The forest of New Brunswick on traditional Wabanaki territory, where lynx roam, northern flying squirrels glide, warblers and vireos sing and brook trout swim in sheltered streams is in trouble.
Scientists, conservationists, economists, woodlot owners, hunters, former government officials and Department of Natural Resources staff are some of the many people denouncing what can only be described as a J.D. Irving-designed plan for our forest.
Premier David Alward and Minister of Natural Resources Paul Robichaud announced the forest plan to a standing-room only audience on March 12 in Fredericton. Jim Irving, CEO of J.D. Irving, the largest forestry company in the province, was present for the announcement of the plan that guarantees more timber from the province’s public lands to the forest industry, i.e. mostly to J.D. Irving. The spin was of course that the forest strategy would create jobs. We were told that giving up an additional 660,000 cubic metres of our forest every year for the next 25 years to the industry would translate into 500 jobs, mostly through mill upgrades.
Before the announcement was made, the Conservation Council warned the Premier against such a plan. The Council reminded the government, like it has for decades, of its public mandate to manage the forest for the benefit of all New Brunswickers now and into the future, and of its treaty obligations to indigenous peoples of this province, who have never ceded the land in New Brunswick.
The New Brunswick government says the new forest plan is about jobs and “more boots in the woods” but it’s not. It’s about more profits filling J.D. Irving’s pockets by giving them access to the little that is left of our forest. There are no guarantees that J.D. Irving will create the number of jobs that they say they will in exchange for a guaranteed access to Crown timber. Our forest is being trashed and we are being scammed. After digging, we now know that contracts have been signed with the four corporations licensed to cut in our public forest. The first contract was signed with J.D. Irving.
The provincial government is entering into a secretive contract where we wonder if we will be forced to deliver the wood or pay compensation to the industry for breaking the contract. Managing solely for the fibre interests of J.D. Irving is taking us further down the path of disaster.
Not good for public coffers
Donald Bowser is an expert on transparency and accountability in the extractive resource sector. He has recently worked in South Sudan and Afghanistan. Bowser has returned to his native New Brunswick to find that his home province is actually more secretive about their resource extractive deals than places in the developing world known for their corruption and corporate capture.
“It’s one grand giveaway of our forest resources just before the election. With the selling off the Crown land forests and reducing the royalties for oil and shale gas, essentially the New Brunswick government is shutting the door on any future economic viability for New Brunswick,” says Bowser, President of Integrity Management, Promoting Transparency and Accountability (IMPACT).
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.
Not good for workers
If the New Brunswick government was concerned about generating jobs then they may wish to analyze the proficiency with which we convert timber into jobs. From 1960 to 2000, proficiency in New Brunswick’s forest sector declined from 2.3 jobs/1000 cubic metres of timber harvested in 1960 to 1.3 jobs/1000 cubic metres in 2000, a decline of 43%.
New Brunswick lags Canada and the rest of the world in the proficiency of converting timber into jobs. The U.S., at 2.6 jobs per 1000 cubic metre of timber harvested, generates over twice as much employment per available unit of roundwood as New Brunswick. Given New Brunswick’s Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) on public lands of 5 million cubic metres, the U.S. would generate 6,500 more jobs from the same amount of wood. New Brunswick’s forest strategy projects to create 500 additional jobs from 660,000 cubic metres of additional AAC; this is a poor proficiency rate of 0.8 jobs per 1000 cubic metres of timber harvested.
“This is not a matter of nostalgia for days of chainsaws and peaveys in the woods. It is a matter of how we utilize the wood we harvest,” argues Lawrence Wuest, a forest ecologist who has been making the strong case for a valued-added forest industry in the province.
Not good for the forest
New Brunswick’s 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. Conservation forest includes wildlife habitat, river and stream buffers, deer yards and old forest.
New Brunswick’s forest plan slashes conservation forest on public lands from 30% down to 23%. The plan contains vague language about the increased timber supply coming from steep slopes and rocky areas or low volume harvest sites. Areas previously managed to provide habitat for wildlife will be clearcut. Our scientists are saying that we will see declines in wildlife populations if this forest plan is implemented.
Information obtained by the New Brunswick Green Party and revealed on April 8th show that the new forest plan will eliminate a standard that is used to preserve the native Acadian forest type. Essentially, forestry companies will be allowed to clearcut in areas previously designated as select cut only zones; this will increase the area of clearcutting in New Brunswick’s forest by 10 per cent. The standard was used to maintain some of our beautiful mixed wood forest on our landscape. The area of clearcuts will increase from 75 ha to 100 ha. According to the Green Party’s information, the new forest strategy will “permit logging of steep slopes , in wet terrain and around some wetlands, where lower royalties will be charged to entice companies to work in these more costly areas.”
Where do we go from here?
It is clear that the provincial government’s forest plan is being met with widespread rejection. The government of New Brunswick with J.D. Irving breathing down its neck has spent ten years attempting to get around the will of the people, while delaying the evolution of the forest economy.
The 2004 Report of the Select Committee on Wood Supply based on comments heard from New Brunswickers at public hearings outlined what the province needs to do in terms of forest management. A decade has been lost in the evolution of our forest industry due to government inaction and cowering to J.D. Irving.
“To replace an economic engine as massive as pulp and paper is a monumental task that requires nothing short of a wartime like effort,” argues Wuest who points to secondary wood manufacture and processing as key to more proficient utilization of timber.
Our naturally diverse Acadian forest type supplies more timber compatible with secondary wood manufacture. The question is how to promote the secondary wood manufacturing industry in today’s climate of free trade where cheap imports trump domestic produced goods. Trade agreements preclude any subsidization of domestic manufacturing. The growing “Buy Local” economy needs to be encouraged in wood products.
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. If we do not abandon the recklessness and lack of imagination shown by this and 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.
1. Tell Premier David Alward what you think about the forest plan. Email the Premier at email@example.com and copy your MLA.
2. Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper.
3. Email Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on CCNB’s forest communications list for more action ideas and news.
4. Screen one of many informative films about our forest in your community.
5. Request a public presentation about our forest. The Conservation Council’s Tracy Glynn will be presenting at the Daly Point Nature Reserve and the Canaan-Washademoak Watershed Association on April 21.
Tracy Glynn is on the board of the NB Media Co-op.