Recently, the Liberal government said that it will uphold the agreement made by the former Conservative government to give long-term access to more Crown land to forestry companies.
While disappointing, it is consistent with the lack of vision successive New Brunswick governments have towards our Crown lands. This is land the government is obliged to manage for the benefit of First Nations and all New Brunswick citizens, not just forestry companies.
This lack of vision is costing us all dearly, but it is especially damaging for the rural parts of our province, especially communities that are surrounded by forests. Those communities could thrive with their forests providing all manner of economic benefit if only we had enlightened Crown land management.
Imagine the Potential!
Imagine if Crown land was managed for diversity as well as fibre. Imagine if rather than seeing our deer vanish because of excessive, large-scale clear-cutting, we had a diverse forest, where forestry practices such as clear-cutting aren’t abused, where habitat was protected, where hardwoods, as well as softwood, could thrive as could all manner of species who rely on a vibrant and healthy diverse forest. Wouldn’t that be something we could all be proud of?
We would have Crown land where the integrity of the environment is a priority. Hunting and fishing could become major activities again for locals as well as visitors. Our forests would again become attractive destinations for a renewed eco-tourism industry where it could meet its potential with hiking and canoeing and snowmobiling.
Other parts of the forest economy could thrive as well. The maple syrup industry, for example, could be expanded. Did you know that an acre of maples brings in about seven times more money than an acre of lumber?
A diverse forest will foster a truly competitive forest industry, and we have enough forests to meet all of these interests.
We Can’t Avoid The Need To Undo Past Mistakes
Successive New Brunswick governments have made poor decisions regarding our Crown land because forestry companies convinced them that what’s best for them is what is best for all New Brunswickers, and what is bad for them will harm us all. It’s like trickle down economics. The fact it has never worked doesn’t seem to matter. And as a result we have Crown land that is used to provide fiber for the mills, at the expense of everything else.
As the Auditor General and others who have looked into it say, we could be doing much, much better by our Crown land.
Imagine if governments hadn’t changed their policies to cater to the forestry companies. Private woodlot owners would have ready markets for their wood at fair market prices as they wouldn’t be competing against undervalued Crown wood. The mill jobs would of course continue, and the fair money paid to the woodlot owners would be going into our rural communities, in wages for employees, and local equipment suppliers and restaurants and everyone else who is part of a local economy.
Woodlot Owners Act Sustainably, We Don’t Just Talk About It
The cutting would be sustainable. It is, after all, our own woodlots and we are committed to responsibly harvesting. That means no vast clear-cuts. Compare that to the government that endorses forestry companies clear-cutting two per cent of Crown forests per year. Two per cent may not sound like much, but cumulatively, that’s a complete clearing of our forests in 50 years. Fifty years isn’t enough to grow back a diverse forest. This 50-year rotation means we will not be growing our forests to their potential.
This is a vision of forestry I don’t think the majority of New Brunswickers want to see. It is at odds with the values placed on forestry by most New Brunswickers, who see it as much more than just a source of fibre.
There is a lot wrong with what successive governments have allowed to happen with our Crown land over the years. Most citizens of the province realize this. And I like to think New Brunswickers are also starting to realize the lost potential our Crown lands represent; potential that could be realized if they were managed for their diversity.
It is something on which the government is considerably out of step with the people it is supposed to represent. It is indeed unfortunate that a better, more enlightened vision for our Crown land continues to elude them.
When you are approached by candidates of whatever party and they ask you for your vote, ask them where they stand on forestry policy. And then choose wisely.
Thank you for listening,
President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners