Community Forestry

The Conservation Council’s plan suggesting the provincial government tie stewardship and management of forest resources on Crown land to local communities is woefully short on specifics. Until details are released, the concept leaves more questions than answers, making it virtually impossible to evaluate on any level.

The idea behind the plan, according to Council spokesperson Tracy Glynn, is to develop a policy to “explicitly tie wood allocations from the public forest to regions and communities.” How will this model work?

The concept of connecting Crown wood to regions and/or communities is generating public debate and discussion on the future of forestry in New Brunswick. It is a discussion that is both welcome and needed as we attempt to steer through the crisis that has beset the industry. Any attempt to foster a better economic understanding of how the business of forestry can improve in the province is a positive step and sets the stage for meaningful dialogue.

The proposed model generates a hard, albeit rhetorical, set of questions. First and foremost – is the Conservation Council simply suggesting a greater role, on behalf of communities, in the decision-making process when it comes to managing Crown land? Or is the proposal much broader in scope where communities will supply all the necessary investment in training, science and management to the program and ultimately decide where the wood fiber goes? Will we allow merchantable wood to stand and succumb to nature if there is no wood producing facility in the region, ignoring the fact that the wood fiber is critical to the survival and future growth of a facility farther down the road?

If the objective is to use Crown wood as “bait” to lure new investment and opportunity to a specific region then the question is – How long do we hold? More importantly, are we sending the wrong message to our own mills by telling them there is no room for growth or expansion because Crown wood is being held in escrow; all on the off chance a new business may want to start up?

There are pitfalls to regionalizing an industry that must compete globally. It will create undue hardship for those mills still standing. Let’s look at the issue from a different resource perspective. If a large mineral deposit were discovered in southern New Brunswick, would it make economic sense to hold that mineral deposit in the ground if we had a processing facility already operating in northern New Brunswick?

The idea of tying Crown resources, in this case wood fiber, to a specific region and/or community ignores a bigger reality — our forestry industry encompasses the entire province, it’s not specific to any one region. The industry creates employment in both rural and urban environments, province-wide. If we attempt to limit the movement of Crown wood to specific regions are we doing so at the expense of a forestry worker in another part of the province? Forestry involves much more than just processing wood fiber – there are contractors on the ground harvesting trees, contractors who truck the wood fiber, mechanics, forest technicians, and a host of other workers who contribute to an integrated chain constitutes our forest industry.

We understand the desire to rejuvenate the communities that have suffered though catastrophic job losses with mill closures. The only way to mitigate this hardship is to ensure a “new look” forest industry that is vibrant, competitive and environmentally responsible to all New Brunswickers.

In our discussions on forestry we need to remember that problems plaguing the forest industry are not unique to New Brunswick – every jurisdiction dependent on forestry is fighting the same issues. Our future success will depend on how we utilize our strengths right now. We have a skilled workforce, a world-renowned forest management regime combined with sound environmental protocols, sustainable forests and we have a solid core of wood-producing facilities still in operation. The secret is to balance these assets with sound science, so when the economic recovery in the forest industry takes place, it will be a province-wide recovery. For that to happen we need participation and dialogue from every corner of New Brunswick.