New Brunswick’s Crown land forests are obviously our most important natural resource, so it only makes sense to manage them so that the province obtains a fair monetary return from them. It is equally important to preserve the diversity and sustainability of our forests. To date neither of these have been possible given the forest industry’s practices, aided and abetted by successive government policies. However, there is an opportunity now for change, though it will take considerable political will. Several recent polls indicate that this is what New Brunswickers want.
Past governments have allowed the forest industry, now primarily J.D. Irving Limited, to essentially destroy our forests, with large-scale clearcutting followed by plantations. Plantations do not provide the myriad benefits that forests do, and they are unsustainable over the long haul, particularly with the uncertain future resulting from climate change. To add insult to injury the province receives less from the industry in stumpage fees for the wood harvested than it pays the industry to carry out what is euphemistically called “silviculture,” essentially herbicide spraying, planting and thinning to make way for plantations. Both New Brunswickers and the forests lose on the deal.
It is time for the government to take back control of our Crown land forests. In the context of current provincial finances it should charge stumpage fees that at the very least cover government forestry costs. The government should transfer silviculture costs to the industry, for it is they who benefit from silviculture. The government should move away from the forest as a resource available to only a few companies, and facilitate smaller, value-added and job-producing enterprises based on both Crown land and privately owned woodlots. In the long term it should change the trajectory of its forest management away from the plantation model, and return it to the Acadian forest, a multiple-species, productive, and resilient forest.
Norval Balch is an environmentalist and writer in New Brunswick.