Premier David Alward confirmed the fears of many in January when he spoke of a forest strategy that will guarantee more timber from the province’s public lands to the forest industry in his State of the Province address. The spin was of course that the strategy would create jobs. Again, we are told that giving up more of our forest to J.D. Irving and a handful of other big forestry players is the only option for job creation in our province.
Premier Alward, how exactly do you propose to free up more Crown timber for the forest industry?
Will you redefine a watercourse as you redefined wetlands so the forestry companies can cut in buffer zones that protect our streams and rivers? Do you propose slashing wildlife habitat zones meant to provide critical habitat for our forest species? Will you open up deer yards to cutting with the reason that they are now vacated, a result of forest mismanagement if there ever was one?
Must your government be reminded of its treaty obligations to consult with indigenous peoples of this province on forest management? How can you give away something that is not yours to give away?
You and your ministers do not have a mandate to give away more of our forest. Some of your MLAs were around a decade ago when it became known to the public what the forest industry was demanding: a double in the rate of cut on public lands. Surely they must recall the overflowing town hall meetings when New Brunswickers one after another took the microphone to voice their dismay with a forest managed for timber objectives as the priority.
If rallies, petitions and letters were not a sufficient weather vane to gauge how New Brunswickers felt about forest conservation, a survey on public attitudes on forest management commissioned by the Department of Natural Resources and published in 2007 should have guided the provincial government in its future forest strategy. The survey found that New Brunswickers, rural and urban, wanted water and biodiversity protected first and foremost in forest management: this is your mandate for forest management.
It’s not a secret that your government is under intense pressure from J.D. Irving and other forestry companies to allow them to clearcut in conservation forest, which are our deer yards, buffer zones along streams and rivers, wildlife habitat zones and old forest. Department of Natural Resources staff have cautioned against reducing conservation forest below 28%, anything less would not be sustainable, according to the wildlife biologists and forest ecologists.
Our forest management is stuck in the twentieth century when clearcutting and herbicide spraying were permitted but were never really socially acceptable or ecologically responsible. We must move towards a management scenario that would mean a more resilient forest in a future of climate change and one that offers a suite of options for communities to be stewards of their forest resources and generate sources of revenue and jobs. However, we hear that the provincial government is poised to allow forestry companies access to previous no-go zones to clearcut. If we do not abandon the recklessness and lack of imagination shown by previous governments on forest management, we will deny ourselves resilient communities, meaningful employment and the awe that comes from a healthy and diverse forest in our backyards.
For a decade now, we have seen a doubling in the area of allowable clearcuts from 100 ha to 200 ha, more herbicide-sprayed plantations and smaller stream buffers. For what? According to annual reports from the Department of Natural Resources, the way that we use our forests is generating net losses.
Take a moment to recall what it’s like to stand in an old forest of evergreens, maples, ashes, birches and beech where you may be fortunate enough to see a northern flying squirrel, hear the song of a yellow warbler or catch a brook trout in a sheltered stream? This is why we fight for our conservation forest and why your government should too.
Tracy Glynn is the Forest Campaign Director with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.