Twenty shades of green – A letter from New Brunswick’s future #3

Written by Tom Beckley on June 21, 2019

Looking west from Keswick Ridge, New Brunswick. Photo by Tom Beckley.

June 21, 2050 (Keswick Ridge, NB)

Dear New Brunswickers,

The forest dazzles a spectacle of bright greens as I watch from my deck looking west from the Keswick Ridge. It’s a Spring morning in early 2050, and I remember that same view over thirty years ago. Back in 2019, the bright greens of the deciduous hardwood trees were just a few scattered flashes overpowered by swaths of dark green on the landscape. The dark greens—with their straight lines and the hard boundaries—were conifer softwood plantations, the regimented legacy of a forest system which favoured fir, spruce, and jack pine to supply the province’s softwood mills. That legacy of sixty years of industrial forestry, now decades in the past, has been replaced by a twenty different species in a complex regenerating mixed-wood Acadian forest. In 2019, I could scarcely imagine such a view. Let me tell you how it happened.

Early in 2020, the Higgs government tried to force through a budget that would have used taxpayers’ money to subsidize a revised Energy East Pipeline to the tune of $200 million. The scheme backfired and a confidence motion brought down the minority government. In the elections that resulted, New Brunswick was taken by La Vague Verte—the Green Tide. All across the north, ridings flipped from Liberal to Green. Francophone New Brunswickers delivered a narrow Green majority government, and Premier David Coon got to work transforming the energy and forestry sectors.

The Wolastoq (formerly known as the St. John River) exceeded its banks in 2021 and 2024, as it had in 2018 and 2019. Hurricane Serena smashed into the province in September 2024, blowing down 50,000 hectares of plantation pine and spruce in the southeast of the province. A smaller storm devastated 20,000 plantation hectares in Charlotte County in 2026. The surge from both storms saw hundreds of coastal homes on the Northumberland Strait flooded and dozens of homes washed out to sea. Luckily, nobody was hurt. Together, these events made climate denial untenable. Citizens realized that a key climate solution in New Brunswick was to build a more resilient forest. By 2026 all parties in the legislature supported carbon pricing. The new revenues from carbon pricing and tidal energy sales to New Englanders allowed for a major transition in the province’s forests.

The goal was to create a climate resilient Acadian Forest. At first, there was boom in softwood lumber as plantations were liquidated to supply the hurricane ravaged eastern seaboard of the United States. But by 2028, the United States changed its building codes to prevent wood frame housing in hurricane prone areas, and the writing was on the wall for industrial, conifer dominant forestry. The market had changed, the climate had changed, and people understood the forest needed to change.

In 2028, a third Green majority was elected, and the government passed legislation which phased out fossil fuel heating of all public buildings. Remaining softwood monocultures that once went into dimensional lumber began to heat schools, hospitals, and government facilities.

With temperature increases already underway and already irreversible due to anthropogenic climate change, the more southern, temperate, hardwood species were better suited to New Brunswick’s changing climate. With softwood lumber exports in a shambles, government, industry and woodlot owners all got behind the project of restoring a highly resilient and valuable Acadian Forest.

Government programs shifted from supporting softwood trees to supporting mixed-wood forests. An army of student tree planters planted long-lived hardwood species—yellow birch and the sugar maple and newly discovered, disease-resistant strains of beech and butternut. The new forests were mixed, and also included white pines and hemlocks and red spruces and eastern white cedar. All are now growing to maturity.

Creating a climate resilient forest is a long-term project. Even now, the trees are young. The plan is to let these trees live well beyond 150 years. Short-term profits have given way to an embrace of a new forest culture.

The industrial license system on New Brunswick’s Crown land—where primary management authority was given to the private sector—was abandoned in 2028.  In its place, a system of regional forest councils was established, with equal representation from local communities, First Nations, forest industry, and the provincial government. By 2025, 5,000 private forest owners signed agreements to steward their land in restorative ways. By 2035, the number had increased to 20,000 owners. By 2050, over 30,000 forest landowners had agreed to restore the Acadian forest by selectively harvesting, limiting harvesting to patches no larger than three hectares, and to widely share the benefits of their private forests.

The 30,000 forest landowners enrolled in restorative forest practices agreed to “right of roam” principles. Here, the public—who support restorative forest activities through their tax dollars and their carbon levies—were able to access the land of these private owners for walks and hikes, camping and foraging, bird watching and other forms of non-destructive and non-motorized recreation.

The harvest rates today on these private woodlots and on Crown land are less than half of what it had been in 2030. The province is growing forests, not fibre, and growing forests takes time.  For twenty years now, New Brunswick’s forests have gotten a respite and are flourishing, despite higher temperatures and rapid climate change. In the meantime, industrial hemp, which has revitalized the agriculture sector, supplies most of the fibre to heat public buildings.

New Brunswick is now an international leader in forest restoration, and New Brunswick’s forests—public and private—have become a common heritage for New Brunswickers.

The dappled landscape of twenty shades of green that I watch from my deck on a Spring morning in 2050 exemplifies the changes to the forest and the changes to the ways we relate to, govern, and live with those forests.

I won’t see the Acadian Forest fully restored in all its glory in my lifetime, but when I look out on the view, and when I cruise the land on my electric ATV I can see that we are growing hope, one tree at a time.

Sincerely,

Tom Beckley

Tom Beckley is a rural sociologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this letter is a speculative and fictional look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could be like if we could meet our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not stay fiction. Each letter offers a vision of what New Brunswick could be like in the future if the province is able to fight climate change and to achieve the IPCC climate goals.

Read the other Letters from New Brunswick’s Future here.

This series is sponsored by RAVEN, and edited by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and a member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. If you would like to contribute your own letter, read the Call for Letters from New Brunswick’s Future and send a short outline of your idea to Daniel Tubb at dtubb@unb.ca and Abram Lutes at abram.lutes@gmail.com.

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