(published in the The Halifax Herald 03/04/2017)
NOVA SCOTIA FORESTRY: Don’t listen to industry reassurances
Public losing confidence in government role in forestry
by MIKE PARKER
I conceive that the land belongs to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living and countless numbers are still unborn. — Anonymous
Whenever we, the public, question questionable forestry practices, government and industry invariably respond with talking points straight from The Clear-Cutters’ and Whole Tree Harvesters’ Biomass Thesaurus of Alternative-Facts.
Think of the times you have been told professionals are "applying best practices and science to forest management." Or that professionals "harvest our forests and they grow back, healthier and more productive and more sustainable than they were before."
And who can forget this top contender for quote of the year? "The forest is more than a resource to us. It’s a legacy for Nova Scotians and we are the proud stewards."
If this doesn’t work, then pulpit theatrics are ramped up: "Pessimists in Nova Scotia are still in abundance, standing in front of every industry they perceive as not fitting their narrow vision for our resources, preaching the "No" in Nova Scotia."
Should that fail, spin doctors play the Trump card: "In the press there appears to be a persistent anti-forestry-resource-management bias."
Not being a professional forester, I have been sloughed off in the past by the self-appointed stewards- of-the-woods as being critical, rhetorical, holier-than-thou and, the deepest cut of all, a "retiree", which I can only guess means I am old and as such my opinions are based in senility and not fact.
With what fading faculties remain, I searched out a respected voice who can speak to forestry issues in Nova Scotia. I found it in the person of Dr. Jack Ward Thomas (1934-2016), a renowned American ecologist, Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation in the School of Forestry at the University of Montana, and thirteenth chief of the U.S. Forest Service.
In 2001, Dr. Thomas presented a paper at the University of Alberta entitled Are There Lessons for Canadian Foresters Lurking South of the Border? It was based upon the successful campaign American environmentalists had recently waged against the "resource extraction community" in stopping overcutting in the national forests, aka public lands, or as we know them here, Crown lands.
"Foresters were too certain of their positions of prestige and authority and, evidently, felt themselves above the messy realities of functioning over the long term in a democracy," Dr. Thomas wrote. "In the end, there are professional prerogatives that will not exist unless sanctioned by the people at large."
He argued that foresters began "to do things that we had not done before (at least not at large scale) — including things that foresters themselves had, in an earlier period, coached the public to consider the personification of careless greed."
"Foremost among these was the increasing practice of even-aged forest management embodying clear-cutting," he observed. And "a view from the sky revealed an ever-increasing network of roads connecting a patchwork of clear cuts."
Dr. Thomas also argued that clear-cutting was "coupled with the decision, driven by considerations of economic efficiency . . . to convert ‘decadent, stagnate, biological deserts’ of late-successional (‘old-growth’) forests to young, vigorous, fast-growing, forests — often of selected single species."
"These stands — or at least many of them — were, then, to be managed in a semi-agricultural fashion to maximize growth on selected trees to yield maximal economic benefits . . ."
"So far as wildlife and fish were concerned," he wrote, "the forester’s mantra was, far too often, that ‘good forestry is good wildlife management.’ . . . Foresters clung tenaciously to that adage long after the emerging science clearly showed otherwise . . . Retention of biodiversity became a concern and foresters were forced to modify their objectives, and management, to deal with threatened or endangered species."
Any of this sound familiar? There’s more. Dr. Thomas spoke of lessons that emerge: "Once the citizens of a democracy realize that they — in the final analysis — are the owners of the public lands, they will seek an increasing role in the management of those lands. Further, if the concerns of these citizens are ‘blown off ’ by professional land managers and politicians, they will respond by organizing to magnify their political impact . . ."
Indeed, he warned that "foresters’ reputations have declined as a result of hanging on too long to models of management predicated on the application of ‘industrial strength forestry’ on both public and private lands. The myth of the omniscient forester as the complete natural resource manager is obsolete."
"Forcing the application of economics based models to the exclusion of interests in biodiversity preservation, aesthetics, fish and wildlife, etc., will produce a backlash from the public."
Here are other lessons Dr. Thomas’s paper offers us:
• "Close relationships, if perceived of as too close, between industry and government related to exploitation of public lands can engender resentment and backlash."
• "Perceived subsidies of industry’s extraction of wood from public lands will be increasingly questioned by an increasingly sensitive public."
• "There is a rising ‘green movement’ in all western democracies that is likely to grow as we come more and more to face with a finite land base."
• Foresters can "try to ignore the (public) or at least, marginalize their impact through political machination or accept the legitimacy of their concerns and their rights to be concerned and politically active. In the first course of action lies an increasingly contentious battle with significant defeat, with related loss of prestige and authority, a distinct possibility — even a probability. In the second course of action lies some opportunity to heed the age-old admonition, ‘Come, let us reason together’ and come to reasoned adjustments in management practices thereby heading off intensified conflict . . . "
Dr. Thomas closed his analysis with these words of caution: "Accidents . . . lie ahead on the road called forest management unless you alter course. Heads up."
Are you listening Premier Stephen McNeil, Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines, Nova Scotia MLAs?
Stand up, speak up Nova Scotia. May the forest be with you and yours.
Mike Parker has been researching, writing and talking about! the history and heritage of Nova Scotia's woods and waters for 30 years. His book, Nebooktook In the Woods, addresses his concerns about forestry practices in the province. His Facebook page, Woods and Waters Nova Scotia, has more information on Dr. Jack Ward Thomas.
In 2001, Genuine Progress Index (GPI-Atlantic), funded by The Nova Forest Alliance, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the Nova Scotia Voluntary Planning Agency, the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Foundation, CUSO, the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group, and an anonymous donor undertook an in-depth full cost accounting of the province’s forest resource. GPI found a fundamental flaw in our forest management. We rate our success by looking only at the value of the timber we harvest, not, as should be standard practice, by looking also at our principal, the value of what remains. Look what happened to the cod fishery when they barrelled ahead blind to all indicators.
One dramatic indicator, GPI points out, is forest age. In 1958, for example, 25% of the province’s forests were over 80 years old. By 2001, that figure had plummeted to less than 1%. Same for species diversity, devastating declines while timber volumes and clearcuts ballooned. These numbers are invisible when all you look at is half the equation, say, the GDP. Fifteen years ago GPI told us our forests store 107 million tonnes of carbon, saving $2.2 billion in climate change damage. Harvest practices had reduced our forests’ carbon sequestration capacity by 38%, a cost of $1.3 billion. Fifteen years later, those kinds of numbers still don’t show up on our balance sheets.
In Volume I of GPI’s massive 2001 two-volume report, they make recommendations which are just as pertinent today as they were fifteen years ago. Small woodlot owners know, we have to rejig silviculture funding to incentivize uneven-aged management and species diversity. Clearcuts and even-aged monoculture is a dead end. We need a gradual shift from a volume-based industry to a value-added one, to increase the number of jobs per unit harvested. We have to protect old-growth forest. We need to count and track annually “the full range of forest values and services, and the full cost and benefits of associated harvest methods.” And, we must plan long term accordingly.
Volume II, highly recommended reading, was funded again by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, and by the Nova Scotia Voluntary Planning Agency. It looks at six fascinating case studies which could provide us with some extremely useful alternative models:
Volume II ends with a frustrated effort to fairly assess the job loss/gain from forestry. Negotiating the stats maze ends up inconclusively, but there is an illuminating profile of the bigger is better trap forest contractors continue to find themselves in fifteen years later. Mills pay as close to the harvesters’ breakeven point as they can. To pay for their machines contractors have to work day and night 7 days a week to carve out a modest, high risk, mortgaged-to-the-hilt existence. “The current market structure,” GPI reports, “is geared to the needs of industrial forestry and its dependence on heavy machinery, rather than to selection harvest techniques on smaller woodlots.” Sound familiar? Has anything changed? No. It’s just gotten worse.
In its 2008 update, funded by the Province of Nova Scotia, the Alerce Trust, Bill and Susan van Iterson, and members of GPIAtlantic, again the recommendations read like marching orders for the HFC.
For our forests to perform their natural functions, like protecting soils, watersheds, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, habitat, and providing high quality timber, we must work to restore age diversity. We need more selection harvesting, more value added production, more value per unit of biomass harvested, and more jobs for rural Nova Scotian communities. All Crown land should be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, not just a small percentage as was the case. The current government actually just removed all Crown land from FSC certification, deemed by many to be a profound step backwards.
We wish we could say same old same old, but in fact things are getting worse, fast.
Below are the three GPI reports. In addition to serving an industrial agenda, they apply full cost accounting to their analysis of the province's forests. The reports represent what could have been. They represent good science and good economics and are what the people of Nova Scotia called for repeatedly in the public consultations which followed in the years leading up to the province's Natural Resource Strategy.
They make good reading: