For well over a century, going back to the days of the log drives, generations of New Brunswickers drew their livelihood from the forest, and isn’t that logical given how much of it we have?
Even today, 85 per cent of land in New Brunswick is woodland. It has traditionally been the kingpin of our provincial economy. And a full half of that woodland in New Brunswick is Crown land. As such, the government’s responsibility is to manage it to the benefit of its citizens.
While demand ebbs and flows, there is always a market for wood, and you would think that we would benefit greatly from having such abundance of it. You’d think. But you’d be wrong.
Maybe not so much
Both the Auditor-General and Don Roberts, the Vice-president of World Markets for CIBC reviewed government’s management of Crown land and both found a lot of fault. Roberts in fact suggests that if a private company managed our Crown land the way successive New Brunswick governments have over the past years, that company would be out of business. He estimates we should be realizing a profit off our Crown land of $100 Million a year. The profit is hard to pinpoint, but the Auditor-General’s report places it at closer to zero.
How could the government be losing money, or certainly realizing far less profit than it should on Crown land, you ask? The biggest and most simple reason is because the forestry companies don’t pay the government enough to cover the cost of growing the trees.
There are several forestry companies operating in New Brunswick, the largest of which is JDI. The fact that management of Crown Lands is benefitting these companies much more than it is benefitting the people of the province isn’t on them. These companies are doing what companies do, which is everything within the law to maximize profits. They can’t be blamed for that.
No, the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the successive governments that have been in power in New Brunswick over the past few decades. The ones elected by citizens to look out for the best interests of citizens.
Only one winner under current Act
When it was introduced in 1980, our Crown Lands and Forests Act was a solid and visionary piece of legislation. But actions since its adoption by successive governments combined to diminish the value of the Crown Lands Act to the point it no longer serves anybody very well beyond the forestry companies. The time is well past when it should be updated.
And an update of the Crown Lands and Forests Act is exactly what they had in mind when a consortium representing environmental, conservation, fish and wildlife organizations, scientists, and private woodlot owners, met with the Minister of Energy and Resources Development in March of last year. They promoted a new act that protects ecosystems and allows for an enhanced use of our forests that strikes an appropriate balance between timber objectives and non-timber priorities ranging from fish and wildlife management, to jobs in forest-based tourism.
On the timber side, they called for a reduction in timber available from Crown land that would provide private woodlot owners with an opportunity to provide a fair proportion of the wood supply. This would be a return to what was a fundamental principle of the original Crown Lands and Forests Act, before it was gutted by government.
To date, there has been no indication that government has any interest in cleaning up its act in regard to Crown lands, and in this it is out of step with the people it purports to serve.
A survey conducted in 2007 found that an overwhelming majority of New Brunswickers (more than 90%) place great value on our forests. And they don’t like what’s going on. In short, people support and want to see drastic changes to the manner in which the government currently manages - some would say mismanages - our forests.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a government that shared these desires and agreed that the status quo isn’t working for the vast majority of New Brunswickers. If the government though, as seems to be the case, prefers things as they are, taxes will continue to make up for the losses incurred by the mismanagement of our Crown forests, the economy of rural New Brunswick particularly, will continue to be negatively impacted, and the vast potential that our Crown lands represent, will continue to be lost.
You can help by helping us spread the word and by asking the candidates who want to be your MLA this fall to study the 2017 proposal and commit to seeing it passed. You can subscribe to receive our blog updates, and share this to your contacts.
Thanks so much for listening,
President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners