New government in - time to move on a new Crown Lands and Forests Act

Well, wasn’t that a rigmarole determining who our new government will be on the heels of an indecisive election? But in the end the process has played itself out and we have a Progressive Conservative minority government.

In regards to forestry policy, there is reason to be optimistic because, in his election platform, Blaine Higgs promised a complete review of the current Crown Lands and Forests Act with the stated objectives of making it better for taxpayers and fair for private woodlot owners. And further, both of the third parties – the Greens and the People’s Alliance promised similar action.

We’re not talking about reinventing the wheel here. We need only look across the border into Maine to see a better way of doing forestry.

As we have been saying for a long, long time, fundamental changes to forestry are needed in New Brunswick, and now that we finally have a government committed to this - and with supportive third parties hopefully willing to hold their feet to the fire to follow through - we look forward to presenting our vision of what a progressive forestry policy should look like.

More than just woodlot owners want change

And not only us. We, as the representatives of private woodlot owners, are part of a consortium that also includes environmental, conservation, fish and wildlife organizations, forestry biologists, and scientists. In 2015 we developed a blueprint for a more progressive, environmentally responsible Crown Lands and Forests Act. At the time it was presented to the Minister of Energy and Resource Development where it fell on deaf ears.

But that was then and this is now, and with the changed political circumstances, the time may finally be right for progressive changes.

The history of giving Crown land to industry

In a snapshot, here’s the history.

In 1980, the then Hatfield government introduced a new Lands and Forests Act. It was a solid piece of legislation at the time, but over the years it was gutted by various governments. These were changes that basically turned control of more and more Crown lands over to industry, resulting in greatly reduced revenues for taxpayers, reduced opportunities for private woodlot owners to sell their wood at a fair price, reduced options for non-industrial uses of Crown land such as maple syrup production and eco-tourism, and a greatly increased amount of questionable forestry practices such as widespread clear cutting with its negative impact on animal and bird species.

Even if that 1980 Lands and Forests Act hadn’t been amended, it is well past time for a new one. The changes that reduced its effectiveness aside, we need an act that better represents and reflects the fundamental shift in public attitude toward the value of bio-diverse forests.

A new forestry policy also has the ability to transform rural New Brunswick with all manner of new investment from private woodlot owners back in the game, with all the economic spinoffs that represents, to new forest-based enterprises cropping up now that they could have access to wood and forests. This may include everything from speciality wood products like musical instruments and furniture to nature trails and enhanced hunting and fishing options, not to mention more environmentally sound forests and all the benefits that come with that. Then there is the concept of community forests, which have proved extremely successful elsewhere.

We fully appreciate not all of these changes would happen overnight. Just as it takes a long time to grow a tree or change a forest, these are long-term objectives, but positive change can start now.

We can learn from neighbours who do this better

We’re not talking about reinventing the wheel here. We need only look across the border into Maine to see a better way of doing forestry. I may go more into detail about the comparisons in a subsequent blog but the main takeaway is that in Maine, in state-owned forests where more environmentally responsible harvesting is taking place, they realise three cubic metres of wood harvested per acre per year, compared to 3.5 cubic metres in New Brunswick clearcuts.

they harvest almost as much per acre, without ruining wildlife habitat, and it costs less because they rely on natural regeneration, so no silviculture costs for replanting.

I appreciate that cubic metre measurements won’t mean much to non-forestry trained readers, but what it means is that in Maine they harvest almost as much per acre, without ruining wildlife habitat, and it costs less because they rely on natural regeneration, so no silviculture costs for replanting.

Look in the other direction across our border to Nova Scotia and they are considering the recommendations of the Lehay Report, an extensive study into what should be done in forest management in that province. It is still under review, but what is recommended there, based on the latest science and weighing the competing needs, could also be something we could very well look at to inform our future direction.

I will go into detail of what is proposed there in a future blog as well, but the bottom line is that there are options out there that could form the foundation of a new Crown Lands and Forests Act that could greatly benefit all of New Brunswick, rather than just the large forestry companies.

It appears that, finally, circumstances have provided New Brunswick with a golden opportunity to have Crown land benefit all of us, just like it was originally intended.

Thanks for reading. Please share and discuss with your friends and neighbours. As always, your comments are welcome.

Rick Doucett
President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners