Anxiety about the Independent Review of Forest Practices in Nova Scotia

Anxieties are being expressed, but right now I am more optimistic than I have been. A prediction: one of Prof. Lahey’s messages will be ‘Get Involved, it’s your forest’

As the first deadline for a report from the Independent Review of Forest Practices in Nova Scotia passes, and the new deadline is little more than a month away, Dale Smith expresses concerns about the Terms of Reference and skepticism about the outcome:

Advocates for change have grasped onto the contention, reportedly affirmed by both the premier and DNR Minister Margaret Miller, that review project lead Professor Bill Lahey and his team of advisers have been given a “blank sheet” for their analysis.

It seems only reasonable to assume, however, that a blank-sheet mandate would have been intended to apply within the framework provided by the terms of reference. Otherwise, why would terms be set down as such?

If so, the resulting scenario can be expected to amount to little more than a tweaking of the status quo — which cynically might be likened to “putting lipstick on a pig.” Rarely do such efforts lead to much success, and never to widespread acclaim.

View more in COMMENTARY: Interpret forest review broadly by Dale Smith in the Chronicle Herald, March 27, 2018.

Please view Additional comments by Dale Smith (April 3, 2018)

I have been skeptical about the likely outcome of the Independent Review. However, after participating in a workshop organized by the Independent Review on Natural Disturbance Regimes in February which included a full suite of NSDNR staff and several critics, I am more optimistic. I felt Prof Lahey was sincere when he said he wants to understand it all, so he can make/endorse the critical recommendations and that he wants Nova Scotians to come together on forests and forestry as they are such an integral part of our landscape and culture (I am paraphrasing).

I think the delay in completing the report has been helpful to the we-need-fundamental-reform side with the Loon Lake story coming out and demonstrating so clearly the flaws in NSDNR science & management; likewise, the ongoing Pictou Mill fiasco, pressure to reduce GHGs; some very progressive initiatives by small private woodlot owners/mills etc.; and the continuing highlighting of forestry issues in the media.

Interestingly, Prof Lahey has run a tight ship; there seem to have been no leaks to the media, which I think helps him to keep an open mind and to ensure the outcome is one he is comfortable with. It also helps that Prof Lahey is President of Kings College, well recognized for fostering progressive, critical thinking.

So while it’s a bit of a nail biter waiting for the report (and how long will the public have to wait to see it, I wonder), I am hopeful the whole exercise will be seen broadly as worthwhile. At least that’s how I feel right now.

I have no illusions, however, that when the report comes out, those who have been advocating fundamental reform in management of Nova Scotia’s forest will be able to sit back and say, “well that’s done, now we can relax”. I will even predict that one of Prof. Lahey’s messages will be ‘Get Involved, it’s your forest’, paraphrasing, of course.


Additional comments by Dale Smith

Thursday, April 3, 2018.

Good Morning David,

I appreciate the reference in Forest Notes to the March 27th Op Ed in the Chronicle Herald that I submitted on the subject of the forest practices review process.

Forest or, more particularly, forestry practices, as well as related and overlapping considerations involving Crown land planning and management, are front-of-mind issues for many Nova Scotians, and Forest Notes plays a prominent role in presenting relevant information in a consolidated, up-to-date and accessible format.

This being said, I am concerned about the way the basic message in the piece is characterized in your accompanying commentary. Perhaps the wording I used was less than clear.

In particular, the concern is that the message in the Op Ed is described, albeit in part, as an expression of skepticism about the outcome of the review process – when in fact I have no basis for any such skepticism, as the review remains in progress and I have little or no insight into how it is proceeding.

Any skepticism that I may have, would be in regard to the seriousness of DNR’s intent in launching the review and to its commitment to implementation of recommendations that require real and substantive change.

The latter part of the Op Ed makes reference to the ‘blank sheet’ mandate that has been claimed (and reportedly affirmed by both the Premier and DNR Minister Miller) and questions how an open mandate meshes with terms of reference that are limiting. In an attempt to demonstrate the point, two quite different variations on possible outcomes are highlighted as examples – the first, a tweaking of the status quo and, the second, a prescription for reform (which I have termed ‘radical’).

Your commentary quotes three paragraphs from the Op Ed, the third of which references an outcome that might involve tweaking the status quo. In my view, it would have been a fairer and more balanced representation also to have quoted a fourth paragraph* (i.e. the one in the piece that follows immediately in the piece) that makes reference to an outcome that could advance a reform agenda.

[*“In sharp contrast, the need is for a reform agenda that reaches far beyond the narrow confines of the terms of reference in advancing a prescription for radical reconstruction — as in taking existing organizational structures and management processes apart and putting them back together in the form of rational, coherent and publicly supportable legislation, policies, plans, procedures and practices.”]

So, from my perspective at this point, I am probably somewhere between hopeful and apprehensive about the outcome of the review. If the resulting report advances recommendations that amount to a tweaking of the status quo, I will be disappointed and critical. If the report recommends significant reform that addresses important underlying issues and provides a prescription for fundamental change that is rational, coherent and publicly supportable, then the appropriate response should be commendation and support.

In short, I can only be hopeful that the forthcoming recommendations don’t tip-toe around inside the box delineated by the terms of reference but rather step outside with strong and purposeful strides forward toward a reform agenda that addresses the important issues that prevail.

At the end of the day, the ‘proof will be in the pudding’!

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comment and clarification.



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