Why do we manage our Crown forests so bizarrely?

Jennifer McKenzie, The Daily Gleaner, October 18, 2017

Last Wednesday I was invited to speak at the Annual General Meeting for the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners.  They have been in the news lately as the Southern New Brunswick Forest Products Marketing Board and its sister group the Southern New Brunswick Wood Co-operative are in a lawsuit with J.D. Irving Ltd et al who are effectively challenging the marketing board legislation which was meant to  give the Woodlot Owners Association the right to negotiate and sell wood from private woodlot owners in their area.  The New Brunswick government has been silent during this whole affair.

This is the latest twist in a long standing dispute that has arisen from a sequence of bizarre decisions made by our government under successive Liberal and Conservative parties.  The consequences of these decisions are being felt mainly by woodlot owners in their pocket book. They are completely ham-tied trying to jump through the hoops of large industrial players and the government’s mismanagement of the forestry file.

If you read my last column on Governance, you would know that I took issue with the first strategic objectives listed at the top of every report submitted by ministries to the Public Accounts Committee.  The first objective listed on all reports is More Jobs.  So perhaps that explains the way that we have managed and continue to manage our forests and Crown Land?  In fact, by Statistics Canada’s figures, the number of jobs created by the forest sector over the past fifteen years is on a decline. Since a high of almost 20,000 jobs in 2004, we have lost over 30% of our forestry jobs, a good many of them gone from the Pulp and Paper industry.  So what then explains this Gordian knot of a problem?

From the government’s own private forest task force report in 2012: “Over the past decade, forest policy innovation in New Brunswick has withered”  “Important provisions of the Crown Lands and Forest Act (1982) and the Natural Products Act (1999) have been neglected” and “Proportional source of supply provisions have not been effectively implemented, and despite its legislated authority, the New Brunwick Forest Products Commission does not arrive at an equitable price for purchased primary forest products”  “Conflicts among private woodlot owners, the government and parts of the forestry industry remain unresolved.”  Why hasn’t this been resolved five years later on?

An NDP government would implement a new forestry strategy.  We would consult with all stakeholders to develop a plan to allow a variety of forestry industries  to have access to Crown forest while encouraging older growth forests, stopping the clearcutting that is detrimental to forest and soil ecology; and stopping spraying of glyphosates and other sprays harmful to forest health and possibly human health.

Most of the best forestry practices of the world agree that a diverse forest is a healthy forest and that creating a monoculture or a forest with less diversity is an unhealthy way to manage our woods.  Indeed, why then do we spray our forests with glyphosate, allow clearcutting only to replant and cultivate a few select species over much of it?

The NB forestry industry creates fewer jobs per acre of forest land than in our neighbours in Quebec, Ontario and Maine. Why is this?  One  reason is the failure move to insure value added to forestry products industry here in the province. Under an NDP government, our Crown land would be managed to support emerging value-added industries in the province for the benefit and jobs of many New Brunswickers.  We would encourage innovation and high value products for use here and around the world.

An NDP government would review best practices from around the world and find a made in New Brunswick solution to provide fair access, while being environmentally and socially responsible and providing the best economic advantage possible to as many people as possible.  We would take back the management of our forests from large corporations.

New Brunswickers know the woods.  We have many highly trained and highly skilled woodsmen and craftspeople across this province who are either unemployed or under-employed.  Let’s allow their creativity to shine through and let’s become an example of how a province can use its abundant resources to create a variety of jobs while preserving the natural beauty, health and vitality of our forests.

Maybe then the knot will start to unravel?

 

Jennifer McKenzie

Leader of the New Brunswick New Democrats