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: