We can “cut less and do more” to foster a healthy forest economy in Nova Scotia

So said Robert Taylor, President of Taylor Lumber Co., in a presentation to the Nova Scotia Legislature Resources Committee today. The theme of the session was sustainable forestry. The other presenter was Jeff Bishop, Executive Director of Forest Nova Scotia.

Taylor Lumber Sawmill. Cutting residue is sent to their chipping plant for further processing or burned to produce electricity at their co-generating plant.(Click on photo to go to source page.)

Taylor Lumber is a family-owned business founded in 1936 that operates out of Middle Musquodoboit, with 90-110 employees. Taylor described it as a highly diversified operation focussing on sales and services locally, although they have been much more involved in exports in the past. It includes a saw mill producing 55 – 65,000 BFM/day, a finishing plant, a pallet plant, a dry kiln, a chipping plant, a co-generation biomass plant constructed in the mid-1990s, woodlots, and forest management services. The woodlots are FSc certified.

100% of our day-to-day operating energy needs are supplied by the power plant. Excess energy also goes back to the grid to power homes and businesses within a 30 km radius of our mill. Our wood burning facility is equipped with advanced technology that burns the off-gas a second time, ensuring the only thing coming from our stacks is water vapour.

They are working on a 5-acre greenhouse that will utilize waste steam. The family has always marketed their goods locally and recently opened an expanded store in Musquodoboit Harbour in affiliation with the TIMBER MART Group .

Taylor was talking from his 42 years of experience and that of prior generations in his family business. He says they cut less than they used to, but do more with it which creates more jobs. Waste from one process goes into another, all locally processed. The greenhouse will use waste steam, saving the 60% of costs that most greenhouses spend on energy. (I wonder also, if they might cycle some of CO2 from the co-generation plant through the greenhouse, as many plants respond to increased levels of CO2). So, he said, they will produce one head of lettuce as a by-product from harvesting one fir tree.

Taylor says as a province we need to push buying local, noting that Superstore and Sobey’s promote local farm produce, and we should do the same with wood. He’s not hot on government subsidies to industry (“pulp and paper bailouts result in poor business models”), but he says government could do much more to promote buying local and at the same time encourage sustainable forestry, e.g. by offering rebates to consumers building houses with lumber produced locally with wood coming from FSc-certified woodlots.

Nova Scotia is not a big player in the lumber trade, and while trade has its place in the Nova Scotian forest economy, the focus, says Taylor, should be local. He said local consumption of wood has the potential to use every piece of lumber produced by our mills.

Taylor is very encouraged by the current construction of a six story wooden building in Dartmouth, noting that the government just passed a new building code which allows such buildings. Such buildings offer tremendous carbon storage (sequestration) benefits and he said one 6-story building would use 1/12th of Nova Scotia’s lumber production for one year. He urged that we move quickly to allowing 12-story wooden buildings, noting that Quebec is already permitting them, so why not here.

Mr. Taylor’s sees promotion of local production and local use, rather than trade, as a way to vitalize and sustain our forest economy. Diversifying operations at the local level is a way to make efficient use of what we cut and to increase local employment.

He expressed a worry related to the softwood lumber trade issue, suggesting that there is a downside if Nova Scotia gets its coveted exclusion and the western producers face high tariffs. One result could be that the B.C. producers would ship more lumber to Nova Scotia, undercutting local producers who have higher costs because of the high stumpage fees in Nova Scotia (currently $38/metric tonne, compared to 1-5$ in the west where most of the land (93% in B.C.) is Crown land.

It’s not clear why Nova Scotia’s stumpage fees are so high, but Mr. Taylor thinks they should be much lower. He also said that the extensive paper work and field work that they have to do to access Crown Land should be done by NSDNR, as it used to be. As it stands, the private companies have to do the work and NSDNR still follows up with their own assessments, which doesn’t make sense. Both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Bishop were asked if NSDNR needs to have more resources to do its job. Bishop said yes, Taylor said no.

Resources Committee member MLA Lenore Zann noted that the government had backed off its commitment coming out of the Natural Resources Startegy to reduce clearcutting to 50% of all cuts and asked the presenters whether they supported the original 50% target. Taylor responded with his theme that we must do more with less and said that most of their clearcuts were less than 5 acres! I think that astounded most of the listeners (about 15 MLAs and a dozen guests.)

The response to the question from Forest Nova Scotia’s Jeff Bishop was unfortunately predictable and followed NSDNR’s messaging on the topic in August of last year. To paraphrase, if we use the governments ELC (Ecosystem land Classification) and follow all the rules, then we are letting the forest tell us what’s appropriate, and “that’s a better model than an arbitrary number”. [The number was hardly arbitrary – see page 41 in The Path We Share.]

Zann continued to push back on the clearcutting issue (and several others did as well), saying that she is getting a lot of flack from constituents, such as cottagers who are seeing clearcuts coming close to lakes, algal blooms in the lakes, and are concerned about herbicide spraying. “People are getting worried”, she said.

Mr. Bishop said, to paraphrase, people have a romantic notion about forests, we are trying to educate the public… we take teachers into the woods and see a remarkable change in attitudes…clearcuts often look unsightly, but they are absolutely the right tool when we use the scientific tools to decide what’s best for a particular site.

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Although the speakers did not attempt to debate or upstage or even contradict each other, their views of what is needed for sustainable forests and a sustainable forest economy in Nova Scotia were very different.

We hear a lot from the big players and from our own government about the importance of trade, the need to cut costs to be competitive, the need to develop new products such as biofuels that can make use of low value wood, the search for export markets for our “Fibre Basket“, the need to consolidate softwood sawmill capacity and so on.

Mr Taylor seems to be saying.. we aren’t that big and it isn’t that complicated; we need to do things we have always done on a local level, only better, and take advantage of new technologies. And he was talking from experience, not from a speculative economic model.

I hope more of Taylor’s ilk speak up and like him, tell the politicians to get off their butts and come out and see what they are doing. I plan to do so!

Addendum (Aug 9, 2017): View Hansard for this session: Forest Nova Scotia and Taylor Lumber Company Sustainable Forestry (Apr 20, 20170


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