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Iain Rankin, the provincial Lands and Forestry minister, explains his department’s response Monday to an independent review of forestry practices that was delivered in August. - FRANCIS CAMPBELL
Iain Rankin, the provincial Lands and Forestry minister, explains his department’s response Monday to an independent review of forestry practices that was delivered in August. - FRANCIS CAMPBELL

The province has promised a reduction in forestry clearcutting on Crown land but it cannot quantify that reduction.

“You’ll see an immediate reduction in clearcutting by following the publicly proposed interim retention guideline,” Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said at a news conference Monday to announce his department’s response to an independent review of forestry practices submitted by William Lahey in August.

Even if clearcutting is determined to be the best practice for a particular forest stand, Rankin said more trees will be retained after the clearcut.

Deputy minister Julie Towers estimated that current clearcuts on Crown land leave eight to 10 per cent of trees standing and immediate government changes will increase that to 10 to 30 per cent.

Still, Rankin said it is difficult to put a percentage on the reduction in overall Crown clearcutting.

“We haven’t analyzed it,” Rankin said “We don’t know exactly how many stands are out there that are even-aged or multi-aged, but if they are more ... multi-aged, you will see a vast reduction in clearcutting.

“I can’t give you a number. I know Lahey had provided a number and we are interested to see how he got to that number. It is about putting the science and ecological concerns first before you arrive at a number.”

In his 165-page report, Lahey, the president of University of King’s College, recommended an estimated clearcutting reduction from 65 per cent of all harvesting on Crown land to between 20 and 25 per cent.

“It requires full analysis,” Rankin said. “There are a number of (Lahey) recommendations, the forest management guide being the most important ones. We know that that will take some time, which is why we believed it was important to put some practices in place that will immediately reduce the amount of clearcutting and actually improve the retention quality of the stands.”

Raymond Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, an environmental watchdog group, said government is trying to move in the right direction regarding Crown land.

“We’ve been essentially allowing large forestry companies on Crown and private land to convert our mixed-aged Acadian forest into softwood monocultures,” Plourde said. “It sounds like, at least on Crown land, that will be limited. The devil will be in the details.”

Lisa Roberts, a New Democratic Party MLA who represents Halifax Needham, said the increase in the number of trees left standing after a clearcut won’t be enough to appease Nova Scotians.

“I would have hoped we would have had more robust changes,” Roberts said. “Ten to 30 per cent, I don’t think that’s going to satisfy Nova Scotians who are concerned about the clearcuts that are happening.”

Tory Rushton, Progressive Conservative MLA for Cumberland South, agreed with Plourde and Roberts that the government response was too long in coming.

“Stakeholders have called for a response to the (Lahey) report,” Rushton said. “I think today is a partial response. If they (government) are true to their word, it will result in immediate action on Crown land with fewer trees being cut. Speaking with some private landowners, they are going to see more harvest on private lands with the holding back of licensing on Crown lands.”

Rankin said “ecological considerations are at the forefront” of the government’s response, and increasing ecological protection and biodiversity in the forests will lead to a more sustainable industry.

Rankin said less clearcutting will lead to more silviculture opportunities.

“More thinning, more planting,” the minister said. “Industry will change and we will work with them.”

Rankin said government will implement the triad model of ecological forestry recommended by Lahey, which includes conservation areas, high-production forest areas and a combination of the two that blends conservation and forestry objectives.

Lahey estimated that the clearcutting reduction he recommended for Crown land would result in a 20 per cent reduction in the timber supplied to provincial mills.

“We don’t accept that there will be a reduction or retraction,” Rankin said. “We believe that we can sustainably grow this industry and that there will be more opportunities for industry as they adopt this model. Over time, what we expect to see is a more mixed-species, multi-aged compilation rather than a more softwood monoculture compilation.”

The minister said the Lands and Forestry Department will begin a process of identifying appropriate areas for high-production forestry on Crown land. The province will allow regulated use of herbicides in areas identified for high-production use, but the herbicide spraying will not be publicly funded as was recommended by Lahey.

“I’m not happy that they are going to allow spraying on Crown land, spraying of glyphosate,” Plourde said. “We should be beyond spraying chemicals in the environment in 2018. However, I’m pleased to see that the public — you, me and the rest of the taxpayers out there — won’t have to pay for it. That was added insult to injury.”

Rankin said the management guide, which will dictate what type of forestry practices will be permitted on different Crown land stands, is expected to be completed in 12 months and will include input from external advisers and stakeholders. Those practices will include “soft touch” forest areas that will have very limited clearcutting.

“It is really trying to maximize the timber that you get off the high-production side so you can have better conservation values in a greater part of the forest,” Rankin said. “We haven’t landed on an exact number of hectares. That will be part of the planning that we will be doing with our stakeholders.”

Plourde said a plan for small-scale biomass heating projects using residual wood from sawmilling is acceptable. However, neither the Lahey report nor the government response touched on the large biomass projects that remove tree branches, roots and tree tops from harvested woodlots to generate electricity at Nova Scotia Power plants in Point Tupper, Richmond County, and Brooklyn, Queens County.

“We cannot get off this high-volume clearcutting without reducing the biomass harvesting for those big electric generators for export,” Plourde said.

About 12 per cent of Crown land is protected as nature reserves, Rankin said, and there will be no forestry activity in protected areas. The “greater percentage” of the remaining Crown forest will fall in the soft-touch range of limited clearcutting, he said.

Only 30 per cent of the province’s woodlots are Crown owned and the government has said there will be no clearcutting regulations imposed on privately owned lots.

“Once we have some advancement on the Crown land, which is more under our control, we will look at the private lands,” Rankin said. “In the interim period, we would suggest and hope that private landholders will look at what we’re doing and emulate some of those ecological-based practices on their land.”

The Lahey report included 168 conclusions and 45 recommendations. Towers, the deputy minister, said Lands and Forestry has endorsed at least two-thirds of Lahey’s recommendations.

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