(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.