Ministerial advisory panel members accuse government of dragging its feet on Lahey report

·3 min read
A harvester removes trees during a partial cut in Colchester County in this file photo from 2019. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
A harvester removes trees during a partial cut in Colchester County in this file photo from 2019. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

Members of a ministerial advisory panel on forestry say delays implementing the Lahey report fall at the feet of Nova Scotia's Natural Resources Department, but the minister responsible disagrees.

Donna Crossland, a member of the advisory panel and forestry ecologist, pulled no punches when asked during Monday's law amendments committee about her thoughts on the slow rollout of the report, released in 2018 by University of King's College president Bill Lahey.

"The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables will come up with many very convincing reasons why they simply can't commence with ecological forestry, and none of them are acceptable, real or entirely true," she told the committee.

Crossland said it seems like there is an unwillingness to take immediate and substantive action, in part, because mills are trying to fill up with lumber.

"There's a last grab going on, quite honestly. That is what's happening," she said.

CBC
CBC

Ray Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax and another member of the advisory panel, said successive governments have dragged their feet on carrying out the changes needed in the woods.

Given that the silviculture guide for ecological forestry is ready, Plourde said during an interview there's no reason to delay action any longer.

"It's taken three years of slow walking this thing under the previous government, and now some of the most critical pieces are in place," he said.

The delays have allowed aggressive industrial forestry practices to continue largely unabated, said Plourde, and he's concerned that without immediate action, that will continue.

But Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton disagrees with the assessment that his department has dragged its feet.

"I wouldn't say it's a fair characterization," he said in an interview.

Steve Lawrence/CBC
Steve Lawrence/CBC

While he had his own questions on the matter while serving as department critic in opposition, Rushton said it's clear to him now as minister that a lot of consultation had to take place first. He said training has started on the new silviculture guide as part of its implementation on Crown land.

The department is still working to determine where industrial forestry will be permitted on Crown land as part of the triad model prescribed by Lahey, which would see a portion of Crown land reserved for conservation, a portion for high-production work and the largest portion designated for ecological forestry.

Rushton said he expects an update in the next couple of weeks.

The value of forests

The minister has previously said that an evaluation of the government's progress by Lahey is expected imminently.

The government's bill to fight climate change and set environmental goals includes implementing the Lahey report by 2023.

But Crossland and Plourde say that's far too late, noting that clear cutting contributes to the problem because of the carbon it releases. They argue if Lahey can't be acted on sooner, a moratorium on clear cutting on Crown land needs to be put in place, something the advisory panel requested of the previous government.

"To maintain the health of the current forests we have remaining, we need to lock them down and say, 'You can do forestry on them, but you cannot do heavy removals,'" Crossland said in an interview.

That request is not one she and others arrived at lightly, she said. The forests have a purpose for more than just a select few people.

"And climate change is one of them," she said. "Those forests are more valuable now to mitigate climate change than they are for a few beneficiaries in the forest industry."

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