Looming change to Nova Scotia's forestry practices not coming soon enough for some

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The provincial government accepted Bill Lahey's 45 recommendations in the months after his report was released in August 2018, but the government has been slow to put those recommendations into practice.  (Submitted - image credit)
The provincial government accepted Bill Lahey's 45 recommendations in the months after his report was released in August 2018, but the government has been slow to put those recommendations into practice. (Submitted - image credit)

Officials with the province's Lands and Forestry Department promised again Wednesday that transformational change is coming to the way the woods are managed, but calls continue for that change to start now.

Paul Lafleche, the deputy minister of lands and forestry, told the legislature's public accounts committee that the looming shift to ecological forestry, in keeping with the recommendations of the Lahey report, will be dramatic.

"It is, in fact, changing how we think about our forests while maintaining a sustainable forest industry, and it positions Nova Scotia as a world leader in protecting biodiversity and maintaining healthy forests," he said.

Successive governments have faced growing criticism for the level of clear cutting in Nova Scotia's forests. Bill Lahey's report, delivered more than two years ago, called for the very type of shift Lafleche referenced Wednesday — one that places a far greater emphasis on protecting land and soft-touch forestry practices.

But that shift has been slow to manifest.

Hunger strike outside Province House

The changes can't come soon enough for Jacob Fillmore.

Far from any forests, Fillmore sat on a downtown Halifax sidewalk outside Province House on Wednesday as cars and trucks passed by. He's on the third day of a hunger strike in an effort to convince the government to place a moratorium on clear cutting until the Lahey recommendations are in place.

Jacob Fillmore started a hungry strike and is staying outside Province House in Halifax in an effort to get a moratorium on clear cutting.
Jacob Fillmore started a hungry strike and is staying outside Province House in Halifax in an effort to get a moratorium on clear cutting.(Michael Gorman/CBC)

The provincial NDP and members of an advisory committee to the lands and forestry minister have already made similar requests.

"It just seems like nothing else is really working," Fillmore said of the decision to launch a hunger strike.

Aside from criticism over its slow implementation of the Lahey report, the government has also been under fire for how long it's taken to fulfil its obligations toward species at risk.

Updates expected this spring

A court ruling last year blasted the government for taking years in some cases to get recovery plans and teams in place for some species at risk. Along the way, protestors have faced legal action for their part in efforts to protect moose habitat.

Committee members heard Wednesday that efforts on all fronts are progressing. Three of six orders from last year's court ruling are complete, including a review of the mainland moose recovery plan, and work continues on the others.

Lafleche said the updated forest management guide should be complete and ready later this spring, around the same time Lahey is expected to issue a report on the government's progress implementing his recommendations from 2018.

The deputy minister also touted legislation expected to come during the spring sitting at Province House, which started on Tuesday. Premier Iain Rankin has pledged to speed up the implementation process.

Lisa Roberts, the NDP lands and forestry critic, said she's reserving judgment until the government provides more information.

Roberts said she wants more details about how harvest plans approved under interim management guidelines will change, if at all, once the new management guide is in place. Any harvests that don't subscribe to the new guidelines would be a failure to achieve ecological forestry, she said.

'The forests need more adequate protection'

To illustrate what some of the changes will mean, Lafleche said harvests conducted between 2015 and 2019 in Acadian forests using the existing management guide led to clearcuts on 49 per cent of the harvest areas. Applying the new guide to the same area would have seen less than 10 per cent of the harvested area clear cut, he said.

Outside Province House, Fillmore said he began his hunger strike because he didn't know how else to make a difference. He noted people have sent letters and emails and made phone calls to the government for years, and that people participating in a recent protest in Digby County were arrested for violating a court injunction against their actions.

While he's buoyed by what he's heard from Rankin during the premier's early days in office, Fillmore said nature can't keep waiting.

"I feel that in the meantime the forests need more adequate protection than they actually have, and I think that a moratorium on clear cutting would be a way to do that," he said.

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