Where to go with New Brunswick forests?
Public hearings into the Crown wood supply in New Brunswick have generated a wide spectrum of strongly-held viewpoints that could influence the future direction of the forest industry in the province.
By George Fullerton
Public hearings on the future of New Brunswick’s Crown land management and wood supply have garnered more attention then anyone expected. The all-party Legislative committee, which conducted the hearings across the province, originally scheduled seven days of public hearings. However, requests to make presentations increased at an unprecedented rate and the schedule grew to 13 days. The twelve-member committee is soliciting the general public’s views on opportunities and strategies arising from the report done by Jaakko Poyry as well as options and strategies for the future of Crown land management.
Jaakko Poyry Management Consulting Group, a Finland-based company with global expertise in forestry-related industries, had finalized a benchmarking study on Crown land management late in 2002. The company was contracted by the New Brunswick Forest Products Association, which represents Crown land licensees, and the provincial government. The goal of the study was to benchmark New Brunswick forest policy with other forest policies and practices around the world. The study concluded that if existing management practices were applied more widely, the wood supply from Crown land could be increased substantially—it could, in fact, be doubled. One of the key findings of the study was that Finland currently harvests 65 per cent more wood per hectare than New Brunswick on a sustainable basis.
The prospect of an exponential intensification of forest management—as well as a reference to guaranteeing wood supply levels to industry in the future—generated a very high level of public interest. The report outlined a scenario for Crown land forest management to double the softwood timber supply by 2050. Authors of the report were confident that doubling the area planted to 40 per cent of the Crown land base and increasing the area that is pre-commercially thinned to 18 per cent of the land base would double the current Annual Allowable Cut. The report assured that this increase in forest production could be accomplished without risking an impact on environmental or ecological values. Doing this requires some commitments, however.
Meeting the wood supply target would require increasing silviculture annual spending from $23 million to $50 million annually immediately, eventually tapering to $34 million annually. The report suggested that the forest industry was willing to underwrite part of the increased silviculture investment in exchange for a guarantee from the government that increased wood supply would be available to industry. Speaking to the Legislative Committee and a packed public gallery at the provincial legislature in Fredericton, Yvon Poitras, president of the New Brunswick Forest Products Association, commented that the presentation of the Jaakko Poyry study had been a strategic mistake. Poitras said the report’s wood supply scenario should have targeted six or seven times the current supply rather than just a doubling.
The Jaakko Poyry study was commissioned one year after the NB Forest Products Association wrote a letter to the Department of Natural Resources demanding that silviculture on Crown land be significantly increased in order to secure wood supply that would allow forest industry growth in the future. Background to this was that the association had seen 109,000 hectares of productive Crown land forest (250,000 cubic metres/year) turned into a series of Protected Areas and removed from the wood supply land base. Harvest access had also been reduced over the previous couple of decades, due to conservation objectives, including riparian buffer, habitat management and other special management zones. Currently, about 30 per cent of Crown land falls into special management zones. The association maintained that future industry expansion would require a guaranteed wood supply from the remaining productive forest land base—and assurance that there would not be any wood supply reductions due to changes in land use objectives.
In addition to strategic changes to current administrative and silviculture practices, the study pointed out immediate opportunities to increase wood supply by intensifying harvesting in riparian and special management zones which would increase the current wood supply by some 250,000 cubic metres annually. The suggestion that protected and special management zones could offer increased immediate wood supply was one of the key points challenged in the public hearings. In addition to an angry response from the more visible conservation voices, it had the remarkable result in bringing condemnation from the traditionally quiet conservation voices, including the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the New Brunswick Federation of Naturalists.
Many forest industry representatives appeared at the public hearings supporting the recommendations of the Jaakko Poyry study, and to restate the need for an increased wood supply. James Irving, President of J D Irving Ltd, explained that when they go to the bank looking for money to invest in production advances, the banks want to know where the wood supply is coming from. The banks want assurance that the wood supply will be there to ensure their return on the investment. Irving said that ensuring wood supply was key if Crown forests are going to continue to provide economic benefits to the citizens of New Brunswick to fund education and healthcare.
The industry’s strategy to win public support by citing economic benefits from Crown forests was balanced by presentations pointing out financial deficits that Crown lands operations have run in the past. Industry also received criticism for a decline in employment brought on by mechanization of harvesting, and industry concentration. The Jaakko Poyry Report received repeated criticism for a lack of depth and absence of references. Presenters from the academic community, especially, made a point of questioning and refuting many references made in the report. The claim that raising the area in plantation to 40 per cent of the Crown land base would continue to meet current wildlife habitat and community objectives was sorely challenged by many presenters.
The private woodlot sector took the opportunity to comment on the findings of the Jaakko Poyry study. In his presentation, James McCrea said that private woodlots represent about 30 per cent of the provincial forest land base. He said that the study was fundamentally lacking by not considering the private woodlot wood supply. He added that the wood supply projections of the study scared private woodlot owners, since they compete with Crown land wood in the marketplace. McCrea recommended that Crown land be relegated to secondary supply after private and industrial supply, and that silviculture investments on Crown land be matched to that of private woodlots. He concluded that for the private woodlot sector to remain viable, fair market access was essential. Community forestry was frequently promoted as an alternative to current Crown land management strategy, offering increased local employment, local community administration and a continued sustainable supply to industry.
A more diversified forest industry, with a focus on high quality timber products and more value-added manufacturing, was repeatedly offered as an alternative to the softwood commodity-based approach of the report. Rod Savidge, of the University of New Brunswick Department of Forestry and Environmental Science, suggested that rather than put more eggs in the same old softwood commodity basket, it was time to be thinking of a whole new basket. Dr. Savidge echoed many other voices who were concerned about the Crown land wood supply strategy remaining with the softwood, pulp and paper and commodity lumber sectors. Presenters pointed to the growing softwood supply from southern hemisphere plantation forests, which is currently creating a global glut—a glut which is expected to grow.
Combined with concerns for global warming which would reduce the productivity of northern softwoods, many commented that Crown land strategy would be better served with a focus that includes more high quality hardwood production. The Legislative Committee is expected to deliver a report on the public hearings to the legislature this March. In the final days of 2003, the New Brunswick Forest Products Association made an unprecedented move to build relations with the woodlot sector and invited provincial woodlot organizations to a meeting to discuss wood supply issues. The association also called on the provincial government to make a decision on increasing, decreasing or maintaining the status quo on Crown wood supply so that companies could detail their business management plans.
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