The front page of the Forest Practices Report, showing three photos of forests

In 2018, Bill Lahey, the president of the University of King’s College, was commissioned by the province to be the lead author of the Forest Practices Report (FPR), commonly referred to as the Lahey Report.

That report called for a complete overhaul of the forestry industry in Nova Scotia. But three years later, there has been no change in the way logging happens on the ground.

That’s the finding of a review of the progress made on the FPR published by Lahey today.

Wrote Lahey:

None of the work underway on FPR recommendations has resulted in much if any actual change on the ground in how forestry is being planned, managed, or conducted, and I have no indication of when any of it will. From the information at my disposal, I am not able to conclude that much or any change has happened in how forestry is practised based on the work the Department [of Natural Resources] has done on implementing the FPR. This is the overriding and central conclusion of this evaluation.

Combined with the fact that only five [of 45] recommendations have been fully implemented, and that the implementation phase of work on recommendations has not started on roughly two-thirds of all recommendations, implementation cannot so far be judged a success.

Lahey is particularly concerned that the lack in progress is degrading Crown land that will have some protection once the FPR recommendations are implemented:

It is particularly serious that, more than three years after the release of the FPR, the new Forest Management Guide (now called the Silvicultural Guide for the Ecological Matrix [SGEM]) called for in recommendation 10 of the FPR has still not been implemented. Substituting ecological forestry for industrial forestry (clearcutting) on a substantial majority of Crown land not managed exclusively for conservation or intensive forestry was the most important change called for in the FPR. In the meantime, the level of harvesting on Crown land, and the percentage of harvesting conducted by clearcutting, appear to have remained constant from the date on which the FPR was submitted to the Department, which was August 22, 2018.

These concerns are accentuated by the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, in that it gives government until 2023 to implement the triad and therefore the ecological matrix on Crown lands…

It follows that the longer the delay in making the transition to ecological forestry, the greater the ecological loss in the parts of the forest that will eventually come under an ecological forestry regime.

Ray Plourde, the senior wilderness coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), echoed that sentiment. In an interview with the Halifax Examiner, Plourde pointed out that the Natural Resources Strategy, which called for a 50% reduction in clearcutting, was adopted in 2011. Seven years went by with no actual change in the amount of clearcutting. Lahey issued his FPR report in 2018, and now three years later, there’s still no change on the ground. This fall, the Houston government passed the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, which says the policies will be implemented… in 2023.

“For a decade and a half, reduction in clear-cutting has been promised but not delivered,” said Plourde. “It’s delay and log. Study and log. Think and log. Promise and log.”

The EAC is calling for “an immediate moratorium on all even-aged or clear-cutting harvesting methods on public land until the regulations are implemented and enforced.”

In  response to Lahey’s review, the provincial NDP today also called for a moratorium on clearcutting.

“Despite their talk of environmental action, the Lahey review released today shows that this government, like the one before, has done almost nothing to transition to an ecological forestry approach,” wrote Claudia Chender, the NDP’s Natural Resources critic in a press release. “Although they accepted the recommendations of the Lahey Report, clear-cutting continues and very little has changed on the ground… We need clear leadership from the Premier and his government to ensure that ecological forestry is fully implemented throughout the province, in a timely manner.”

A man at a lecturn
Bill Lahey

In a phone interview with the Examiner, Lahey said he doesn’t want the implementation work to fall into a planning hole, but it’s important that the report’s recommendations be looked at holistically, as a complete whole, and that a complete plan for implementing all of them be put into place.

Such a plan, said Lahey, would give direction to all of government, and a sense of purpose and vision.

In his review, Lahey writes:

• The Department’s approach to implementation is missing a clear articulation of its overall implementation strategy.

• Such a strategy would show how work on all of the recommendations of the report is to be sequenced over time to ensure that the cumulative effect of implementation of each recommendation leads to widespread adoption and implementation of the triad model of forest management over the forested lands of the province to accomplish the core objective of the FPR – maintaining and restoring multi-aged and mixed-species forests in which late-successional species have the opportunity to grow and mature where they represent the forest’s natural condition.

• In broad terms, such a strategy should outline the logic by which choices are made in selecting the recommendations that are worked on, including a rationale for sequencing and consideration of where the effective implementation of one recommendation depends on the results of implementing another recommendation or completing an earlier phase of implementation.

Part of the problem, writes Lahey, is that there is a pro-industry culture within the department. “It is not clear that the Department has embraced the ecological paradigm called for in the FPR. Instead, it appears to be still operating within a paradigm in which forest production and ecological systems are regarded as values to be balanced against one another, with the balance in favour of the former where the two come into essential conflict.”

Read Lahey’s review here.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Some of the really important foundational pieces have been put in place. And some of those pieces kept other pieces from being worked on effectively. A lot of work by a lot of people… but as Lahey points out changing the mindset of the collective is a challenge unto itself. Lots of ‘on the ground’ staff at DLF have not and will never read the Lahey report but still need to be brought ‘into the fold’ of ecological forestry principles and away from what they were ‘taught in school’. That change in mindset is critical to fully implementing the recommendations along with a more wholistic view of implementing the recommendations and having a better plan to do so.

    DLF’s own literature review showed the negative consequences of “<30% variable retention" cuts (clear cuts) on a variety of taxa. Their own science on disturbance regimes also goes against the current levels of clear cut harvesting. The sustained cutting on the landscape of "10-30% variable retention" is undermining the future health of our forests and the ability of the industry to sustain itself long term. They cause complete collapses of taxa that take decades to centuries to rebuild. There are some cases where small clear cuts are justified in rebuilding to an Acadian forest character but that is an order of magnitude less than what is being approved on the crown land base by DLF currently. Continuing these cuts at this scale is anti-science and anti-reason.

    To be clear what is happening within DNRR (the Lahey report even being commissioned let alone
    accepted and acted upon…even if slowly) is a monumental shift from the status quo and a ton of work by very dedicated staff.

    If/when fully implemented it will constitute one of the most scientifically/ecologically progressive provincial crown forestry policies in Canada. It hasn't been easy and it won't be easy but the public needs to continue to push politicians to push the staff to get it done.

  2. Yep. In spite of the Lahey report, nothing has changed on the ground — except that the province’s forests have been *scalped* by thousands more hectares. What a sad sad state of affairs. So many of us have been saying just what Lahey has put in writing but were treated so arrogantly and dismissively by personnel at DNRR. Will anything change or will they just let this continue until we are a wasteland from shore to shore?

  3. Pathetic! Successive governments since 2011, right up until 2021, have utterly failed Nova Scotians when it comes to forestry and protecting our resources. Instead of responsibly managing our crown lands they instead handed those responsibilities over to a greed-driven, irresponsible, antiscience industry that is perfectly happy to rape and pillage our province until there is nothing left. What’s worse, the McNeil government gave Industrial Forestry even more control over our forest resources when he created WestFor and handed the management of crown lands over to them. This insatiable, greedy conglomerate of industrial foresters have been clear cutting our province at an abominable rate — ignoring ecologically important habitats and wildlife, endangered species like the mainland moose, and destroying our forests as quickly as they can because they KNOW the time is soon coming when what they are doing will be seen for what it is: criminal behaviour.

    We need to disband WestFor as quickly as possible and remove any management responsibilities they have over crown land. And we need an immediate moratorium on clear cutting in this province until a proper crown land management plan is put in place.