The president of a forestry group that's licensed to cut trees on Crown land in southwest Nova Scotia is pushing back against calls for a moratorium on cutting, saying the livelihood of forestry workers is at stake.
Earlier this month, people representing eight environmental and community groups demanded that the provincial government immediately halt all logging on public land until recommendations in the Lahey report are fully implemented.
They say it was their only option after years of inaction on the forestry file by the province.
But Jamie Lewis, president of WestFor Management, told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Monday that halting logging on Crown land would have a "very negative impact on a lot of families and a lot of people who count on the forest industry and cutting on Crown lands to sustain their jobs."
Listen to Jamie Lewis's full interview with Information Morning here:
WestFor is a consortium that works on behalf of 12 sawmills in Nova Scotia.
Some of the planned cuts that WestFor is carrying out in Digby and Annapolis counties have been met with protests and blockades from people who say ecologically significant forests could be destroyed.
A standoff at a planned cut in Digby County last December led to nine protesters being arrested.
Concerns from environmentalists are based on "false information," according to Lewis.
"In fact, harvesting levels are down year over year," he said. "We continue to adopt new methodologies and new practices to bring us in line with Lahey and to get it implemented just as fast as possible."
He said he fully supports the Lahey report and wants to see it implemented in the province.
The report from 2018 outlined 43 recommendations, including a drastic reduction in clear cutting and a move toward more ecological forestry practices, but author William Lahey recently said little progress has been made to achieve those goals.
One concern environmentalists have raised is that cutting continues on pieces of land that could be eventually designated for conservation.
"The practices that we're using in the areas that are being protested are no less ecological than anywhere else," Lewis said.
"We're doing what we need to be doing. We're using the latest science in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources' approval process so ... we're not doing anything that we shouldn't, and we need to keep moving forward with those things."
According to Lewis, cutting across the province is down 40 per cent on Crown lands in the past five or so years. He said this is partly because logging companies are putting some things on hold until they better understand the Lahey report.
Lewis said WestFor decides where to cut and how much, based on what the particular section of forest can handle.
"We're not doing stuff just solely based on the mill," he said. "We're doing number 1, what the forest can provide, and then we take it from there."
Lewis also said that with the majority of WestFor's cuts, "50 per cent of the trees are still there."
According to the province, leaving 50 per cent of trees behind is still considered a clearcut. The province's definition of a clearcut from 2012 is "a harvest, after which less than 60 per cent of the area is sufficiently occupied with trees taller than 1.3 metres."
Lewis called that definition "a little bit skewed."
"In many jurisdictions, what we're doing now in the way of partial harvest and in the way of cutting would not be considered a clearcut," he said.
"By their own definition, yeah, I'll grant that that's the case, but many, many jurisdictions would come and see what we're doing and say, 'No, that's beautiful ecological forestry. Keep it up.'"
Tory Rushton, the minister of natural resources and renewables, told CBC News earlier this month that there will be no moratorium on Crown land harvests.
He said his department is reviewing some 10,000 hectares of approved harvests to make sure they abide by the Lahey guidelines.
Those reviews are still taking place, a department spokesperson said Monday.
"The province is focused on implementing the Forest Practices Review [Lahey report] and shifting to the triad model of ecological forestry on Crown land," the spokesperson said in an email.
"In practical terms, that means the province will first consider the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity when making decisions on how Nova Scotia's Crown forests are managed."
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