Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland’s recent announcement of a doubling of public land dedicated for protection is being celebrated by the province’s conservation community. This is a significant accomplishment and for the most part the forest industry views this as a positive step towards making our natural landscape more sustainable.
The forest industry has long been a silent partner in this endeavor and there is a significant backstory missing from the press releases, photo ops and social media posts accompanying the Minister’s announcement. It starts nearly three years ago when senior staff from the Department of Energy and Resource Development asked for a meeting with the chief foresters of the major forest companies. Forest NB convened the meeting with the purpose of exploring what was possible with regard to finding additional areas that could be put into conservation without negatively effecting the industry; a challenging proposition.
With over 200 years of combined forest management knowledge assembled in the meeting it was unanimously agreed that yes, there was indeed room for more. In fact, there were areas that were already effectively conserved because they were inoperable for harvesting purposes, or were unmapped because, for example, many creek beds are seasonally dry or not identified until a forester walks a forest stand in preparation of a harvest to identify and accommodate these types of discoveries. The modest estimate was that there was already nearly 40% of the public forest in some state of conservation when these additional areas were taken in account and added with the provincially designated 23%, including 4% in protected natural areas.
So what we knew was attainable then has been put into effect today in no small measure by the collaboration and cooperation shown by industry to validate what could be sustainably, both environmentally and economically, put into conservation. But what has truly enabled this move to greater conservation has been effective forest management. For all the criticism that has been made regarding the crown lands and forest act and the management style that it enables, including herbicide use, clear cutting prescriptions and, plantation, it is essentially this that has supplied the wood necessary to offset possible wood supply loss resulting from putting land into conservation.
It has taken time, but the system has worked and with continued careful management and access to forest management tools we can maybe even further our conservation expectations while ensuring wood supply for our industry. Additional conservation aspirations must also be viewed through the lens of full sustainability. Putting land, especially working forest, into conservation for simply the sake of conservation is not good policy. It must be purposeful. Let’s be cautiously optimistic that in the coming months we can translate our new conservation number into a tangible, purposeful contribution of clearly stated objectives of biodiversity, aquatic protection and habitat preservation and not simply an ever increasing exercise to run up conservation numbers.
The real work begins now and just as we were there when this was only a notional idea three years ago we will want to continue to collaborate to make this a success.
Mike Legere, Executive Director of Forest NB