Fredericton – A telephone survey of 525 New Brunswickers conducted by the University of New Brunswick (UNB) shows a majority of citizens oppose the Crown Forest Strategy announced by the provincial government in March 2014. The survey, conducted May 16 to May 23 by Oracle Poll on behalf of researchers at UNB’s Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management, shows opposition to the Strategy is three times greater than those supporting the policy (61% strongly oppose or oppose the policy, compared to 20% that strongly support or support).
In addition to questions exploring public opinion regarding the Crown Forest Strategy, the five-question survey repeated two questions from a 2007 survey conducted by a team of university and federal social scientists. The 2007 results are consistent with these new results and suggest that support for public consultation and conservation are core values of New Brunswickers.
Eighty-seven percent of respondents agreed with the statement that citizens, experts, communities and the legislature should be consulted before any long-term, binding agreements are made with the forest industry. Much of the criticism of the government strategy has to do with the lack of public consultation that went into it. These results are as much about democratic process as they are about the details of the forest policy.
The provincial Government’s proposed Crown Forest Strategy takes a new approach to Crown land management. It gives timber allocations to industry priority over conservation management. New Brunswickers, however, favour a conservation first approach. About 80 percent of respondents believe that we should look after conservation first and give timber allocations to industry from the remaining available land. Only 11 percent of respondents said that timber allocations to industry should be made first, with conservation targets determined from the available remaining Crown land.
In both the 2007 and the current survey, New Brunswickers said that management priority should first go to protecting soil, air and water resources; secondly to habitat to look after plant and animal life. Non-timber products received the lowest priority in both surveys. In the latest survey, recreation inched into the third spot and management priority for economic wealth and jobs fell from third to fourth among the five categories respondents were asked to rank.
The public’s skepticism of the forest industry’s impact and influence has grown moderately since the 2007 survey. There was an increase of five percent of respondents agreeing with the statement that the amount of timber cut in New Brunswick is too high (63% agree in 2014, compared to 58% in 2007). A similar five percent increase occurred for the statement, “The forest industry has too much control over forest management in New Brunswick.” Sixty-two percent of New Brunswickers agree with that statement in 2014, compared to 57 percent in 2007.
The survey also tackled some critical issues regarding policy process. Respondents were split on whether governments should be allowed to enter long-term binding contracts with industry on behalf of the public – 41 percent agreed that they should be able, compared to 37 percent that disagreed. However, the public does not agree that those contracts should bind the hands of future governments. By nearly a two to one margin, respondents disagreed that it is okay for governments to enter into contracts that bind future governments.
Crown land makes up 50 percent of the area of the province. It is a public trust, managed by government for the citizens of New Brunswick. The results from this survey suggest the public feels their trust was violated and that the things they value most about Crown forests are given short shrift in the new plan.