New Brunswick is set to release a new forestry strategy that favours multiple uses, with more public woodland set aside for conservation, intensive cutting, recreation, and maple syrup and blueberry production.
Mike Holland, the minister of natural resources and energy development, says the strategy is the culmination of five years of hard work since he took over the portfolio.
He said while no single group will be pleased, there will be something for everyone in the plan.
“I've said we can all live under the same roof,” Holland told Brunswick News. “And it’s not unique to New Brunswick. Jurisdictions like New Zealand and others have created multiple outcomes. What it requires, though, is a lot of work. It doesn’t happen by accident, and you have to be very deliberate and intentional in how you manage your forests.
“It’s not a matter of making everyone happy, it’s a matter of achieving multiple outcomes.”
The strategy will be a precursor to the Progressive Conservative government signing new agreements with big forestry companies, which will describe where and how much they can cut.
He is going to release details about the strategy on Wednesday.
“In the past the forest management agreements were forged with the sole purpose of creating wood fibre for industry, which was tremendous for the forest industry,” Holland said. “But I’ve been singing the same refrain for five years: We’ve got to ensure that when we put together our management plans so that conservation, First Nations, agri-forestry, recreation, they all have to be considered.
“I want us to see us grow in all sectors.”
Soon after taking office in 2019, Holland, an avid hunter and angler who ran the Resourceful Redneck outdoor gear company, announced he was freezing the forestry industry’s agreements, which are typically renewed every five years. The last big ones were signed in 2014, when the Alward Tory government increased the annual allowable cut, a move that was welcomed by industry but decried by environmentalists.
In the lead-up to Wednesday’s announcement, last week Holland’s department released a new State of the Forest report.
It was a first-of-its-kind annual forest report, providing 50 pages of facts and figures on the woodlands and the industry that harvests them. More than half of New Brunswick's forests are publicly owned, and the industry is worth $1.5 billion a year, creating jobs throughout rural New Brunswick.
Green party Leader David Coon has cut the report to pieces, warning the Tory government wants industry to create more tree plantations that would devastate wildlife.
He also noted what wasn’t in the report.
The environmentalist told Brunswick News that across the border, the United States Forest Service uses clear indicators, including tree damage and mortality, the diversity of forest vegetation, soil quality, invasive species, and the fragmentation and loss of habitat.
He called it critical for the public to know whether the forest is being properly managed to face the threats of climate change and dwindling plant and animal populations.
“Companies have been asking for an increase in the area of Crown land they can convert over from forests to plantations,” Coon said. “And the natural resources minister has hinted before to media that he’d increase the amount they can cut each year. So this is all coming to a head.”
As a reference point, the Green leader mentioned the latest data published by the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, which identified about 100 distinct forest types in New Brunswick. It found almost two-thirds of them were at risk, with three critically imperilled, 12 imperilled, and 49 considered vulnerable.
He also pointed to research published last year by Matthew Betts, originally from Rothesay and a professor at the Oregon State University College of Forestry, who found two-thirds of the region’s most common forest bird species had suffered significant habitat loss in the past 35 years, leading to significant population declines.
Holland dismissed Coon’s comments, pointing out that the Tory government had recently doubled the area under conservation in New Brunswick, from less than five per cent to 10 per cent of the province’s public land and interior waterways.
“The Green party has built their entire brand around being the only political party that’s environmentally responsible," the minister said. "So I can see how, when another party, particularly a conservative party, comes out with data points and a forest management strategy that includes the significant work we’ve done related to conservation, that becomes a bit of a challenge for them.”
Holland said he wanted the report released before the strategy because for the last five years he’s had conversations with people about the forests in the province who were making arguments based on inaccurate or incomplete information, through no fault of their own. He said it was important for the department to put all its data together in one report, with annual updates, that people could reference.
“I want to get the absolute most amount of wood out of the smallest piece of land, so that we can continue to drive the objectives of industry and at the same time allow us more acreage to manage for multiple outcomes such as conservation,” he said. “Old forest conservation, deer wintering yards, all of that will be rolled out in how we create a forest for the future.”
John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Gleaner