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NS forester concerned the woods are taking a back seat to business

Industry members say the province needs to overhaul its approach to forestry

Wade Prest knows there are people in the forest industry who need help now. But as Nova Scotia’s forestry transition team has its second meeting Tuesday, the veteran harvester says he’s hoping to hear more about long-term goals and plans.

“We’ve sort of got the forest on the ropes right now, ecologically. A lot of our forestland is right on the tipping point, where it used to be productive forestland, and it’s not going to be able to be productive anymore if you continue to treat it the same way,” said Prest.

A good start would be reducing the capacity of harvests in the province, he said.

“We have to understand that we cannot continue to harvest young stands. We’ve got to commit ourselves to turning towards rotations of 80 or 150 years to grow sawlogs and very little pulpwood.”

With Northern Pulp preparing to shut down at the end of the month and no longer receiving pulpwood or chips, much of the uncertainty facing people right now relates to how they can make their business model work when what has been the largest customer for so many people is about to exit the market.

Last week, following its first meeting, the transition team announced it would spend $7 million from a $50-million fund on silviculture work. Although the announcement has been mostly well received, Oxford-based forester Mac Davis is worried it won’t be enough.

Davis, who does consulting work, said he’s particularly concerned about the way the woods are being worked right now, as people scramble to harvest as much value from their land as they can before prices for softwood drop much more.

“The forest is taking a back seat to business right now,” he said.

“Everybody is trying to survive. Everybody is trying to shuffle the deck to make their business go and the forest is taking the brunt of it.”

Davis said he and many others need prices to stabilize before things become too dire, but in the meantime, there’s a panic and fear in the industry. Davis said he’s never seen so many trucks on the road hauling wood during his many years in business.

“Forest management has been thrown completely under the bus,” he said.

It’s an approach to forestry that Andy Kekacs, the executive director of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association, said the transition team must find a way to move beyond.

“We would argue [that] in the past we’ve been too focused on lower-value products, and so we need to transform the way we’re growing the forest to yield higher values with larger trees of more valuable species,” he said.

Kekacs and his organization would like to see the transition team collaborating with the Lahey Report’s advisory panel in an effort to move toward a more ecological approach to forestry, one that’s good for the environment and the economy.

He’ll get no argument from Adam Forrest.

‘Nobody’s making enough money’

The private operator in West Dalhousie isn’t mourning the loss of Northern Pulp. Forrest said he’s structured his business to be diverse enough to weather turns in the market, but it’s always been a challenge because people in the woods have essentially been working for the same rate for 20 years, he said. Forrest said Northern Pulp has played a hand in that.

“Nobody’s making enough money to begin with,” he said.

Like Prest, Forrest believes there should be a reduction in cutting and more vision for the future, with thoughts of managing the woods focused on the next generation. He’d also like to see any reductions in harvests focused on Crown land, in hopes it drives up value for private landowners.

Getting a fair rate for landowners will partly depend on the public, said Forrest, and a broader commitment to ecological forestry. He noted that whether wood is harvested with chainsaws or via clearcut, it all ends up on the same market.

“If people want good forestry, they’ve got to pay for good forestry,” he said.

If there’s a silver lining for Davis right now, it’s that the industry feels closer than it has in the past. He hopes that can translate into better public education about the value of forestry to the economy as well as how it should be practised.

Prest understands not everyone has the flexibility he does right now, having managed his woodlots through the years so there is little pulpwood to think about now, but he said the industry must face the fact that the way it’s worked for decades is no longer viable.

That’s why it’s so important for the transition team to develop long-term goals that consider the environment, he said. In the short-term, said Prest, the could mean having to deal with higher harvesting costs.

“The industry should not be able to say, ‘Well, we can’t adjust to a sustainable forest growth because it’s inconvenient for us now.'”