While we wait for “The Report”, it’s the same old same old from our two Nova Scotia pulp mills; and some thoughts on what the Independent Review will recommend

While we wait in some kind of suspended animation for the Report from the Independent Review of Forest Practices following the last formal comment on April 30, 2018, the two major drivers of dissatisfaction with forestry practices in Nova Scotia – our two remaining pulp mills (Northern Pulp at Pictou, and Port Hawkesbury Paper at Port Hawkesbury)  – continue to issue defensive statements about their practices.

From PHP:

County council talks forests, intersections
The Casket, Jun 22, 2018
ANTIGONISH COUNTY, N.S. – A comprehensive presentation from Port Hawkesbury Paper personnel, on forest management practices, took up a good portion of the time, and generated the most discussion, during the Municipality of the County of Antigonish regular monthly council meeting, June 19.

“It was a chance for council to ask questions and also hear about some of the forest management practices that are ongoing, with Port Hawkesbury Paper.”

The presentation ventured back, a few times, to the necessity of clear-cutting in some cases.

“As they said tonight, clear-cutting is part of the treatment that is needed,” McCarron said.

He talked about the importance of the company.

“You start to see the second and third generation forest starting to emerge and the goal is to make sure they honour the things they need to honour to keep their certification,” he said. “It’s a big employer in eastern Nova Scotia and a big contributor to the economy of Nova Scotia, so it’s important that we hear what they have to say.”

View also: Port Hawkesbury Paper defends how it manages woodlands
Aaron Beswick in the Chronicle Herald, Jun 12, 2018. “Claims its silviculture activities are for the good of the province”

From Northern Pulp:

New System will improve Northern Pulp’s footprint
“Sponsored Content” in the Chronicle Herald, no date provided but a google search indicates it first appeared Mar 3, 2018

On a Northern Pulp Facebook Page, apparently created Jan 29, 2018, Northern Pulp makes posts about its commitment to sustainable forestry (June 24, 2018), workplace safety (June 21, 2018), and how “Northern Pulp has allowed graduates from post-secondary institutions like NSCC to make their home in a rural community” (June 14, 2018).

Northern Pulp, as a major consumer of “low value wood”, drives  a lot of clearcutting in NS, but is  challenged additionally by its plan to replace the Boat Harbour effluent treatment system with a new process and disposal of processed effluent directly into the Northumberland strait, threatening fisheries.

Northern Pulp is very explicit about its position on “The Pipe”: “No Pipe, No Mill“. A major anti-pipe rally is scheduled for July 6.

PHP also disposes of treated effluent, but it goes directly to the Atlantic Ocean which, apparently, is OK. At least no one has made a fuss about it. (As a marine biologist doing my PhD research in the 1960s, I have witnessed the transition of the Atlantic Ocean going from a state  that was virtually unchanged compared to the previous 100’s of thousands to millions of years, to an ocean that has undergone radical change in temperature, pH, active nitrogen content, plastics etc. within my lifetime.)

Both companies are making it pretty clear that they cannot afford to move away from clearcutting as their predominant harvest method.

The bigger sawmills are likewise  “dependent” on markets for low-value wood as those make clearcutting the most cost efficient method to harvest millable trees because everything is used. If there are only a few trees of sawmill quality in a cut, those are essentially by-products and remain cheaply priced compared to what it would cost to harvest them selectively from the same stand.

The trade-off, of course, is loss of ecological integrity and longer term production of high quality wood.  Wildlife, taxpayers and future generations of Nova Scotians subsidize the clearcutting of today.

My guess is that the Independent Review (IR) has accepted the arguments of the pulp mills and larger sawmills that in todays economic environment, they cannot afford not to clearcut. I am also guessing that the IR get’s whats wrong with clearcutting.

So I am guessing that the IR will recommend reduced clearcutting combined with some inducements/subsidies for mills (pulp and sawmills); and that the  delay in delivering the report is related to the need to make sure that the inducements/subsidies would not trigger NS losing its softwood exemption.

Some other guesses:

  • The IR will recommend formal adoption of triad zoning which would assign

    1/3rd of all NS forests, including protected areas, lands not suitable for harvesting, special management areas etc. to Forest Conservation Reserve (no harvesting)
    – 1/3rd to Intensive Forests Management  in the form of plantations and forests clearcut on approx. 50 year intervals, and
    – 1/3rd to Extensive Forest Management where only selective harvesting is permitted.

  • There will be a requirement to integrate triad zoning with Landscape Level Planning for biodiversity conservation (LSP is currently lacking).
  • There will be few new restrictions on harvesting on private lands, but to the extent that harvesting on private lands does not qualify as Extensive Forest Management, proportionally more than 1/3rd Extensive Forest Management will be required on Crown lands. In practical terms, this means that PTAs will have to include consideration of  past and current harvesting on adjacent lands, Crown and Private.
  • The IR will come out in favour of biomass/bioenergy/the bioeconomy but with a requirement for LCAs (Life Cycle Assessments); industrial forestry needs biomass demand for low quality wood as an alternative to pulp and paper.
  • The IR will recommend cap and trade/forest carbon credits (now complicated by Ontario leaving the system).
  • The IR will recognize the soil nutrient depletion issue; it will will recommend that PTAs  incorporate  nutrient budgeting.
  • The IR will call for more access to the Western Crown Lands by private operators not in the Westfor group
  • The IR will recommend that municipalities/counties are consulted in relation to Crown land harvest decisions but will not recommend legislative changes equivalent to tree bylaws in Ontario
  • The IR will make no recommendations related the The Pipe
  • The IR will recommend that NSDNR produce annual reports describing in some detail activities/projects over the past year; also that more information on DNR staff, their qualifications and specific responsibilities be posted on the DNR website.
  • The IR will recommend more/freer involvement of NSDNR scientific staff with the larger scientific community and with the Public at large; also that incentives for publishing in recognized scientific journals be introduced
  • The IR will be highly critical of some of the DNR science and require substantial modification or complete revision of related documents.
  • The IR will call for ongoing dialogue between different interest groups, e.g., mediated by MTRI.

These are not my wishlist items, but rather my guesses of the gist of the report/recommendations based on the Terms of Reference, the composition of advisory group, what I know they have have heard and likely have heard over the past 9 months or so and my impression of Prof. Lahey’s intentions/biases. Although I was skeptical initially, I became convinced that Prof. Lahay has sought to fully understand the major issues and genuinely wants to resolve them and/or find ways to bring Nova Scotians together to work towards their resolution.

If all of the above were realized in The Report, I would give it a grade of B. The lower-than-A-grade reflects my concern that humans in general are not doing enough to avoid predictable (and avoidable) ecological catastrophes in the near future.*

If all of the above were realized, that would leave two major issues still seriously festering: The Pipe, and Biomass.  The science of LCAs (Life Cycle Assessments) as applied to forest biomass/bioenergy has been highly politicized and I don’t think Nova Scotia has the wherewithall to address that issue independently.

I am curious how the IR will report/comment on “prior processes” (see Terms of Reference/Delivery of the Report, bulleted item #2), given that Prof. Peter Duinker (one of the expert advisors and the only local expert advisor) wrote a paper that essentially trashed the Natural Resources Strategy process (view Red flags and hopes for the Independent Review of Forestry Practices in Nova Scotia, post Nov 29, 2017). Duinker’s paper was published in an issue of the Dalhousie Law Journal ( vol. 70, p 55-70, 2012) for which Bill Lahey was the editor. I think Prof Lahey did not question the assumptions/conclusions of the Duinker paper at the time, but probably would today – perhaps even PD would do so after the last 9 months.

Anyone else care to make predictions while we wait for the real item?

*View Tomorrow’s Earth in Science Magazine (Jun 28, 2018)

As the human population has grown over recent decades, our profound impact on the entire planet has become starkly apparent. Increasing affluence has led to expectations of good-quality health care, full employment, and the ability to live in cities that are safe, affordable, and clean. Yet these advantages for some come at a cost to others and to the planet itself. Human activities have led to a warming climate, massive landscape conversion, pollution, depletion of natural resources (crucially, fresh water and soil), defaunation, and loss of biodiversity. Today, global human society stands at a decision point. Business-as-usual approaches are likely to lead to catastrophic changes to our planet and our health and well-being. What will it take for universal recognition of our perilous position, and how can we begin to make the often-difficult changes required to live in a more sustainable, cooperative, and compassionate way? In this special series, we call attention to these choices and explore some of the possible routes to a more sustainable future.

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