New Brunswick’s New Forest Management Strategy Strikes a Balance
The Government of New Brunswick recently released the long awaited long-term forest management plan for New Brunswick’s Crown forest. This is a new balanced approach that will ensure the sustainability of our forests by increasing the yield of a wider variety of tree species in the future. It will maintain the important ecological diversity and features of the Acadian forest.
This strategy is the result of a diligent process with a multi-stakeholder Task Force report on Forest Diversity and Wood Supply otherwise known as “The Erdle Report”. It was followed up with a consultation process that included a public survey and a series of public meetings that were in addition to providing the opportunity to personally submit comments via the Internet or through the mail.
It has been, in our opinion, an encompassing process leaving no stones unturned. One thing is sure – the status quo is unacceptable if we desire both a diverse and healthy forest and a globally competitive forest industry in the future. That became evident throughout the process.
We offer the following comments on the recently released strategy.
First and foremost, it’s important to remember this is a long-term strategy that forecasts outcomes as far out as 100 years. The guidelines, principals and matrix were accepted by all members of the taskforce representing the forest stakeholders. It provides a stable basis for forest management, complete with potential outcomes that, from an industry perspective, allows for long-term planning that creates the potential to encourage long-term investment in the forest industry. Without a stable policy to manage by, it is challenging, if not impossible to encourage investment in an industry without knowing if the raw materials to supply that industry will be available down the road. From the environmental perspective it ensures the increase of hardwood species, it decreases clear-cutting and it increases the protected area.
Trees are a renewable resource and with careful and insightful planning we can, with reasonable accuracy, calculate and monitor the supply part of the equation as defined by the strategic direction chosen.
There are a number of desirable and achievable benchmarks within those 100 years to ensure we meet two important objectives – the first priority being the enhancement of efforts to ensure a diverse forest that maintains those characteristics unique to the Acadian forest all supporting clean water, clean air and variety of habitat and wildlife.
Secondly, this management strategy includes quantifiable objectives for a sustainable wood supply that includes a wider variety of species. Additionally, the strategy has identified that it is possible to increase that supply in the future (in 40 to 50 years) – this should help to insure that a healthy forest industry can be supported and will benefit our economy here in NB.
There is much to gain. If we do it right, we’ll encourage more investment that can create a wide range of employment opportunities in the forest industry for many generations. In turn this vibrant and globally competitive forest industry will continue to support an array of social values that will benefit all New Brunswickers.
This strategy has its shortcomings, particularly in the early going, but the New Brunswick forest industry will face these challenges with confidence, knowing that a building process has started. Let’s be clear. There is no additional wood that will be harvested under this plan in the short-term. As a matter of fact, there will be a significant reduction in the harvest of certain hardwood species.
Until the relatively recent past, the focus of efforts on increasing wood supply has been concentrated on spruce and fir. This was due to the bulk of the regional forest industry driven by products made from those species. Hardwoods did not receive much attention as it was available as a residual primary forest product from harvesting in the many mixed wood stands of NB. The result is that the annual allowable harvest of certain hardwoods was reduced over the past 10 years at a time when more mills increased their use of hardwood.
The new strategy recognizes the importance of managing the forest for a broader range of species. The plan will include management objectives for spruce, fir, jack pine, white pine, eastern cedar, poplar, sugar maple, yellow birch, red maple and white birch.
There will be a reduction in the amount of clear-cut type of harvesting that will enhance and maintain long-lived species so that we can ensure greater forest diversity. At the end of the day, the goal is to have a minimum 30 per cent of the public forest comprised of old forest.
This reduction in clear cutting, coupled with increasing the Protected Natural Areas from four percent to between six to eight percent, will result in a declining total wood supply, particularly hardwood, during the initial stages and increase cost for the industry.
The Government is planning some efforts to mitigate this loss of wood supply in both the short and long-term to help cushion the impact.
First, the announcement of an additional $5 million investment in silviculture is a step in the right direction, particularly if additional funding beyond that can be secured from the Federal Government to at least maintain historical levels of softwood silviculture. We believe they too can play a vital role in helping to rejuvenate the forest industry across Canada with strategic investments.
There is a need to increase silviculture dollars in the coming years, especially with a comprehensive management plan that is going to include hardwood and other softwood species besides spruce and fir. Not only will increased silviculture applications enhance tree growth, it will produce a more desirable and wider range of products for our industry in terms of larger dimension saw logs.
We believe this slight increase in silviculture investment will create only limited employment for forestry workers. A similar investment could, however, benefit private woodlot owners who represent an integral part of the wood supply equation. Their contribution to the wood supply is significant today, and will be critical in the future.
A healthy partnership between private woodlot owners and the forest industry will compliment this long-range strategy because wood supply from Crown land cannot satisfy all industry requirements. There will always be a need for wood from private woodlot owners.
We need the participation of woodlot owners and Marketing Boards to adopt many of these same strategies on their own woodlots to continue producing a high quality and desirable product. We are advocating an even greater investment in silviculture from government, particularly for hardwood.
Another more immediate offset to this loss of wood from reductions in clear cutting and shifting more land into Protected Natural Areas is the decision for a reduction in management areas referred to as the conservation forest. Conservation forests are carefully managed areas, where harvesting is already permitted and support a wide range of flora and fauna. The decrease will not compromise already stringent environmental protocols that protect areas such as watersheds or deer wintering areas.
Long-term wood supply will be enhanced through tree planting. There are instances in New Brunswick where earlier plantings and subsequent management are beginning to yield up to three times more wood than unmanaged stands. That’s the benefit of good science, and while that forest is growing it supports a diverse range of vegetative communities and animals.
This policy of permitting a small increase in maximum plantation area contributes to the medium term (50 years) increase of 75% in spruce and fir harvest availability. The focus of pre-commercial thinning activity on hardwood species will delay the realization of the increase, but contribute greatly to added forest diversity. This is a policy that advocates forest diversity while using the science that has gained New Brunswick an international reputation in forest management.
Forest management is a complex science, but the biggest challenge our industry currently faces is more than growing the wood supply. We have the science, two university faculties of forestry, community colleges and forestry schools, an incredibly knowledgeable workforce and now, a long-term strategy to do just that.
Our challenge is to struggle through the current economic crisis and emerge leaner and more efficient and more productive. Despite the current economic climate, I want to ensure the public we are working with all levels of Governments, Marketing Boards, and private woodlot owners to create the necessary tools needed to compete during this slowdown.
We are constantly exploring new uses for wood, building partnerships, exploring options for biomass and looking at ways to do our business in a fashion that continues to respect the forest diversity and forest values we cherish in New Brunswick. Members of the forest industry, like the rest of New Brunswicker’s want to ensure that we conduct our operations and contribute to environmental and community sustainability.
Mark Arsenault is President and C.E.O. of the New Brunswick Forest Products Association
1350 Regent Street
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Canada, E3C 2G6