A photo of Bill Lahey
Bill Lahey. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

How should Nova Scotia manage one of its key public resources — the forests — to make them healthier and more economically productive? Three months ago, the province received a report with 45 recommendations on how to achieve those goals. The Independent Review of Forest Practices In Nova Scotia was authored by Bill Lahey, a lawyer and former deputy minister of the Department of Environment before he signed on as president of University of King’s College.

Lahey hired experts to look at which forestry practices could be changed to relieve anxieties over clearcutting — which, he noted, has declined very little despite 10 years of eco-management tools developed by the department — as well as concerns over a diminishing wood supply. Lahey reported Nova Scotia’s forests are less productive than similar forests in Maine.

The minister of Lands and Forestry, Iain Rankin, said his department continues its review of what he calls “a comprehensive report.” Rankin was appointed to his post four months ago after having served as the minister of the Department of Environment — a department which one would expect to have many interests, concerns, and policies related to his current portfolio.

“We have a team looking at all those recommendations and we are working on a comprehensive response we hope to have in the near future,” said Rankin. “It’s not something we believe should be rushed. Lahey himself has mentioned some of the recommendations require foundational changes, and we have to fully understand what the outcomes will be — when and if those recommendations are implemented.”

Iain Rankin. Photo: Twitter

Rankin said he hopes a decision can be made by the end of this year, but he won’t commit to any timeline.

He did say he would support a recommendation in the report to “ensure accountability.” Lahey recommended appointing a committee to oversee and report what progress the government is making toward implementation.

Apart from that, the minister refused to say where he stands on specific recommendations to ban whole-tree harvesting, or whether the government — rather than forestry companies — will pay for spraying herbicides to reduce unwanted competition on tree plantations.

Instead, Rankin suggested the government’s response to Lahey’s 45 recommendations may be broad and phased in, whenever it does arrive. “We have had conversations with the report’s authors to discern which recommendations can be acted on fairly swiftly. And the ones which may not be practical to implement immediately, obviously won’t be,” Rankin said. “But there are some key parts of that report that help us speed up the direction toward ecological forestry. Some of the very detailed policy choices may not be answered.”

In general, Lahey concluded the government needs to allow more intensive cultivation on land designated to grow trees for timber and pulp. At the same time, he advocated “a lighter touch” to reduce clearcutting on Crown lands and mixed-use forests while eliminating the practice entirely in and around parks and nature preserves. The Lahey report would ban whole tree harvesting, and urged immediate steps be taken by both private landowners (who own 70 per cent of wooded land) and forestry companies to step up efforts to protect wildlife and endangered species.

The Lahey report estimates the supply of wood could drop by 10-15 per cent as a consequence of moving to an ecological forestry model where clearcutting is significantly reduced on Crown lands leased to forestry companies. Rankin refused to weigh in on whether he believes that is an accurate estimate or how it might affect pulp mills and sawmills in the future.

“The unknown really is how much timber or fibre you can extract from the land where trees will be intensely managed or cultivated,” said Rankin. “The Lahey report doesn’t say. We will work with our stakeholders to determine if there is an impact on supply. But in terms of guiding our management of the forest by the ecological paradigm, we accept that should be the direction forward.”

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. I interpret . . .
    “But in terms of guiding our management of the forest by the ecological paradigm, we accept that should be the direction forward.”
    . . . as meaning I’m going to let some future minister/government worry about the future of the forests and the consequences for a healthy,sustainable environment.

  2. Rankin’s answers seem reasonable. They’re not proof the government will respond positively to the report—he left himself too much wiggle room for that. But they’re not evidence of failure to take it seriously. The report recommends significant changes. No harm proceeding cautiously in making them.