Forestry coalition calls for halt on some types of harvesting on N.S. Crown land

·4 min read

A forestry alliance in Nova Scotia has taken the rare step of speaking out against the province, spurred in part by what the group describes as a "cutting frenzy" in two wilderness areas in Digby County.

The Healthy Forest Coalition is calling on the government to pause some types of harvesting on Crown land until it implements recommendations laid out in an independent review of forestry practices.

"These cuts were just kind of exemplary of the systemic issues that we've been concerned about over the past few years," Mike Lancaster, the coalition's co-ordinator, told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

"It's time. We can't wait any longer to lose any of these high-value forests while we make up our mind on how things move forward."

Lancaster said the province has still not acted on the Lahey report, which called for a drastic reduction in clear cutting.

The province accepted the report's recommendations after it was released in 2018 and has said it's committed to following through.

Lancaster said while he understands those recommendations are likely not going to happen "any time soon," something still needs to be done.

"In the interim, while we're waiting for these changes to be implemented in good faith, we're losing a lot of these high-conservation-value forests, both from a standpoint of the species at risk that are present within them, and then from the pure forestry value as well," he said.

The Healthy Forest Coalition is made up of scientists, former government employees, retired academics and forestry professionals.

The coalition rarely criticizes the provincial government, but Lancaster said it spoke out after news of cutting between the Tobeatic and Silver River Wilderness Areas in Digby County, which conservationists say is a prime habitat for endangered mainland moose. Several harvests have been approved on Crown land in the area, but it's unclear how many have actually been cut.

Nina Newington
Nina Newington

Lancaster said the coalition wants a "moratorium on all even-aged harvests," a type of harvest where the trees that grow back will all be around the same age.

"That's not the way that our natural forest ecosystems and our Acadian forest region function. They function through diversity of different age classes," he said.

"So returning them to one uniform age is not very reflective of what our normal healthy Acadian forest ecosystems are trying to be."

The Lahey report called for a "triad model" of ecological forestry that would see a total ban on harvesting in parks, nature reserves and other designated wilderness areas.

The model also envisioned some forests dedicated to high-production forestry, while the remainder would be managed using approaches ranging from ecological conservation to outright commercial forestry.

Name withheld by request
Name withheld by request

In his report, William Lahey estimated about 80 per cent of forest harvesting in Nova Scotia is carried out by clear cutting, the practice of cutting down large swaths of the forest. He argued the industry should strive to emulate natural disturbances that would occur in the absence of harvesting. That could consist of partial or selection harvesting or reduced clear cutting.

Lahey said clear cutting is "generally acceptable" in softwood forests or those planted and grown for clear cutting.

Bigger than forestry

Lancaster said he's encouraged by increased scrutiny of forestry practices in recent years. Even before the Lahey report — which brought considerable attention to the issue — momentum for sustainable forestry had been building, he said.

"They're at a bit of a breaking point. It's something that people aren't really willing to deal with the status quo anymore," said Lancaster.

He also said the issue of forestry needs to be looked at through a larger lens.

"In the face of climate change, forestry has become that much more of an important issue across our province, wherein how we manage our forests has ramifications on that issue," he said, noting that ensuring diverse, healthy forests also makes sense from an economic standpoint.

Lancaster said while they need to make sure that forests are managed for diversity and resilience to climate change, it's important to also balance the "societal values" like tourism, hunting, fishing and guiding.

"It needs to be that it's not forestry first and all those things second. It needs to be that ... the decisions are made with all of those balanced simultaneously," he said.

Lancaster said the Healthy Forest Coalition has had some contact with the provincial government but "nothing concrete."

"We're optimistic," he said. "We think there's good conversations to be had moving forward."

Minister declines interview

Derek Mombourquette, minister of Lands and Forestry, declined to be interviewed.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for his department said an interim retention guide that's been in place since December 2018 "has significantly reduced the number of clearcuts and even-aged cuts being approved."

"In addition, there have been no increases to allocations for harvests, in fact in [the] western region they have been reduced by around 20 per cent," Brian Taylor wrote. "This means a reduction in overall volume being harvested, with more trees being retained on each harvest through the interim retention guide."