How Recent Commitments to Better Forest Policy Might Lead to Change. This Time.

Maybe I am being overly optimistic here, it’s quite possible, as I do realize we have seen a version of this movie before, but I like to think that maybe this time it will be different.

I am referring to the election campaign commitment from Progressive Conservative leader Blaine Higgs that, if elected,

  1. his government will overhaul forestry legislation to ensure fairness. And to underline that,

  2. he has promised that an independent panel will be struck to review how Crown land is managed.

Such forests would grow a whole economy of entrepreneurs who could make a living off our forests in a sustainable way, whether in eco-tourism or maple syrup production or any of many options that would opened up if the natural resources were available.

Higgs, of course, was part of the former Alward government that worsened the problem by increasing the amount of Crown wood available to the forestry industry, a controversial decision that the current Gallant government doubled down on by saying it would continue with if elected. Liberals are offering status quo.

Higgs agrees our 40 year-old Crown Lands and Forests Act is outdated, an indication that perhaps he has been listening to what we and so many others have been saying. He says he has. And this is why I think that this time maybe we are making some headway.

Other parties get it. The Green Party particularly, which has long advocated the kind of reforms Higgs now promises. But also the People’s Alliance and the NDP both have planks in their platforms that speak to a more progressive policy on how our Crown land should be managed for diversity, not just as a source of fiber for forestry companies.  All recognize what we, forestry experts, economists, and the Auditor General have been saying – that we are missing out on what should be one of our most important sources of revenue; our Crown land.

It Is Costing Us Money to Give Forestry Companies Supply

But because of mismanagement by successive Liberal and Tory governments, Crown land is nowhere near the revenue source it could and should be. Several studies, analysis, reviews and reports, by the Auditor General as well as others over the years all show we could and should be realizing a much bigger financial return off our Crown land. But we’re not.

I think we all agree that in a province with the economic challenges we face, we aren’t really in a position to leave lots of money on the table.

But it’s not just the money. It’s also the health of the forests we will be leaving to future generations. Rather than simply fibre plantations, we should strive for diverse forests which can again be a home for all manner of species both of animals and birds, but also diverse species of trees, not just softwoods for fibre.

Such forests would grow a whole economy of entrepreneurs who could make a living off our forests in a sustainable way, whether in eco-tourism or maple syrup production or any of many options that would opened up if the natural resources were available. And private woodlot owners would again, under a fair Lands and Forests Act, be able to make a living with markets for their wood at fair prices, rather than being made to compete against subsidized Crown land.

Sweet Deal Has Led to American Trade Penalties

By the way, this sweet deal forestry companies have for our Crown land, as has been pointed out by the Auditor-General, has resulted in American duties on New Brunswick wood going into the United States. That also represents money that should be benefitting our economy. It’s just one more reason why change is needed.

I said at the outset of this item that I feel a bit more optimistic this time that change may come. You may be asking why, after it never worked out before, despite several studies that pointed to positive change, studies that  were ignored rather than implemented?

I realize it won’t be easy, that the forestry industry lobby is powerful, but what is different this time is that more and more of the public now realizes the lost potential and the unfairness that the status quo represents. A survey last year showed that a strong majority of New Brunswickers place great value on our forests and want them to be managed for their diversity. They get that forests are more than just trees.

Because of efforts such as these blogs, and similar efforts by many other groups, New Brunswickers are becoming more and more aware of what’s going on, and because of that there is a growing desire by the public for change. For this reason, I am hopeful that, should Higgs win, he will feel pressured to follow through on his promise. And if another party wins, or finds itself with the balance of power in a minority government, then I would hope that would result in pressure too, to fix this situation.

In his statement, Higgs says he wants all of us who have a stake in this, and who have called for changes, to know that he has heard us.

Well, that’s good to know. We like to think that others have heard us too. That includes candidates who ask you for your vote. If you get them to commit to pursuing change in our Crown Lands and Forests Act, regardless of what party they represent, realize that if they win, that may result in them feeling more obliged to push for these changes. That’s how change happens.

If you are new to following these blogs and would like to read previous ones, you can find them here.

Thanks for reading. Please share this with your friends. And like always, your comments are welcome.

Rick Doucett
President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners