The most urgent challenges for rural New Brunswick include the spraying of glyphosate on Crown lands, restricted access to the market as experienced by small woodlot owners, and an unsustainable economic model for forest-dependent communities. All of these challenges could potentially be addressed by restructuring our corporate-based forestry management model to focus instead on more community-based forestry. However the history of community forestry in our province suggests that the power and influence of corporations in New Brunswick has prevented this transformative change.
Analysis by University of New Brunswick professor Tom Beckley (1) found that “community forestry” in the Maritime provinces has four key elements:
- Local benefits: the economic and non-economic benefits of forest management should go primarily to local residents;
- Local decision-making: participation in the objectives for forest management should skew in favour of local residents;
- Multiple-use forestry: management objectives should include the full suite of market, non-market, and ecosystem service values that flow from forests; and
- Stewardship: management should involve a heightened attention and commitment to the long-term maintenance and stewardship of this full suite of forest values.
Over the last 30 years, the concept of community forestry has gained traction across Canada as evidenced in British Columbia (2), Quebec (3), Ontario (4) and Nova Scotia. British Columbia alone has approximately 57 community forests (CF) managing 1.4 million hectares (ha), with the largest community forest covering an area of 150,000 ha. In New Brunswick, several notable efforts to initiate community forest cooperatives (1, 5, 6) have generated interest and enthusiasm, only to be scuttled by institutional inertia and entrenchment in longstanding forest management policy. Ironically, New Brunswick is home to one of the most progressive proponents of community forestry internationally, Community Forests International based in Sackville. So what is holding New Brunswick back, stifling innovation in forest management?
One of the earliest proposals for a community forest project in New Brunswick originated in the St. Croix watershed in southwest New Brunswick. In August 2000, the provincial government purchased and proposed dividing up 157,000 ha of lands formerly owned and managed by the Georgia-Pacific Lumber Company. The province reallocated some 30,000 ha. of the Georgia-Pacific lands to the province’s “Protected Natural Areas” (PNAs) program, and transferred the remaining 127,000 ha into the Crown Lands licensing structure.
Citizens within the St. Croix watershed objected to this redistribution of the Georgia-Pacific lands and proactively commissioned a proposal for community forest management of 60,000 ha of the abandoned lands. The citizen stakeholders methodically organized a knowledgeable forest management team and a professional, well articulated, and detailed forest management plan (5). Concurrently, a consortium of professional foresters, environmental organizations, marketing boards, ex-civil servants and community stakeholders centered in Fredericton similarly put forward a professionally prepared management proposal (1) for the Georgia-Pacific lands.
Corporate opposition to community forestry in general is epitomized by comments from Jim Irving, co-CEO of J.D. Irving Ltd as quoted in Kevin Matthew’s documentary film “Forbidden Forest”:
“I don’t think putting the local communities in charge of managing forestry, as complex and as complicated as it is, is the right thing to do.”
Not surprisingly, the corporate forestry industry was opposed to the proposals for community management of the Georgia-Pacific lands, and in the end, the province succumbed to industry pressure to stifle citizen based control of such a substantial portion of crown land. The government rejected both community-focused management proposals and incorporated the Georgia-Pacific lands into the province’s corporate, industrial forest licensing scheme.
A more recent community forest initiative in Nova Scotia involves lands formerly managed by the now defunct Bowater-Mersey Mill in Liverpool. The Medway Community Forest Co-op is currently attempting to manage 15,000 ha of this abandoned forest. Conceptually the Medway Community Forest is a promising development, although a consultants’ report advised that to be sustainable the Medway Community Forest would require closer to the 40,000 ha for which they originally applied.
Closer to home, in 2008, the Rural Community of Upper Miramichi formed an alliance with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, the Upper Miramichi Stewardship Alliance and other community forest advocates to investigate how the municipality could manage a tract of Crown forest within their municipal boundaries as a community forest. Acknowledging the unlikely scenario that the municipality would gain access to a reliable and secure source of timber from Crown land that is predominately held in a license by J.D. Irving, the initiative lost steam (6).
Over the last 20 years, advocates of the community forest ideal in the province have included Indigenous groups, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (7), the Green Party of New Brunswick and individual watershed associations. These stakeholders have voiced support for more localized, community-based control of forests and forest management. Current industrialized, ecologically destructive management practices have converted extensive tracts of bio-diverse Acadian forests into non-diverse monoculture softwood plantations that require spraying glyphosate to suppress hardwood in order to meet the corporate economic model. These practices have systematically reduced the number of jobs created per unit of timber harvested, and have accelerated floral and faunal species extinction.
The most recent proposal for community forest in New Brunswick emerged from the Peace and Friendship Alliance of Indigenous and settler communities in traditional Wolastoqey territory of the Wolastoq (St. John River) basin. This Upper Nashwaak Community Forest Alliance (UNCFA) proposal has gained some traction but has faced formidable challenges, including difficulties in coordinating support from diverse settler and Indigenous stakeholders. The UNCFA is envisioned as an equitable partnership between settler and Indigenous communities in compliance with the Peace and Friendship treaties of the 1700s. The proposal involves a 60,000 ha tract of contiguous Crown Land in the Upper Nashwaak Watershed, roughly extending from just northwest of the Village of Stanley to just below Juniper.
The proposal raises many profound questions about ownership, management and control of forest resources, and most fundamentally: What constitutes community in the context of managing a community forest? These questions challenge respective communities to envision how extended local communities can ally to manage resources in a manner that is equitable for local, provincial and respective national benefit. These are not trivial challenges.
From the settler perspective, the idea of a UNCFA watershed-based management is appealing. The Nashwaak watershed has a long history as a contiguous and tight-knit community of common interests in agriculture, management of resource extraction and social interaction. On the Indigenous side, the concept of a localized indigenous community is complicated by the reserve-based structure imposed by colonialism, and by the increasingly dispersed nature of Indigenous residence.
On a positive note, the UNCFA boasts a 4,500 ha PNA that can conveniently provide a focus for forest and wildlife conservation, and recreational and tourism valued initiatives, with progressively less stringent constraints on commercial forestry in the remaining tracts. In striving for environmental and ecological health, and in the interest of sustainable forest certification, the UNCFA would also predictably ban both glyphosate spraying and monoculture plantations in the naturally rich mixed-wood Acadian Forest that has habitually occupied this upland territory.
Community forestry faces predictable impediments posed by industry capture of forest management policy under the 1980 NB Crown Lands and Forests Act. However, there also exists a risk that potential proponents of community forestry within Indigenous and settler environmental groups may become pre-occupied with current government promises to fund more Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) and settler protected natural areas (PNAs), distracting attention away from the need to overhaul the entire system of forest management. The PNA and IPCA initiatives are arguably a continuation of the colonial paradigm of sequestering extent populations, whether human, floral or faunal onto smaller and smaller tracts of reserved land, masking the true interest of expanding commercial exploitation of every other last parcel of remaining land.
The UNCFA also faces the obstacle of existing agreements between licensees and Indigenous and settler contractors who contract for allowable cuts within industrial licenses. These contractors may potentially view a change of management authority as a challenge to their longstanding harvesting agreements.
More fundamentally, the UNCFA faces the challenge of the province’s fixation on the supremacy of mineral rights over surficial forest rights. With substantial mineral claims extent on the UNCFA crown block, the UNCFA would require a long-term guarantee of suppression of these mineral rights on the affected area. With the corporate proponents of the Sisson Mine currently laying claim to 18,000 of the 60,000 ha of the UNCFA, this would be a formidable obstacle to overcome. Given the demonstrably unfeasible business plan of the Sisson Mine, the mine represents a perpetual albatross to more productive use of these forested lands.
So where does the answer lie? The provincial government is currently committed to an industrial, corporate model of forest management. It perpetuates the antiquated elevation of mineral rights over surface rights, and continues to violate the Peace and Friendship Treaties, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Article 35 of the Canadian Constitution. As long as our elected leaders persist in this model, it is highly improbable that the UNCFA can advance. The province will be poorer for adhering to these ill-advised policies and practices. Only concerted and sustained political pressure advocating for community forestry will overcome these well entrenched impediments.
Lawrence Wuest is an ecologist living in the Upper Nashwaak on unceded territory of the Wəlastəkwiyik, Mi’kmaq, and Peskotomuhkati.
(1) Beckley, T., 2016. Community Forestry in the Maritimes: Long-Standing Debates and Recent Developments. Community Forestry in Canada: Lessons from Policy and Practice, pp. 52-74.
(2) McIlveen, K. and Rhodes, M., 2016. Community Forestry in an Age of Crisis. Community Forestry in Canada: Lessons from Policy and Practice, pp. 179-207.
(3) Leclerc, É. and Chiasson, G., 2016. Community Forestry and Local Development at the Periphery. Community Forestry in Canada: Lessons from Policy and Practice, pp. 231-253.
(4) Palmer, L., Smith, P., and Shahl, C. 2016. Community Forestry on Crown Land in Northern Ontario: Emerging Paradigm or Localized Anomaly? Community Forestry in Canada: Lessons from Policy and Practice, pp. 94-135.
(5) Herron, J., 2000. St. Croix Community Forest Management Plan. Proposal presented to the Department of Natural Resources. NB Legislature. Fredericton.
(6) Glynn, T. 2017. Community Forestry on the Cusp of Reality in New Brunswick. Growing Community Forests: Practice, Research, and Advocacy in Canada, pp. 139-146.
(7) Betts, M. and Coon, D. 1999. Working with the Woods: Restoring Forests and Community in New Brunswick. Forests for the Future: Local Strategies for Forest Protection, Economic Welfare and Social Justice, pp.188-205.