Cover photo: a clearcut adjacent to the Old Annapolis Nature Reserve. The forest to the right of the clearcut is now being proposed as a second clearcut, which would create a total clearcut area of roughly 150 acres. Photo courtesy Mike Lancaster.
In her eloquent and thought-provoking 2014 book, Capitalism: A Ghost Story, Arundhati Roy shows us how India’s government is essentially controlled by an elite ruling class made up of a handful of companies that control the lion’s share of the country’s burgeoning economy.
The locations are different but the narrative is the same almost everywhere on the planet. While India has its own brand of capitalism-induced horror stories — millions of people regularly and brutally displaced from their lands; a quarter of a million farmers committing suicide a result of crushing debt — Roy’s book isn’t just about India.
It’s about the “economic architecture” that exists nearly everywhere today, including here in Canada, and how this system dictates the policies that exist to benefit a select few.
As Roy puts it, “The more you have, the more you can have,” a perfect slogan for neoliberalism, the market-driven economic theory that has taken hold over the last four decades.
But one of Roy’s more crucial observations is that the proponents of neoliberalism recognized early on that its policies, which were intended to restrict the political power of the populace and transfer it to the private sector, were akin to a “bitter pill,” hard to swallow and likely to produce social and environmental outcomes that were considered undesirable. Roy writes that they had to figure out a way to deal with the growing unrest that would result, to “turn protesters into pets” and “vacuum up people’s fury and redirect it into blind alleys.”
In both respects, Nova Scotia’s recent forest practices review is a perfect case in point.
I’ll admit that when I first heard the Liberal government’s announcement just a few days before the May 2017 election that if elected it would initiate an independent review of forestry practices, I was not only frustrated, but highly skeptical. Not only did we already have a perfectly good review of forest practices, we even had a pretty good Natural Resources Strategy — one that actually reflected the public will.
The Natural Resources Strategy was the direct result of months of genuine public consultations that took place about a decade ago. People were angry because clearcutting dominated forest practices; forests were getting significantly younger and the old forests were nearly gone; species dependent on intact, un-fragmented forests were under relentless assault and the number of forest-dependent species at risk was on the rise.
The forests were being managed to provide what the pulp mills wanted.
But Stephen McNeil’s Liberals abandoned the Natural Resources Strategy and its citizen-led targets—a move that amounted to one of the worst public policy failures in this province’s recent history.
And our fury had been redirected into a blind alley.
But this all makes sense — it’s predictable in fact — particularly when you recognize that a) neoliberalism has become the modus operandi and b) we have a system of “state capitalism,” where governments regularly prop up the private sector with bail outs, subsidies, and rescue packages. Without these, much of the private sector — and particularly the forest sector — would not be economically viable. That’s even before counting all the externalities, the hidden costs of the industry’s pillaging, that the rest of us pay for.
When McNeil decided to pull the plug on the Natural Resources Strategy, one that had never been put into practice, he was listening to the folks who control the forest policy: the forest industry itself, and by proxy, a cabal of company men perfectly positioned within government. 1 The trajectory of events in the last decade shows clearly how the forest industry and compliant bureaucrats successfully hijacked the public will.
And there is reason to believe they are doing it again.
Last year, when McNeil announced the latest review of forest practices, this time led by Professor William Lahey, the president of the University of King’s College, I was convinced that it would have vastly different outcomes than the highly democratic public engagement process of 2008-2009. I was also convinced that Lahey’s report and recommendations would reflect the interests of the forest industry. But on both counts I was wrong.
Lahey exposed the dysfunctional culture that exists in the newly named Department of Lands and Forestry (DLF) — a department that I’ve discovered myself over the years to be short on transparency and long on obfuscation. Lahey observed “a significant gap” between what the department says it’s doing to manage forestry on Crown land and “how it is actually managing forestry on Crown land.”
Lahey laid bare for all of us to see how the Department uses the term “science” to support forestry practices that have no actual basis in any scientific field, let alone the field of ecology, but instead uses its own version of “in‐house” science, “with limited resources, without engagement with external academic experts, including through the peer review process.”
Lahey recommended a “triad” approach to forest management that includes three elements: protected areas, high production forest areas where forests are managed like farms, and an “ecologically based matrix” where harvesting would follow ecological principles. In the “matrix” there would be a lot less clearcutting, and other forest values would be taken into consideration.
While the proportions for each leg of the triad were not made explicit in the report, I’ve heard from some of those who participated in Lahey’s meetings with “stakeholders” that he suggested the break down would be 15 per cent protected areas, 15 per cent tree farms, and 70 per cent matrix.
But as I’ve watched the government maneuvering in response to Lahey’s forest practices review — a process I desperately want to be positive about — all I’m able to see is the strangle hold the large forest interests continue to have on the department as it continues to squander the public trust.
The first sign that things were not looking good was in early September, about a month after Lahey released his report, when McNeil downplayed and distanced himself from a department email instructing all the major mills that in future all clearcuts must be justified. The email, obtained by the CBC, was written by Allan Smith, the province’s director of resource management.
But a day after the CBC reported the email, the government said it was just “friendly advice,” and that the intention was only to “give guidance” to crown licence holders. McNeil was quoted saying “that was a directive not sent by the minister, not sent by the department.”
In the end it all boils down to this little nugget: Allan Eddy, the former Associate Deputy Minister of the DNR, who earlier this year landed a job at Port Hawkesbury Paper as Director of Business Development, told the CBC that any changes to forest practices could add significant costs to operations.
Three months after Lahey’s report was released the minister of DLF finally responded, saying the government accepts “the spirit and intent” of the report’s 45 recommendations, that it was committed to making “changes to forestry practices and reductions in clearcutting on public lands,” but that it would take time to implement. 2
Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin couldn’t say how much less clearcutting there would be — according to the National Forestry Database, in 2016, 80 per cent of crown forests harvested were clearcut. 3 He also couldn’t say when this monumental shift would take place. The one thing Rankin was able to say definitively was that “forestry is a long-standing economic driver in Nova Scotia and it’s important we get it right.”
The question is, get it right for whom?
The answer should now be obvious. Lahey’s urgent recommendations — a result of decades of liquidation management and corporate control over forest policy — seem nowhere as important as fulfilling the fibre allocations to industry. And clearcutting is the cheapest way to get fibre.
Just a few days before the government announced it was on side with Lahey’s dismal assessment of things, it was business as usual on the ground. Nine parcels of forest located in the Ingram River watershed area near St. Margaret’s Bay on the former Bowater lands were posted on the Harvest Plan Map Viewer. A number of groups including the St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association (SMBSA) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) have called on the government to initiate a wilderness area assessment for the watershed but to date nothing has been done. 4
The proposed harvest area totaling just over 100 hectares is allocated to WestFor, a consortium of companies including Harry Freeman and Sons, Scotia Atlantic Biomass, Ledwidge Lumber, Louisiana Pacific, and JD Irving. Harvesting in this area was opposed vociferously in 2016 by a number of groups, including Scouts Canada because roughly 364 hectares of clearcuts were planned close to Scout Island. One hundred hectares of cuts went ahead, but strong community backlash at the time resulted in some parcels being successfully deferred, until now.
According to DLF media relations advisor Bruce Nunn, “the harvesting of some areas was deferred and the minister at the time stated they could be reposted on the map in the future.” He also noted that “the harvest posted on the map viewer are proposed and waiting final decision.”
The land was previously owned by Liverpool pulp giant Resolute Forest Products (formerly Bowater Mersey). In 2011 the Nova Scotia government offered Resolute a $50 million “rescue package,” which apparently wasn’t enough to keep the company afloat because in 2012 the company announced it would shut down and sell its assets; the Nova Scotia government became the buyer. 5
That purchase was a move supported by the SMBSA, which spearheaded the campaign to “Buy Back the Mersey Lands.” More than 30 groups joined in at the time with the vision of protecting ecologically sensitive areas, exploring options for a Community Forest, and expanding value-added production.
But it didn’t quite turn out that way. In 2014 the department announced it had divvied up half of the former Bowater lands to WestFor for a period of 10 years. WestFor was given access to cut a total of more than half a million hectares of crown land. In addition, near the end of its mandate the NDP government secretly allocated 125,000 tonnes per year from the new lands to Northern Pulp — effectively more than doubling the amount of wood allocated to the Pictou County pulp giant from crown lands.
Even with Bowater lands now in public hands, it’s like the pulp mill is still calling the shots and that may at least in part because Jonathan Porter, the mill’s former woodlands manager is now in charge of managing the province’s crown lands.
SMBSA board chair Nick Horne wonders why the community is being faced with fighting this battle again. Not only is the land valuable for its non-timber assets, the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute has identified old growth within one of the harvest parcels. According to the department’s own rules about old growth forests, it should be protecting the land, not clearcutting it. [see correction below]
However, asked about the old growth forest, Nunn says that the government has not identified any old growth forest in the planned harvest areas. “If old growth is confirmed by experts in the department, the areas would not be harvested,” he says.
Of the 103 hectares slated to be cut, clearcutting is proposed for nearly 80 per cent of it. According to SMBSA, there’s an additional 200 hectares of harvests planned close to the borders of the area the group proposes for the Ingram River Wilderness Area, but the group isn’t opposing those harvests.
According to Nunn, the government made it clear that long-term licences would not be issued while the Lahey forestry review was underway, and he says that WestFor’s short-term licence for a certain amount of wood fibre from crown land was actually reduced during the forestry review period.
So if it’s true that the department “retains the ability to make adjustments, including adding restrictions, to short-term licences that would apply to harvesting activities,” as Nunn explains, then why doesn’t the government show the public that it’s acting in good faith and cancel the slated clearcuts in the Ingram River watershed?
In other words, if the government was serious about Lahey’s recommendations there would be no better place and no better time to prove it.
As I stand back and watch how this is unfolding, I see exactly what Roy was talking about; how protestors have been turned into pets.
For one, Roy points to how corporate or foundation-endowed NGOs, for instance, are one way that corporate finance buys its way into resistance movements and lures them away from radical confrontation, away from threatening the economic order. Environmentalists, for instance, embark on single-issue campaigns: one forest stand, one species, one mining disaster. This of course isn’t their fault – it’s a result of the way money to run these campaigns is acquired and the way news stories are typically told. Focusing on single issues is also the way governments work.
But focusing on these single issues in isolation has fractured the movement. “Funding has fragmented solidarity in ways that repression never could,” says Roy. Looking at each environmental issue in isolation also detaches it from the delusional economic system in which it’s embedded: the very system that we should be railing against.
We’ve also fallen for the trap and allowed the government (and in this case the forest industry) to control how “protesting” is carried out. We dutifully send in comments when clearcuts are announced on the Harvest Plan Map Viewer — incidentally a form of public consultation that has achieved little if any change in how forests are cut, but it certainly funnels where the public’s time and energy on this issue goes. We attend the public consultations at our own expense and we buy the empty promises of change that will happen sometime in the future — that is, once the impact to the corporate sector is taken into consideration first.
It’s a shrivelled carrot that forever dangles before us.
Remember, citizens of this province have been protesting industrial forest practices for at least 50 years and it’s been a Sisyphean task. Meanwhile those making the massive profits decimating the province’s natural wealth — a bounty that could conceivably last indefinitely into the future if treated with some restraint — are pulling all the strings. We have allowed the government to cling to the status quo, remain derelict in its duties, and ignore its obligations to other species under law.
We have not only become their pets; we have allowed our fury to be redirected too many times.
In my humble opinion it’s time for those unhappy with the way forestry is done here to do what the government and private sector don’t want anyone to do: threaten the economic order that underpins this whole mess.
That means civil disobedience and direct action over a sustained period of time aimed at directly interfering with unsustainable forest practices — not just by environmentalists but also by woodlot owners and everyone who has a vested interest in the long-term health of our forests.
I bet something would change then.
After the piece was published, this reporter heard from Brad Toms, Wildlife Biologist at MTRI, who wrote:
To be clear the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute did not identify “old growth” in either the Indian River watershed or Ingram River watershed referred to in the article. The forests scored in this area scored either 70 or 75 using the old growth scoring system. The threshold for old growth forest is a score of above 80. There are however very old trees in that stand.
The MTRI uses the Old Forest Assessment score sheet, the same one used by the DLF. When it assessed the area at Big Indian Lake, Halifax County it found:
This mid-successional red spruce balsam fir stand borders a recent clearcut near the Old Annapolis Nature Reserve. Red spruce is the dominant overstory species with an average tree age of 126 years, the oldest cored tree in the three sampled plots was 150 years, the average tree diameter was 47cm. This site can be reached if you are willing to climb over the adjacent clearcut. The stand is a good representation of an older red spruce forest which is becoming rare on our provincial landscape.
According to Mike Lancaster, Stewardship Coordinator for the St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association (SMBSA), “The SMBSA was basing their labeling of this stand as being Old Growth from the fact that the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute had it listed in their “Special Places” map layer. We were unaware that they also included stands that are almost, but not quite Old Growth.”
One could also be forgiven for mistaking it as “old growth” particularly when seeing the average age of the red spruce as being 126 years. However, when other factors were scored, the total came to 75. But Toms said that while the stand doesn’t yet officially qualify as “old growth,” it’s still very significant: “The forest in question is that it is old Red Spruce and that with Hemlock Wooly Adelgid threatening Hemlock old growth older spruce stands on the edge of being old growth might be some of the only old forests that survive.”
Also important to note, as this correction was going to press, another parcel of forest near Coolen Lake in Lunenburg County, also on public land, was posted on the Harvest Plan Map Viewer and is slated to be clearcut – and this one is undoubtedly “old growth.” MTRI has assessed this area and given it a score of 85:
Coolen Lake, located close to the Lunenburg, Halifax County line is one of the most significant finds in the Maritimes. At first glance the tree sizes are deceiving. Although not particularly large in girth some are ancient. Core samples reveal an average of 271 years with the oldest of three trees sampled coming in at 422 years, a mere seedling around the time of the first reported European contact in Nova Scotia.
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).
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- The Company Men include Jonathan Porter, former woodlands manager at the Resolute pulp and paper mill in Brooklyn. In 2014 the DNR hired Porter as the Executive Director of the department’s renewable resources branch. The late Jonathan Kierstead, who was DNR’s Director of Forestry for five years, was also formerly with Resolute pulp and paper. Allan Eddy, a former Nova Scotia Power employee became Associate Deputy Minister of the DNR, and then in 2016 was moved to Agriculture and Fisheries and Aquaculture. Earlier this year he unsurprisingly landed a job at Port Hawkesbury Paper as Director of Business Development. And then there’s Bernie Miller, the former Northern Pulp lawyer who became one of the Premier’s top bureaucrats. In 1995 Miller was a lawyer with McInnes Cooper and at that time he was the one who negotiated and signed the indemnity agreement on behalf of Scott Maritimes. Later he acted as Northern Pulp’s lawyer on environmental compliance matters. In 2014 Stephen McNeil appointed Miller deputy minister of the Office of Planning and Priorities and then elevated him to deputy minister of the Office of Strategy Management. In January of this year he was also appointed deputy minister of the Department of Business. ↩
- The government also introduced a six-page document called “Interim Retention Guide,” which it says aims to address the recommendations to increase retention (the number of trees left standing) in situations where clearcuts are “prescribed.” The document reads: “In this way, the objectives identified in the Forestry Review to increase retention and promote multi-aged and multi-species forests can be supported while waiting for the longer-term changes to the Forest Management Guide framework.” In other words, rather than reduce how often clearcuts are “prescribed,” something the government apparently has the authority to do on crown land, the retention guide suggests that when a clearcut is “prescribed” (which is most of the time) 10 to 30 per cent of the stand will be retained. I’m not sure this shows much of a commitment to the ecological forestry recommended by Lahey. ↩
- The government says that 65 per cent of harvesting on crown land is clearcutting, while the National Forestry Database says that the figure in 2016 was closer to 80 per cent. The reason for the difference between what the government says and what the NFD says is that the government is not including “shelterwood” harvesting as a form a clearcutting, even though it is a form of even-aged management, and therefore should be classified as clearcutting. The NFD includes “clearcut 1-stage and 2-stage,” “shelterwood,” and “seed tree” under the broad category of “clearcut (even-aged management).” The idea behind shelterwood harvesting is to leave some of the established trees to allow for new seedlings to grow in their shade or to remove all the mature trees leaving behind some of the young seedlings. Either way, eventually the mature forest is removed to make way for an even-aged forest. By removing this type of even-aged management from the umbrella term “clearcut,” the government is just playing with semantics, making its track record on crown land appear better, but this improvement is on paper only. When the Dexter government changed the definition of clearcut to be a “forest harvest where less than 60 per cent of the area is sufficiently occupied with trees taller than 1.3 meters,” it did so because it had also promised to reduce clearcutting by 50 per cent. The quickest way to bring the clearcutting numbers down is to change its definition, thereby not including what would previously have been categorized as such. ↩
- According to CPAWS, the provincial government should be initiating a province-wide assessment of conservation opportunities particularly to “identify priority areas for filling gaps and to improve connectivity between protected areas.” It calls for a wilderness area assessment for the Ingram River watershed “where there is strong local support for creating a protected area.” ↩
- It purchased all shares in the Bowater Mersey paper company for $1 from owners Resolute Forest Products and The Washington Post Company. The assets transferred to the Nova Scotian government included 225,000 hectares (valued at $115-$120 million, 10,000 hectares of which were purchased by Resolute using nearly $24 million of the government “rescue package”), the pulp and paper mill in Brooklyn (valued at $5 million), a deep water marine terminal in Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Power Corporation biomass electrical generating plant. Liabilities included a $20 million debt to Resolute Forest Products, Inc; a $120 million pension liability for workers in the woodland/ pulp mill operations, and all environmental liabilities for the pulp mill site. ↩