Friday the 13th is the deadline for public comment on the province’s discussion paper on high-production forestry zones, as recommended by Professor Bill Lahey in August 2018.
The high-production zone is part of a three-pronged or “triad” approach which is supposed to reduce clearcutting on crown Land and manage forests in a more ecologically sustainable way. The other two zones or “legs” of the triad include protected areas such as parks, where no harvesting takes place (currently about 13% of crown lands), and an “ecological matrix” zone which will combine areas of production and conservation over nearly 70% of public land.
The idea is that the three zones will work together to achieve sustainable forestry management. The discussion paper open for public comment envisions 18.2% of Crown Land or 333,000 hectares (882,000 acres) being used for tree farms of white, red, and Norway spruce. That’s not a significant change from the 18% of Crown land currently in plantations that Lahey reported. What’s changing is the methods and the intensity with trees will be cultivated.
“Rotations are expected to be short (30-45 years) compared with those in natural forests and will be based on producing high value timber (such as spruce saw timber) during commercial thinnings and clearcut harvest interventions. High-production forestry plantation yields can be expected to produce growth rates 2 to 4m³/ha/yr greater than those typical in unmanaged natural stands,” states the discussion paper.
“What I see in this discussion paper is glyphosate and fertilizers and monocultures,” said Bob Bancroft, the president of Nature Nova Scotia and a wildlife biologist retired from the former Department of Natural Resources. “What they are doing is vulnerable to climate change because the three different softwoods they are planting are very shallow-rooted. A lot of these sites for plantations re not going to fare well with the dryness we are getting in the summer, for example. If you keep producing softwoods instead of a mixed forest that includes hardwoods with leaves that eventually compost, then the soil sours. Plantations are poor places for wildlife and they are not healthy forests.”
The use of herbicides, fertilizers, and clearcutting will be accepted practices in high-production zones, according to the discussion paper. On page 39 of the Lahey Report’s Executive Summary, the author sets out his reasons to justify this approach:
My conclusion is that forestry operations of Crown land should continue to include high-production forestry, provided that it is conducted in accordance with the principle of ecological forestry implemented via a triad model… a continuing presence of high-production forestry on Crown land recognizes the important role that wood from Crown land plays in providing Nova Scotia’s forest industry with supply stability in a province in which a high percentage of forest land is owned by many independent private owners.
Continuing the contribution of Crown land to high‐production forestry, particularly with plantations, can also minimize pressure to conduct ecologically damaging harvesting on both Crown land and on private land. It may be essential to effective implementation of the triad approach to ecological forestry in Nova Scotia.
High-production zones or tree farms will be an acceptable compromise only if the majority of public land designated as “ecologicial matrix” is truly managed according to ecological values, said Mike Lancaster, communications coordinator for an environmental group called Healthy Forest Coalition. (No discussion paper has been released on that critical zone yet as people representing forest companies and environmental concerns continue to duke it out in meetings with Lands and Forestry managers to define how forests will be used and valued in the future.) This is where the next battle is coming.
“The concern is that if we don’t have the ecological matrix leg of the triad leaning heavily toward ecological values and less toward high production values, then what was proposed in the Lahey report is wildly out-of-balance,” said Lancaster in a telephone conversation.
That point is also supported by Nature Nova Scotia’s Bob Bancroft.
“The government should settle the ecological matrix part of the equation first”, said Bancroft. “Some companies are out to get as much wood as they can and feel entitled to crown land, as Irving has managed to do in New Brunswick. We should set aside a lot of the proposed protected areas such as Owl’s Head before enacting the high-production forestry zones because the existing regulations to protect core habitat for wildlife in those zones aren’t effective.”