Behind closed doors, Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources has quietly transferred the management of 1.4 million acres of Crown lands to WestFor, a consortium of 13 privately owned mills. Some of these mills are local companies with a long history in their communities (Turner, Ledwidge, Freeman), others are decidedly international (Northern Pulp, Louisiana Pacific). All answer to their owners or stockholders, not to the public. They are managing our crown land for their profit and the sustainability of their companies, nothing else. The allocation of Western Crown to WestFor is the largest allocation ever made in Nova Scotia. When a citizen sends an inquiry about planned harvests through DNR’s Harvest Map Viewer, a response comes back from someone who works for WestFor, not from a government employee. WestFor’s management of our crown lands may soon be solidified by a 10-year lease.
Nova Scotians need to ask themselves: should private industry be the steward of public lands? Should the fox look after the hen house? Should the foxes be allowed to work together to decimate the hens?
Not long ago, Nova Scotians fought long and hard to convince the government to “Buy Back the Mersey”. The massive tracts that had belonged to Bowater Mersey became part of our Crown lands with a net cost to taxpayers of $111 million. Nova Scotians thought that these lands would be managed for the benefit of all citizens, not for the monetary benefit of a few companies. Changes in forest management strategies were promised, particularly when the Natural Resources Strategy was implemented 6 years ago. A few changes have been made: the type of forest is assessed before the type of harvest is decided, but somehow the vast majority of harvests turn out to be clear cuts. Giving WestFor a 10-year lease to manage 1.4 million acres of Crown lands would give industry unprecedented access to public forests. It would tip the scales towards devastating industrial exploitation, with virtually no consideration for ecological and environmental values.
Perhaps the public is not fully aware of the inroads industrial forestry has made into our Crown lands, but during the 25 years up to 2014, the last year of published forest data, 42% of the operable forest in Nova Scotia has been clear cut. Satellite photos taken from Global Forest Watch show an alarming loss of forest in much of central and northern Nova Scotia (see Jan 14th Chronicle Herald article by Crossland,). Instead of engaging the public with transparent consultations, DNR is allowing a consortium of mills to decide when, where and how to cut our forests. What oversight is given to the decisions? DNR should recognize that Nova Scotians want greater transparency and meaningful public consultation around the allocation of public resources. This arrangement with WestFor must not continue. Government needs to assure the sustainability of our forests for the well being of our and future generations.