Science issues and lack of landscape/watershed level planning by Nova Scotia DNR limit what can be achieved through forest certification

I am hoping that once the report from the Independent Review of Forest Practices is in, FSC will move quickly to improve FSC standards without waiting for NSDNR to improve Crown land forestry standards.

Under the Chronicle Herald’s Voice of the People for Feb 16, 2017, Bob Bancroft reminds us that “recently the Nova Scotia government dropped FSC certification on public (Crown) lands in central and western Nova Scotia, proclaiming SFI to be the “new” standard”, a move he says amounts to “green-washing more environmental damage, and once again bowing to the will of the forest industry.”
Read more

View also:
Finally, a ray of light amid Nova Scotia’s forestry gloom?
Chris Miller and Matt Miller
Government flip-flop on FSC Certification a major step backwards for public forests, EAC March 1, 2016

I have long been a fan of certification as a means to allow consumers to drive environmental and social change well ahead of government which, understandably in a democracy, tends to follow rather than lead public sentiment; or when government takes a sharp turn to the right and summarily dismantles progressive change in years past. (I was actively involved in the development and application of certification protocols for organic farming in N.B. in the 1980s and 90s.) However, there are limits to what’s possible when government/bureaucracy is well behind the curve.

When I made a comment in an online discussion forum to the effect that even FSC certification doesn’t necessarily ensure all is OK with forestry environmentally in Nova Scotia, I was contacted by some FSC reps about my concerns. That move alone separates their response from government, where the same concerns expressed in detail in various submissions to government 2009-2016 were met with form replies from the Minister concerned assuring me all is well.* (I started this blog in 2016 as an alternative approach.)
Another example of FSC response: following the Call for input to FSC Forest Management Reregistration audit on Nova Scotia Crown lands managed by Port Hawkesbury Paper, I submitted some comments to FSC about some some cutting on FSC certified lands in eastern Nova Scotia that was less then stellar, and this was followed up with several e-mails back and forth about the situation which they then checked out.

I had two questions for FSC:

(i) How does FSC incorporate landscape level planning for biodiversity conservation into harvest decisions in Nova Scotia?

(ii) How do considerations of soil acidification/base cation depletion enter FSC harvesting decisions in Nova Scotia?

From the FSC response regarding landscape level planning for biodiversity conservation:

Treatment recommendations are based on provincial ELC, FEC and field cruise observations. Selection mgmt. recommended and promoted when appropriate… for even aged mgmt, recommended harvest treatments are roughly 40% (area based)… Consulting with one of the gurus (Al Stinson, retired, Ministry of Natural Resources – Ontario) of uneven aged mgmt., it was suggested the short term approach in Nova Scotia should be promoting shelterwoods (even aged systems) to the vast majority of our hardwood resource because it has been degraded so much over time. Basically, if the composition, quality and vigor are not present, it is better to implement a shelterwood for the next rotation and build towards an uneven aged system.

….I will point you to our High Conservation Value Framework. This includes the landscape level. In general, the approach is to maintain forest connectivity when large intact forests or wildlife habitat are identified.

So, on landscape level planning for biodiversity, FSC appears to be doing the best they can do with the tools and information at hand. At 40% even aged-management, their percentage comes close to the percentage of the landscape that NSDNR estimates is characterized by frequent disturbance regimes which is 43% (apparently recently reduced to 35%).  In contrast, the percentage of Crown land harvested for even-aged management is given in a federal database  for 2015 as 83.7% (9493 ha out of 11,234 ha total).

To complicate matters, NSDNR’s interpretation of natural disturbance regimes, which FSC evidently (and understandably) follows, is considered by most scientists outside of NSDNR to be unduly biased towards frequent disturbance regimes and hence clearcutting. (See NSDNR’s nature-based forestry). So while FSC can be seen as doing the best it can to practise Ecosystem Based Forest Management and emulate natural disturbances in its harvesting, that goal may be limited in practice by its reliance on NSDNR interpretation of natural disturbance regimes.

The Independent Review of Forest Practices in Nova Scotia is examining NSDNR’s science around natural disturbance. I recently participated in a workshop held by the Independent Review on that topic and the Independent Review is certainly well aware at this point, if not initially, of the flaws in NSDNR’s science related to landscape level planning.

On the second issue – on  whether  soil acidification/base cation depletion enter FSC harvesting decisions, FSC commented:

While we understand the impact of acidification and nutrient depletion over time and the ability of the forest to filter / buffer the effects, this level of planning detail does not come into our strategic level planning past what has already been mentioned above.

Having said that, we are actively pursuing a carbon sequestration project which would promote more selective mgmt. systems as a viable financial option. In short, selling carbon offsets would require selective treatments to maximize carbon storage over time. In fact, if a carbon project were realized, we would see positive impact in all landscape level concerns.

and in a separate response:

..regarding watersheds specifically, we have attempted to refer to guidelines provided by the municipal supply managers themselves as there is no over-arching standard in the province for practicing in a watershed or water supply area. I have not yet come across a standard to follow. Typically, we are left with the standard best mgmt. practices at the stand level as you say.

I am not surprised by the response, given (i) severe soil acidification/base cation depletion is largely an issue peculiar to Nova Scotia and perhaps Newfoundland;  and (ii) NSDNR has done very little to highlight the issue in the public realm, although it is well aware of the issue internally, and has conducted extensive related research.

Regardless, there is probably no more serious limitation to productivity and forest ecosystem health and biodiversity in Nova Scotia over the intermediate to longer term than soil acidification/base cation depletion – and to aquatic health currently and over the next decades.  Read more under Calcium Depletion on this website.

So while FSC standards do, I believe, indicate a higher level of care than can be assumed for forestry practised in Nova Scotia than is not FSC certified, there is still a long way to go for it to be fully environmentally friendly.

I have to hope (i) the Independent Review will clearly identify the flaws in NDSNR science related to Landscape Level Planning, and highlight NSDNR’s non-application of what they already know about the the soil acidification/calcium depletion issue, and (ii) FSC will realize at that point that these are fully valid issues and move to improve their own standards without waiting for NSDNR to do so.

On a separate note, I encourage people who view examples of poor forestry practices to check out whether those are occurring on FSC certified land, and to report them to FSC. They do appreciate such input and will respond.


On FSC Certification:

Guide to FSC Certification for Woodlot Owners in Nova Scotia
Produced by MTRI. The general approaches to management of an Acadian forest promoted by FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) are described. Chs 7,8, 9 provide a lot of natural history and guidelines on how to manage a forest to replicate as much as possible the natural forest. “Specifically, this guide attempts to answer the following questions:
– What is forest certification, and what is the Forest Stewardship Council?/ What benefits can certification offer to woodland owners?/
What does a woodland owner have to do to become certified?/ What are the benefits to joining a group of certified woodland owners?”

See also:
FSC Certification Standards for Best Forestry Practices in the Maritimes Region and the FSC Certification Standards for Standard for Small and Low Intensity Forests</a>. (January, 2008)
Government flip-flop on FSC Certification a major step backwards for public forests (EAC, March 1, 2016)
Going sour (grapes) on FSC certification: NS retaining only less rigorous SFI system on Medway forest Jamie Simpson Sep 16, 2016. He discusses differences between FSC and SFI systems of certification; the former is more rigorous.
FSC® Certification for Small Woodlot Owners
Nova Scotia Landowners and Forest Fibre Producers Association
Federation of Nova Scotia Woodland Owners & Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute – FSC Woodlot Certification Program -WOODLOT MANAGEMENT PLAN
The actual template used by woodlot owners for documenting compliance with FSC standards. See related documents at

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