Two full years after the release of the Lahey Independent Review on Forestry, Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin acknowledges it will be some time yet before the reports’ 45 recommendations toward a more ecological approach to forestry will be implemented.
Essentially, University of King’s College president Bill Lahey proposed a three-zone approach that would ban cutting in parks and wilderness areas, set aside 18% of Crown land for high-intensity forest production composed of softwood plantations, and create a third mixed or “ecological matrix” zone to protect old-growth Acadian forest and allow some commercial harvesting on the majority of Crown land.
The recommendations are designed to reduce clearcutting on Crown land, which makes up 30% of the province’s forest, although Lahey predicted that would also lead to increased clearcutting on private woodlots until and unless new legislation gets passed.
Progress has been slow, as representatives of environmental groups and the forestry industry on the Minister’s Advisory Committee meet with Lands and Forestry (LAF) officials to thrash out “how to” execute these large-scale changes. What land will be included in the high production forestry zone must soon be identified, says Rankin.
A document called the Forest Management Guide which will prescribe where and how harvesting is carried out in the future remains a work-in-progress. Rankin says more than 100 changes are being made to the original Guide after feedback from the Advisory Committee and an evaluation from experts Lahey consulted. The second version of the Forest Management Guide will go out “soon,” said Rankin, followed by a period for public comment before the final version of he Guide is implemented.
Rankin is conscious of criticism from environmental groups such as the Ecology Action Centre and Healthy Forest Coalition that are concerned the bureaucratic process is moving so slowly there won’t be much forest left by the time the new rules are implemented.
“I know folks want to see change happening quickly and that’s why we have the interim guidelines in place, so that we are starting the shift toward more multi-aged management practices,” Rankin tells the Halifax Examiner. “But for me, I want the Guide to be as strong as it possibly can be rather than having something that’s not quite hitting the mark as proposed in the Lahey report.”
One interim guideline requires companies harvesting wood on Crown land to leave between 10 and 30% of the trees. This is an improvement to previous regulations governing clearcuts. The Lahey Review estimated about 80 % of Nova Scotia woodlands had been harvested by clearcut — 65% on Crown land and 90% on privately owned woodlands.
Meanwhile, Rankin says he is preparing to introduce a new interim management guideline that will require a soil analysis on Crowns lands before determining which lands will be eligible for harvesting. Repeated clearcuts over the same area combined with acidic conditions linked to acid rain and dryness from the loss of ground cover means some Nova Scotia soil is in poor shape.
“Essentially it involves an analysis on the nutrients in the soil,” says Rankin. “A lot of our technical staff have been looking at that and there are people concerned about the state of our soils and how acidic they can be. There could be incidences where the model shows that a particular type of harvest would not be ecologically acceptable or it shouldn’t be harvested at all. That will be an added component to the pre-treatment assessment of Crown lands.”
This could affect areas that have been repeatedly harvested in southwestern Nova Scotia. Rankin says no long-term lease will be signed with WestFor Management, a consortium representing 13 sawmills and forestry companies allocated wood from Crown land previously managed by Bowater, until the Forest Management Guide is completed. The consortium had its allocation reduced from 312,600 tonnes to 244,405 tonnes in 2017 while Lahey was doing his review . The 244,405 tonnes will be extended for another year when the lease comes up for renewal next month.