The scientific basis of DNR’s Forest Management strategy has received considerable media attention recently. Mike Parker wrote an opinion piece in the Chronicle Herald with the central request that DNR show the science that supports its extensive use of clear cutting. In response, DNR’s Minister Hines explained that his staff is trained in a wide range of sciences, from geology to entomology. Trained scientists may work for DNR but do they carry out scientific studies, and more importantly, are their findings available as peer-reviewed publications? The obligatory validation of science comes through peer reviewed and openly accessible publication of findings. Freedom of information requests are not necessary in the world of scientific communication.
Peer-reviewed publications are not the means by which DNR shares the conclusions, of its landscape level ecosystem management. No, the results of its deliberations are posted on the Harvest Viewer, a digital map of the province showing the next areas of crown land slated for clear cutting or partial cutting. The public is given a few weeks to respond, DNR may make some adjustments and then the harvest is set in stone. Landscape level, ecosystem management sounds impressive, but it has not been defined to the public in a systematic, transparent fashion. Scientific studies required to substantiate landscape level ecosystem management of forests would take decades to carry out, and nothing of the sort has been carried out by DNR. So where is the science carried out by the scientists working at DNR?
To their credit, staff at DNR, including Peter Quigley, Kevin Keys and others, have done much careful work documenting the variety of forests and soil types in our province. Some of this was published in an informative guide “Forest System Classification for Nova Scotia” available as a government publication. This classification is used in pre-treatment assessments of lands targeted for harvesting. In September, Keys and co-authors published a study titled “A simple geospatial Nutrient Budget Model for Assessing Forest Harvest Sustainability across Nova Scotia, Canada” in the Open Journal of Forestry. The study concludes that existing data on soil nutrients is no longer accurate and that up to 50% of the plantation areas surveyed and assessed using their new model did not reach nutrient sustainability. Our poor soils suffer from deforestation and acid rain, preventing them from sustaining many cycles of intensive forestry. But intensive forestry is exactly what DNR is encouraging and permitting.
The NS Code of Forestry Practice states “Extensive forest lands will be managed for resource production using techniques that mimic natural disturbances and sustain natural ecosystem structure and function.” Judging by recent harvest recommendations, DNR believes that all of Nova Scotia has natural disturbance regimes that eliminate all trees. Only catastrophic storms or glaciations cause the level of disturbance wrought by current forestry practices. Their own recently published work (Keys et al 2016) cautions against just such intensive harvests.
To believe that current forestry practices in Nova Scotia are based on scientific studies is like believing in reality TV shows. To believe that these intensive forestry practices will sustain natural ecosystem structure and function is wishful thinking at best.
- Dr. Helga Guderley
Dr. Guderley, retired Biology Professor, Université Laval, Adjunct Professor at Université Laval and Dalhousie, physiologist, former President of the Canadian Society of Zoologists and Associate Editor of the Canadian Journal of Zoology, who has published more than 170 peer-reviewed papers and many book chapters, points out that Mr. Hines’ argument is seriously flawed. The most fundamental precept of good science is peer review, and the DNR’s so-called “science” is rarely subjected to this kind of independent third party scrutiny. Worse, the only way one can review the data DNR uses to decide harvest practices is by FOIPOP, resorting to the byzantine process of soliciting materials through the Freedom of Information Act. Government claims of transparency, Dr. Guderley points out, are bogus.