I wonder if Billy Freeman, a sixth generation saw-miller with 15 years experience, saw this juncture coming.

A few weeks ago, Freeman, the process improvement manager at Harry Freeman and Son Ltd. in Greenfield, Nova Scotia wrote an illuminating op-ed in the Chronicle Herald supporting Northern Pulp in its request for an extension of the legislated deadline for closing its 50-year old toxic waste lagoon at Boat Harbour. Even though the pulp mill had more than five years notice about the closure, the spokesperson for the company said in an-end-of-January press conference that it won’t be able to meet the current deadline and without an extension, it will “be forced to shut down at least temporarily.” Freeman says that without Northern Pulp, “most Nova Scotia saw mills would close” because the mill “provides the wood chip market that keeps essentially all Nova Scotia sawmills in business.”

Freeman went on to explain how many of the sawmills in the province have invested in state-of-the art equipment that automates decisions on how to maximize the recovery of lumber; but that even so, “the best sawmills recover around 50 per cent of lumber out of the logs they process” — a subject we will return to.

In other words, the sawmills desperately need Northern Pulp to make their business cases viable.

But while Freeman and other sawmills stand in solidarity with the pulp mill — an allegiance that on the surface looks like a reasonable one — it’s what they don’t say that is most telling.

That the wood going into a sawmill today has more chips (in relation to lumber) than it did 50 years ago; that this reality in the Nova Scotian context is a direct result of the long-term combined forest demand of three pulp and paper giants (including Northern Pulp) coupled with the short-sightedness of provincial governments of every political stripe that have aided and abetted pulp’s expansion, and later provided financial resuscitation; and that the onus to deal with the fallout of a forest in decline has been placed almost entirely on the sawmill industry itself. [1]In 2012, the oldest of the three mills, Resolute Forest Products (formerly Bowater) was purchased by the province. The pulp and paper giant reported it had hit a wall of “unprecedented production … Continue reading

In other words, the interests of the pulp industry and the sawmill industry are actually diametrically opposed, and always have been.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Two Pulp Mills Too Many

As I reported in a five-part series for The Halifax Examiner that began here, when the Department of Lands and Forestry (DLF) switched in the early 2000s from using one inventory data source—with trend lines dating back to the 1950s—to another data source—one that was typically only used for measuring growth increments in trees—it effectively inflated the province’s forest inventory. [2]I reported in the five-part series titled, “Biomass, Freedom of Information and the DNR Company Men” that the DNR (now Department of Lands and Forestry) has shown a knack for inflating the forest … Continue reading

But if we step back a few decades we discover that this kind of data manipulation within the department is nothing new. In fact, it was part and parcel of enticing pulp and paper companies to set up here in the first place. In the 1992 book Trouble in the Woods, Glyn Bissix and Anders Sandberg describe in meticulous detail how the province successfully enticed pulp mills to the province using tax holidays, forest giveaways, next-to-nothing stumpage rates, a supply of cheap pulpwood from a politically weak small woodlot owner sector, and this: the promise that the forests could support more pulp mills.

This last assurance was not easy, since the data were showing otherwise.

As early as 1912, B.E. Fernow, the Dean of Forestry at the University of Toronto reported the province’s forests were in “poor condition… being annually further deteriorated by abuse and injudicious use.” He warned they were “liable to exhaustion,” and that it was the “duty of those who have the continued prosperity of the Province at heart” to “arrest further deterioration and to begin restoration.”

By the time the province’s first official forest inventory was published in 1958 — when Robert Stanfield’s Conservatives were courting two more pulp mills — the downward spiral first reported by Fernow was getting worse. The 1958 inventory showed that the land area covered with non-commercial or low-grade species was increasing and there was already a need for industry to “accept smaller and smaller stock.” [3]Hawboldt, L.S., and Bulmer, R.M. 1958. The Forest Resources of Nova Scotia. Department of Lands and Forests. Province of Nova Scotia.

But Stanfield’s government didn’t want a dwindling wood supply to stand in the way of attracting two more pulp mills to the province, not even if it was the truth.

“One precondition for the establishment of new pulp mills was documentation that the Nova Scotia forest could support additional pulp mills,” wrote Bissix and Sandberg. They said that senior civil servants in the department were unwilling at the time to give such assurances, pointing to the wood scarcities forecast in the government’s own inventory. According to the authors, even the province’s first pulp and paper mill, Bowater Mersey, which was founded in 1929 on the banks of the Mersey River estuary in Brooklyn, was “fearing competition” from the specter of additional pulp mills, and also “supported the position of forest scarcity.” [4]Bissix, G. and L. A. Sandberg. 1992. “The Political Economy of Nova Scotia’s Improvement Act, 1962-1986.” In Trouble in the Woods: Forest Policy and Social Conflict in Nova Scotia and New … Continue reading

[T]here were powerful forces arguing that Nova Scotia’s forests could not sustain a second, let alone a third, major pulp mill. The provincial government, however, turned scarcity into plenty. Premier Stanfield instructed Lands and Forests Minister Haliburton to “get those people of yours ‘thick as sweat’ down to the [Hotel] Nova Scotian and lock ‘em up until they come up with an answer. [5]Ibid. The authors cited interviews with E.D. Haliburton as well as his own 1972 book titled, My Years with Stanfield.”

According to Bissix and Sandberg, the answer they came up with was a little less than kosher: it was to “revise” the 1958 forest inventories to artificially inflate the wood supply numbers. As a result, “reluctant” departmental personnel were “forced to concede” that there was enough wood to support more pulp mills.

In 1964, just before Scott Paper (now Northern Pulp) opened its bleached kraft pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, the inventories were tampered with again, this time increasing the annual allowable cut by nearly 75 per cent. [6]Bissix and Sandberg, pp. 174.

Square Lake clearcut by Northern Pulp. Photo: Linda Pannozzo.

By the late 1990s as federal funding for silviculture declined, the department realized with renewed alarm that cutting on private lands was not sustainable: “Forest stands are being harvested while they are still immature”; “softwood harvests have exceeded the sustainable supply level.” The document titled Toward Sustainable Forestry didn’t mince words: “Overharvesting is a potentially serious problem demanding immediate attention.”

As I’ve previously reported, if we were to look at the available forest inventory data reported by the DLF between 1958 and 2003 it would show that the forests have been getting progressively younger and that older forests are disappearing. [7]GPI Atlantic’s Forest Update reported that between 1958 and 2003 the percentage of young forest up to 20 years increased by more than 300 per cent and the 21 to 40 year-old age class increased by … Continue reading

In other words, in less time than it would take for a spruce tree to mature, the forests of the province have been transformed, degraded, and over-cut.

This decline in forest condition was also the subject of William Lahey’s Independent Review of Forest Practices, in which he sought out the expertise of Peter Duinker, a professor at Dalhousie University’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies. Duinker talks about effects of acid rain on already acidic forest soils, invasions by destructive species, and climate change.

“If the forests of Nova Scotia were in good condition, there would be no need for this Review of forest practices. However, they are not,” writes Duinker. “Substantial changes are needed in forest practices if further degradation is to be avoided and restoration pursued.” He also notes that the “legacy of impoverished forests” is a result of timber harvests in the past, due to high-grading, and more recently, due to clearcutting, which has resulted in the “progressively smaller logs” that the sawmill industry has had to grapple with. [8]See “Condition of Nova Scotia’s Forests” by Peter Duinker in Addendum to William Lahey’s Independent Review of Forest Practices (pp. 19-20): … Continue reading

Tracking lumber recovery

From the start, the pulp and paper industry promised to give new value to the province’s low-grade forests and because the industry could profit quite handsomely from a forest in decline — wood fibre being its only requirement — maintaining the quality of sawlogs has never been one of its objectives.

And the easiest way to get cheap fibre is by clearcutting, on shorter and shorter rotations — every 45-50 years — so that forests in this province don’t even get a chance to mature before they are cut again.

But studies show, as I reported here, clearcutting on short rotations results in a decline in site productivity, and therefore in more low-grade forests. When a forest is clearcut the soils are often badly degraded and organic matter is lost. Organic matter takes 70-80 years to rebuild to the levels prior to clearing, and nitrogen can take 120 years to recover, which means that any clearcut rotation of less than 120 years is likely unsustainable. [9]In 2009, Josh Noseworthy was commissioned by the DNR to look at the effects of biomass harvesting on soil nutrient pools and to see if there were productivity declines associated with harvesting … Continue reading

In his Chronicle Herald op-ed, Billy Freeman describes the process of making lumber and how the log’s “exterior surface is chipped away to the point [where] boards can be produced.” He also points out that the “value is in the lumber” and that the “wood chips are only produced from parts of the log that cannot make lumber.” Without a market for these wood chips — what he calls “byproducts” of the process — “the numbers simply turn from black to red.”

No one can argue that sawmill chips haven’t become an important manufactured product of the modern sawmill and that the integration between sawmills and pulp mills is extremely well established. But all this talk about the importance of the wood chips leaves me wondering about the lumber — and how the loss of forest condition in this province has been affecting that.

Specifically, I’d like to know more about lumber recovery, which is essentially the volume of lumber that results when a tree is processed by a sawmill. In technical language it’s the cubic volume of lumber expressed as a percentage of the total log volume. Because if your goal is to make lumber, then the higher the percentage of lumber recovery the better, since lumber will fetch a higher price than chips or other residuals. Billy Freeman noted that “even the best sawmills recover around 50 per cent of lumber out of the logs they process,” which means only half of the tree ends up in finished lumber, and the rest is chips and other residue.

To find out if there were any studies done on the trends in lumber recovery in the province, I contacted the Department of Lands and Forestry and they said there were none.

I wondered then if I could try to calculate it over time using the annual Registry of Buyers, an initiative that began about two decades ago when the government realized it didn’t have a handle on how much wood was being cut in the province. In this system, registered buyers report the volumes of wood they acquire for processing into secondary products. The registry indicates sawlog/ studwood volumes as well as pulp quality chips that result, two pieces of information I thought I could use to determine trends in lumber recovery, seeing as nothing else seems to exist.

But according to Krista Higdon, DLF media relations, for a number of reasons the data in the Registry of Buyers report are “not appropriate to be used to calculate an average lumber recovery for NS sawmills.”[10]According to DLF, the reasons why the Registry of Buyers data are not appropriate for calculating “lumber recovery” are: 1. The report records studwood/ sawlogs acquired in NS, not consumed by … Continue reading

So I reached out to the forest industry and contacted Jeff Bishop, the executive director of an organization that represents them, Forest Nova Scotia. Bishop tells me that “lumber recovery is not a data point we…track,” and that tracking production data from members is not part of the organization’s mandate. Bishop contacted the Maritime Lumber Bureau to see if they had any data but it turns out they don’t either. “It’s really not a data point that’s meaningful beyond a given company.” Bishop felt that “the level of tracking on recovery would vary widely from mill to mill, company to company. Given that, your only source of the data would be the individual sawmills themselves.”

Not all sawlogs are created equal

So I turned to Freemans’ Lumber and asked to speak directly to Billy Freeman, the person who penned the op-ed about supporting Northern Pulp in its request for an extension. Freeman did not want to be interviewed but he did agree to answer my emailed questions.

Sawlogs piled in the yard at Freemans’ Lumber in Greenfield. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

I told Freeman that I was interested in how lumber recovery has changed in Nova Scotia over time, and that given the long-lived history of his family’s business in the province — dating back to the 1800s — he might be in a good position to comment on the trends.

Freeman said that information about lumber recovery is “proprietary and very sensitive business information — the key to sawmill profitability.” So while he wouldn’t give figures for his sawmill, he did comment on the industry generally.

He said he didn’t have any historical data but said the technology in the 19th century would have been much more crude: “Those mills used thick saws, human decision-makers and primitive positioning…a modern sawmill will process any log supply with monumentally better recovery than an old sawmill.” But, he said that with today’s modern technology coupled with larger-diametre trees of 100 years ago he would “expect lumber recovery [in today’s mills] to be around 50 per cent (finished goods).”

I’ll admit I was stumped by his statement because the studies I was able to locate stated otherwise.

For instance, this 1984 technical report penned by the United States Forest Service Studies shows that when trees are smaller, lumber recovery declines. It reports that the key factors influencing lumber recovery include log diameter and taper. “Anyone familiar with sawmilling knows that large diameter logs yield more lumber per volume of input than small diameter logs,” states the study. The report goes on to discuss how taper affects recovery: the higher the taper, the lower the recovery percentage. In other words, the more tapered the log the greater the number of shorter pieces of lumber it would yield.

The influence of log diameter and taper on lumber recovery, US Forest Service, 1984.

The study also noted that logs of low-grade value also mean a loss of lumber recovery as “reason dictates that some grading defects must be cut from the lumber to improve structural and appearance properties.”

Lumber recovery is influenced by forest condition, a conclusion also supported by a 1969 southern BC-based study by the Canadian Forestry Service that looked at the “volume losses” associated with the conversion of trees to finished lumber. The study looked at 138 spruce trees with top diameters ranging from four to 14 inches with the average being seven inches. It found that at the sawmill the total volume of chippable residues amounted to more than one-third of the total volume. In other words, roughly 35 per cent of the tree volume was lost in the making of lumber. One-half of this volume, or 18 per cent of the tree volume, was recoverable as pulp chips. This study is revealing in two ways: it found that the percentage losses in the smallest trees were 30 per cent greater than those in the largest trees. And second, it provides a hint at a possible trend: Back in 1969, lumber recovery, at least in southern British Columbia, might have been as high as 65 per cent.

I asked Freeman what the lumber recovery difference would be between a 3.5 – 5-inch top versus say, a log with a 10-inch top? Freeman said recovery from log to finished lumber in both cases would be around 50 per cent, and that the larger diameter log has the “potential for marginally better recovery,” and this depended on a variety of factors including “wood quality, sawmill equipment configurations, and product prices.” He said modern sawmills “optimize for value and market demand, not volume.”

In other words, the sawmill’s computerized optimizers consider the relative market values of a 2×4 and a 2×6 on any given day and will manufacture the higher value product, even if it means sacrificing a little volume in the process.

Screenshot taken from Wood Products Online Expo, where it states “lumber recovery generally increases as the log size increases.”

Still needing some clarity, I asked Freeman to comment on the above chart.. Specifically, the chart seems to show that over a wide range of diameters, when other factors are held constant, lumber recovery increases with diameter and eventually plateaus.

What is significant here is how lumber recovery drops so quickly with decreasing diameter, say under seven inches. I asked Freeman: “Technology can mitigate this trend to some extent, but as our forests (in NS) become younger, and rotations shorter, diameter continues to decrease. Do you think technology will just continue to mitigate this trend or will it eventually reach its limit?”

Freeman replied: “There are obviously theoretical limits when converting coned shaped logs into square lumber. As the chart shows, studmills which are specifically designed to process small logs will have better recovery. Small diameter studwood often comes from the tops of trees and thinnings. It is important to have mills able to process small wood efficiently. The alternative is pulpwood, a lower value product.”

But still, Freeman did not address the fact that lumber recovery drops off precipitously below seven-inches in diameter, even at the stud mill. He also didn’t agree with my premise that lumber recovery has declined in the province, and he said as much: “New technology has dramatically improved lumber recovery.”

I was able to locate a document from Library and Archives Canada — a 1951 study by Canada’s Department of Resources and Development’s Forestry Branch that looked at “Factors Influencing the Manufacture of Sawlogs into Lumber in Eastern Canada.” The study looked at 50 representative mills in Eastern Canada and found that, on average, 47 per cent of softwood logs and 44 per cent of hardwood logs was converted to finished lumber. Now remember, this study was written nearly 70 years ago when sawmills would not have been equipped with the computerized, ultra-modern technology of today, and yet, average lumber recovery was not that different than what Freeman is reporting to be the average today.

What this tells me is that modern equipment has made it possible to take smaller wood and maintain an acceptable recovery factor, around 50 per cent. But is this improvement? Isn’t having to invest a whole lot of money to maintain the same level of recovery a losing battle?

The 1951 study confirmed that to determine “the true effect” of diameter on lumber recovery, all other variables, except diameter, had to be held constant. When this was done using 2,300 sound, straight logs (logs without rot or crook) it was found that as diameter increased from three inches to 16 inches, lumber recovery also increased from 44 per cent to 60 per cent, respectively.[11]Bell, G.E. 1951. Factors Influencing the Manufacture of Sawlogs into Lumber in Eastern Canada. Bulletin No. 99, Department of Resources and Development, Forestry Branch, Forest Products Laboratory … Continue reading

Onus on the sawmills

It was probably Cassie Ledwidge Turple who got the ball rolling on this subject earlier this year when she wrote a commentary in which she tied the viability of Nova Scotia’s lumber mills to Northern Pulp’s future.[12]Late last year Scotsburn Lumber sent a letter encouraging “all our employers, contractors, business owners, forest landowners and associated suppliers to call or write a letter to your local … Continue reading

In Ledwidge Turple’s piece, she noted that more than 50 per cent of the output from her family’s Enfield sawmill is not lumber. When Tom Miller penned a response, he hit a nerve. Miller manages a 500-acre woodlot and has also been connected to the Abercrombie pulp mill, working for two years in its woodlands department and another 15 as a silviculture contractor. He wrote “our sawmills have become off-site chip plants with a lumber byproduct.” About a week later, Freeman responded, stating that Miller “mistakenly assumes that Ledwidge Lumber is an inefficient lumber manufacturer because around 50 per cent of its output volume is lumber while the rest is made up of byproducts.”

Freeman clearly took umbrage with what he sees as Miller’s characterization that the sawmill industry is inefficient. But from my reading, Miller’s comments have little to do with technological efficiency and more to do with an undeniable shift that has taken place in the forest industry — where the job of chip-making for the pulp industry has shifted to the sawmills.

To find out more about this shift I located a transcript obtained through Freedom of Information. It’s the testimony from one of the province’s top sawmillers at a hearing held in 2000 of the Nova Scotia Primary Forest Products Marketing Board (PFPMB), and it helps to shed some light on the challenges facing the sawmill industry, then and now.[13]The Primary Forest Products Marketing Board (PFPMB) was established in 1972 under the Nova Scotia Pulpwood Marketing Act. For many years it was known as The Nova Scotia Pulpwood Marketing Board. … Continue reading

The hearing was being held because the Central Wood Suppliers Division — the bargaining agent for woodlot owners in the central part of the province — had asked the PFPMB to declare that a bargaining situation existed between it and the Abercrombie pulp mill, owned by Kimberly Clark at the time. Legislation existed in the province that allowed for collective bargaining between the woodlot owners and the pulp mill, akin to what exists for milk and other agricultural commodities, but it was something the mill had no appetite for, and there was little if any political will to support the woodlot owners.

At the hearing one of Kimberly Clark’s solicitors called Laurie Ledwidge of Ledwidge Lumber in Enfield as a witness.

Ledwidge was brought forward by the pulp mill to illustrate how well the system was working without collective bargaining. As it was, the pulp mill argued, most of the round wood was making its way to the sawmills where lumber was being maximized and where chips were an important by-product.

But Ledwidge’s testimony actually painted a very different picture.

Ledwidge explained how in the early 1990s his sawmill had a “problem… handling small wood,” and that “we couldn’t seem to make it pay.” Production “would drop down when the small runs of wood came in…we couldn’t get enough lumber content,” he said. But once he invested in new equipment, things improved. In 1994 he purchased a used HewSaw from a mill that went bankrupt in Montreal. The saw was “efficient” at handling smaller sawlogs (3-1/4” to 5” top), what he referred to as “millwood.”

“Basically, several witnesses, including Mr. Ledwidge, were brought in by the pulp mill to support the contention that things were working well for everybody except for this little group of people who think that they represent woodlot owners,” says Wade Prest, who was present at the hearing as a representative of the Central Wood Suppliers Division, the group vying for a bargaining situation with the mill. Prest is also a past President of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association (NSWOOA) and a long-time director in the organization. He also manages his own 800 hectare woodlot in Mooseland.

Prest points to a key part of the testimony, when Ledwidge was cross-examined by Joe MacDonell, the solicitor for the woodlot owner group. MacDonell’s line of questioning reveals one crucial point: that with the millwood — the smaller diameter logs — lumber recovery was only 26 per cent; the rest was chips (58 per cent), and bark and sawdust (12 per cent).

“That is an extreme of how low it can go and it’s why there is such a problem with the smaller wood,” says Prest. “The idea that you could cut younger stands of wood and smaller trees and not impact the viability of a lumber business is just not reasonable.”

Ledwidge also testified that without his chip sales, which amounted to roughly 20 per cent of his overall business, he’d be out of business in two, maybe three weeks. “That [chip] revenue is very important to us. I know it’s over a hundred thousand dollars a week and it would not take very long before the banker would be calling if that [money] wasn’t going in there on Monday morning.”

Near the end of Ledwidge’s testimony he was asked one question by Jonathan Porter, who today is the executive director of the DLF’s Renewable Resources Branch. At the time of the hearing, Porter was the woodlands manager at the Bowater pulp and paper mill, and a member of the Primary Forest Products Marketing Board.

Porter asked: “Has the approach to making sawmill chips and making quality sawmill chips changed over the years?”

Ledwidge replied: “Oh, definitely… Yeah, it has changed. They’re demanding a better chip now than they were even five years ago, a cleaner chip. I think bark was always the big problem in chips…but with the double ring debarker, it really has solved the problem for us.”

Take note of who is demanding the better chip (the pulp industry) and who is having to invest in expensive machinery to solve the problem of the bark (the sawmill).

Prest tells me that ever since the Abercrombie mill (then Scott Paper) closed its “wood room” in 1996 and stopped taking round wood at the mill gate, “the onus” has been on the sawmills to supply and deliver chips for the pulp mill’s digester. “It’s cheaper for the pulp mill. It’s a better deal for them when they have the majority of their supply delivered as ready to use chips.”

Prest also points out that the sawmills have had to invest in high-tech equipment to ensure that when a tonne of logs comes into the sawmill they can extract as much lumber and as much chips from it as possible, “putting the need for efficiency and upgrading on the sawmills.” As the log diameter and taper has changed, the industry has had to re-tool itself to deal with the smaller wood. But Prest says it’s the pulp mills that ultimately benefit from these upgrades. “When a sawmill says they will accept a piece of studwood down to a four-inch top, that means there will be a higher percentage of the total tonnage that ends up producing pulp chips and a smaller percentage into actual lumber. The [lumber] yield of small logs is not good.”

Screenshot taken from presentation The Drivers of Lumber Recovery, 2006, slide #17.

The above pictograph from the Timber Measurement Society in Oregon demonstrates exactly why pulp mills want to send all sawable material to sawmills and receive pulp chips in return.

“At or below a certain lower diameter limit, depending on individual mill technology, the sawmill isn’t getting much lumber value from the log, but is essentially a chipping function,” explains Prest.

In other words, as lumber recovery diminishes the chip production goes way up. Prest says that “at small diameters, which we see increasingly at Nova Scotia stud mills, the effect is especially pronounced.”

Notice again, that around the 7-inch diameter mark, lumber recovery drops right off.

So, low-grade and small diameter trees result in more chips. In other words, if the sawmills depend on Northern Pulp to make them economically viable, they can also blame the pulp mill for it.

Pulling up the pulp anchor

In the 1992 book Trouble in the Woods, Peter Clancy wrote that “forest fibre product flows” were critical and “As suppliers of sawlogs and purchasers of wood chips, the pulp and paper mills could directly affect the viability of the sawmill sector.” This is precisely the point being raised now by the sawmill industry with the prospect that Northern Pulp may be forced to shut down.

Clancy, who currently teaches at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, also wrote that “these fibre flows (and the threat of their interruption) were of sufficient magnitude to rule out an alternative alliance between small woodlot owners and sawmillers,” and between “producers small and large.”[14]Clancy, P. 1992. “The Politics of Pulpwood Marketing in Nova Scotia.” In Trouble in the Woods: Forest Policy and Social Conflict in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Gorsebrook Research Institute … Continue reading

I wanted to talk to Clancy to understand how the politics and history of the forest sector in the province have helped shape what is playing out before us today.

Clancy tells me that in the 1960s and 1970s “a structure was forged” where preference was given to “big industrial pulp and paper anchors,” through favourable policies and “a reluctance to champion issues and campaigns that this favoured sector resisted.” The “inter-sectoral dependence” that exists today — where the sawmills depend on the pulp mills — was a “favoured situation,” says Clancy. There were always alternatives to this but they were always “pre-empted and subordinated.”

These alternatives now have to be dusted off and considered with diligence. If we are to move towards ecological forestry, as Lahey recommends, then we need to look at the closure of Northern Pulp not as a death knell, but a gift horse. All of a sudden there would be space created for the alternatives to be seriously considered. All of a sudden a lot of stands producing small wood wouldn’t have to be cut, and we’d all be better off for it.

The time has finally come for us to collectively acknowledge how bowing to pulp interests and being anchored by its demands have ultimately damaged so many of our prospects and that maybe the province really is only big enough for one pulp mill.

But we already knew that 50 years ago.


Linda Pannozzo is an award-winning freelance journalist and author of two books: The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (2013) and About Canada: The Environment (2016).

The Halifax Examiner is an advertising-free, subscriber-supported news site. Your subscription makes this work possible; please subscribe.

References

References
1 In 2012, the oldest of the three mills, Resolute Forest Products (formerly Bowater) was purchased by the province. The pulp and paper giant reported it had hit a wall of “unprecedented production costs” that it tried to counter through discounted power rates and union concessions (both of which it got). Even the government’s $50 million rescue package wasn’t enough to keep it afloat.
2 I reported in the five-part series titled, “Biomass, Freedom of Information and the DNR Company Men” that the DNR (now Department of Lands and Forestry) has shown a knack for inflating the forest inventory numbers. In the mid-2000s, when they decided to start using the Permanent Sample Plot (PSP) data instead of the GIS data for the purposes of the inventory, the forest age-class numbers decidedly went up. For more information on this please refer to the series.
3 Hawboldt, L.S., and Bulmer, R.M. 1958. The Forest Resources of Nova Scotia. Department of Lands and Forests. Province of Nova Scotia.
4 Bissix, G. and L. A. Sandberg. 1992. “The Political Economy of Nova Scotia’s Improvement Act, 1962-1986.” In Trouble in the Woods: Forest Policy and Social Conflict in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Gorsebrook Research Institute for Atlantic Studies, Acadiensis Press, Frederiction, p. 173.
5 Ibid. The authors cited interviews with E.D. Haliburton as well as his own 1972 book titled, My Years with Stanfield.”
6 Bissix and Sandberg, pp. 174.
7 GPI Atlantic’s Forest Update reported that between 1958 and 2003 the percentage of young forest up to 20 years increased by more than 300 per cent and the 21 to 40 year-old age class increased by 103 per cent. During the same time period, the old forests have essentially disappeared: the 61 to 80 year-old age class dropped by 65 per cent; the 81 to 100 year-old age class by 93 per cent; and the 101+ year-old age class by 97 per cent.
8 See “Condition of Nova Scotia’s Forests” by Peter Duinker in Addendum to William Lahey’s Independent Review of Forest Practices (pp. 19-20): https://novascotia.ca/natr/forestry/Forest_Review/FP_Addendum.pdf
9 In 2009, Josh Noseworthy was commissioned by the DNR to look at the effects of biomass harvesting on soil nutrient pools and to see if there were productivity declines associated with harvesting whole trees and the extent to which it might exacerbate the effects of acid rain, as Nova Scotia is the only part of the world where acidity has not improved with major cuts in acid rain emissions. Noseworthy, a master’s student in the Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management at UNB at the time, was being supervised by Dr. Paul Arp, a specialist in modelling forest soils. Noseworthy’s thesis was completed in 2012 but his findings have yet to be made public by the DNR. Furthermore, Noseworthy was only able to include in his thesis information for the federally-owned Kejimkujik National Park, and nothing about the rest of the province. In his thesis he writes that this is “due to confidentiality concerns with Nova Scotia forest inventory data,” though there appears to be much more to it: http://watershed.for.unb.ca/files/Josh_Thesis.pdf. In 2016 I approached the department to find out about the soil work and this is what department spokesperson Bruce Nunn said at that time: “During the past two years, we’ve been making changes to calibrate the soil data after concluding that the available data on the quality of Nova Scotia’s soil was in many cases, either incomplete, outdated or strongly influenced by agricultural based plots. We have started a 5-year program to collect new data from provincial forest ecosystem as well as agriculture plots in order to improve our soil data. We are now in year two of this process and expect to update soil data on an ongoing basis as it becomes available.” It’s now 2019, so this is now year five. I asked DLF for an update and this was the reply: “The department will be conducting our fifth year of soil sampling this summer. To date, we have collected 470 soil samples and 390 tissue samples from 147 plots across the province. While last year’s samples continue to be analyzed, previous year’s data has been checked, compiled, and used to update the nutrient budget model (NBM-NS) for both soil and tree tissue chemistry. We have also started to use NBM-NS to integrate nutrient sustainability into forest management planning, including the Forest Management Guides that are currently being revised as recommended by the [Lahey] Forestry Review.”
10 According to DLF, the reasons why the Registry of Buyers data are not appropriate for calculating “lumber recovery” are: 1. The report records studwood/ sawlogs acquired in NS, not consumed by mills. There can be a significant difference between acquired and consumed in a calendar year based on inventory changes. In addition, a portion of the studwood/ sawlogs acquired in NS is exported and so would not contribute to the lumber produced by NS sawmills. 2. The report records studwood/ sawlogs acquired in NS and does not include studwood/ sawlogs imported to NS from other jurisdictions. This imported volume would contribute to the lumber produced by NS sawmills. 3. Registered buyers under 1000m3 report the quantity of primary forest products acquired (including studwood/ sawlogs) but do not report the amount of secondary products, including lumber, produced.
11 Bell, G.E. 1951. Factors Influencing the Manufacture of Sawlogs into Lumber in Eastern Canada. Bulletin No. 99, Department of Resources and Development, Forestry Branch, Forest Products Laboratory Division. 35 pp.
12 Late last year Scotsburn Lumber sent a letter encouraging “all our employers, contractors, business owners, forest landowners and associated suppliers to call or write a letter to your local official” to express support for Northern Pulp. This letter writing campaign marked the beginning of the lumber industry’s claim that pulling the plug on the Abercrombie mill would be the death knell for the industry. It was after this call for support that Ledwidge Turple’s column appeared in the Herald. In a twist, however, The Halifax Examiner discovered that when it came to Scotsburn Lumber, the connection to Northern Pulp was actually much more literal. In sum: “It appears that while Northern Pulp may not ‘own and control Scotsburn Lumber,’ the Widjaja family controls both Northern Pulp and Scotsburn through different holding companies.”
13 The Primary Forest Products Marketing Board (PFPMB) was established in 1972 under the Nova Scotia Pulpwood Marketing Act. For many years it was known as The Nova Scotia Pulpwood Marketing Board. “The main activities of the board continue to be the registration of bargaining agents and the supervision of collective bargaining between groups of pulpwood producers and large pulpwood mills within the province. The clients of the Board are the primary forest products producers of Nova Scotia. In 1986 the act was amended to include other primary forest products such as sawmill chips, hog fuel, and Christmas trees.” In 2000, when Laurie Ledwidge was testifying, the PFPMB was comprised of seven people, including Murray Anderson, woodlands manager at Stora in Port Hawkesbury and Jonathan Porter, the woodlands manager at Bowater in Liverpool. Porter is currently the Executive Director of the Renewable Resources Branch of the province’s department of Lands and Forestry.
14 Clancy, P. 1992. “The Politics of Pulpwood Marketing in Nova Scotia.” In Trouble in the Woods: Forest Policy and Social Conflict in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Gorsebrook Research Institute for Atlantic Studies, Acadiensis Press, Frederiction, p. 167.

Linda Pannozzo

Linda Pannozzo is an award-winning author and freelance journalist based in Nova Scotia. email: linda@halifaxexaminer.ca; Website: lindapannozzo.ca

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  1. Top notch investigative journalism, as usual, Linda Pannozzo! Once again, The Examiner punches far above its weight, being the most willing and capable local media outlet when it comes to ‘drilling down’ on these sorts of important issues.

    One quick fact to consider: (surface) area is a ‘squared function’, whereas volume is a ‘cubed function’. Simple geometry dictates that as trees get smaller, they must yield fewer (and smaller) pieces of lumber, as a portion of the overall mass of trees harvested. This is fundamental mathematics, folks. Lumber yield is primarily a function of volume, whereas chips (mill waste) is primarily a function of surface area. By definition, the ratio of waste to lumber must increase (significantly) as tree diameter decreases, particularly below the threshold detailed in the charts cited (below 7-8 inches). To claim otherwise is denial of the facts.

    1. It’s really quite obvious once you point it out like that Peter! Orthodoxy within the sector for two decades has been ‘No one wants big logs anymore!’. In reality, big logs will always be more profitable to manufacture into lumber and add additional value to: to argue otherwise is to argue against mathematical reality! Potential is capped by log size and quality: you can never make t-bone from hamburger…

  2. Superb, L.P./Halifax Examiner; investigative journalism at its best. I had figured that the big sawmill operators supported P&P/clearcutting even though the longer term effect is to reduce supply of larger trees for quality lumber because it reduces their bottom line now, even if not in the future. You filled in a lot of blanks. I know a lot of gov.-in-power-people are pretty snotty about the Hfx Examiner…but they would do well to blow their noses and subscribe!

  3. Terrific piece!
    What sort of support, I wonder, will this article give to the private member’s bill proposed by Pictou East MLA, Tim Houston? The stated purpose of that bill (#85) is “… to find ways to support the forest industry in the event of the closing of Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation’s mill in Pictou County”. Houston’s bill is entitled: the “Forest Industry Sustainability Act.”

    Further, bill 85 states the following:

    “The Executive Council shall appoint a task force no later than April 30, 2019, to make recommendations for ways in which the Province can maintain a THRIVING (my emphasis) forest industry.”
    And the bill closes off with :
    “6(1) The facilitator shall deliver to the Executive Council the recommendations made under Section 5 no later than June 30, 2019, or at such time as agreed by the facilitator and the Executive Council.” [Timeline stresses that there is urgency to this matter.]

    Houston’s bill may not address all that Linda Pannozzo has expressed concerns about, but it does have the ‘smell’ of proactivity that seems to be lacking among the cadre of provincial politicians that we have currently representing us. What happens in the political sphere in this province, on or before March 29 th. of this month, matters greatly. The decision to be made by Margaret Miller matters -a lot!

    Once again, great work by Linda Pannozzo!!!

  4. In my opinion this article is an accurate summary of the health of our industry and how we got here !
    History will remember the government that has the courage required to implement change favourably.

    George Johnson
    small woodlot owner