within Miramichi city limits who have about 12,000 hectares of property. After municipal reform and amalgamation, Forgrave says the new entity will include about 700 woodlot owners with 16,000 hectares affected by the bylaw. Crown land wouldn't be impacted.
The draft bylaw would require woodlot owners to apply to the city for permission to clear cut any portion of their land. Forgrave said it will be the only municipal bylaw of its kind in Atlantic Canada.
Miramichi Mayor Adam Lordon said the bylaw has not been passed and is still going through the public consultation process.
"Our staff had to look across Canada to get examples of where [bylaws like this] do exist and basically put together something on paper as a starting point for a conversation," said Lordon.
Lordon says city staff are not experts in forestry, and so they are looking for input from others.
"We have had engagement through this process from local woodlot owners, from the local forestry association."
Lordon said a concerned group of residents brought the issue forward after a forest was clear cut in Douglastown about a year and a half ago.
"That did cause some concern to residents in that area," he said. "That's where that request came from. And there were members of council at that time who thought it was worth taking a look at."
But Forgrave said the economic impact of the bylaw would be "severe."
"It's an extreme overstep of private landowners rights," he said. "And it's lacking the scientific method behind it."
Forgrave said that in some instances clear cutting is required for proper management of woodlots.
"This kind of infringement is a step beyond what any government level should take," he said. "We have rules that we have to abide by from provincial governments. And it's all science based and it has merit on, say, for example, working in wetlands or in a watercourse and things like this."
Kim Allen, executive director of Forestry NB, which represents forest product producers, said the bylaw itself is lacking.
"Clear cutting is only one prescription for managing forests, and it's used in situations that would mimic what nature does. So, for instance, if you've got a forest that's been impacted, let's say, by an insect infestation and you want to harvest that before you lose the product."
Forgrave says his organization plans to meet with the city council before the bylaw goes forward.