Don Roberts said (Atlantic Forestry Review, January, 2011, page 19) at the 2010 NB Forestry Summit that the province is losing money on its Crown lands at $6/hectare annually, or about $32 million every year.
Crown lands should be a revenue generator. While it is not widely known, New Brunswick’s taxpayers are paying for a forest management model that may not be appropriate for future market conditions. This model has emphasized large clear cut forest harvesting which encourages low value intolerant hardwoods and budworm susceptible balsam fir regeneration.
In recent decades NB has subsidized the site preparation, budworm-resistant softwood plantation and herbicide application required to foster the growth of a high quality softwood fibre supply for the American market. The philosophy appears to have been that the open ended expansion of the U.S. market would continue to absorb this softwood production into the future. This assumption is now questionable in the context of the contraction of the U.S. economy that can be expected to be orchestrated by the depletion of cheap and abundant fossil fuel during the next forest rotation.
The clear cut, site preparation, plant and herbicide silviculture costs the New Brunswick taxpayer about $1000/hectare, and this investment, carried at 4% interest per annually for a 60 year rotation, totals over $10,000.
A modified scheme would be to subsidize operators on New Brunswick’s Crown lands to adopt more small canopy opening harvests (strip and patch cutting) which would be expected to increase their costs by about $300/hectare if the average removal is 140 cubic metres/hectare. Full subsidy to the operators would require an expenditure of about $300/hectare, and the resulting costless natural regeneration (in the harvested openings that approximate natural naturally occurring gaps) would begin to restore the Acadian mixedwood species assemblage that will facilitate many possible future market scenarios as well as increasingly diversify the forest landscape away from the softwood monocultures that have been encouraged by existing subsidies. When the full $300 subsidy to forest operators for increased harvesting costs is carried at 4% interest annually for a 60 year rotation, the total investment would be about $3,000/hectare over a 60 year rotation.
The difference in the two forest renewal approaches is about $7,000/hectare. A different approach would rely on much cheaper and more ecologically appropriate native tree growth, in situations that can regenerate native Acadian mixedwoods if canopy openings are reduced so as to allow inexpensive natural processes to produce the next forest.
Further details of this argument can be found in a recent article entitled, Shifting regeneration subsidies.
Peter Salonius is a retired Canadian Forest Service Research Scientist.