An assessment of Nova Scotia L&F’s progress in implementing Ecological Forestry in response to the Lahey Report, Part 2: The HPF and FMG projects 27Aug2020

It seems there is still a long way to go before they hatch. In the meantime, logging on Crown land continues pretty well unabated.

The Report from the Independent Review of Forest Practices in Nova Scotia (the “Lahey Report”)  was released on Aug 21, 2018.
View L&F: Ecological Forestry Implementation for the report and the L&F response to date.

In a recent CBC interview, the L&F Minister of Lands & Forestry was asked how he would “evaluate the progress L&F  has made since the Lahey Report was submitted 2 years ago and “what is a reasonable expectation for the public in terms of when they might start seeing some measurable progress on some of the larger goals in this report?”

The Minister responded:

The progress has been significant when you look at the resources that have been put into the project teams and the fact that most recommendations are advancing out of the 45…we are seeing a lot more long-lived shade-tolerant species being left on the ground which is a cost to government and to industry, they have had challenges around that, they not as vocal as the side that wants to see no clearcutting.  (From Abbreviated Transcript)

In a previous post (Aug 25, 2020), I commented on the second part of the Minister’s response: “we are seeing a lot more long-lived shade-tolerant species being left on the ground which is a cost to government and to industry, they have had challenges around that, they not as vocal as the side that wants to see no clearcutting.”

In this post and in the next, final post on the topic, I comment on  how the Projects referred to by the Minister are progressing, at least to the extent that can discerned from the outside.

The Minister cited the  Forest Management Guide (FMG) and the High Production Forestry (HPF) Projects in particular:

No 2 [that is happening], the [Forest management] Guide as I said is being strengthened and it is being worked on with the authors of the report and we are making a lot of progress.. but at the same time you have  to appreciate that Ecological Forestry, the way it is implemented in the report is through the Triad systems.

So we are going to need some support for the High Production leg of the Triad. I know there is criticism on that side of things but it has to be a balanced approach in how we actually implement the recommendations…and we are only going to get there only if we are working on all 3 legs of the Triad simultaneously, including the conservation leg where we see there will have to be more protected areas and there are some under consultation now.

So where are we with respect to (i) completion & implementation of the Forest Management Guide which would direct how forestry is to be conducted in the Matrix (Ecological Forestry) component of the Triad; and  (ii) completion & implementation of the High Production Forestry component of the Triad?

Following  is my understanding of the current state of the FMG and HPF Projects.

Forest Management Guide
-From the initial   June 25, 2019 document describing the Project:

Project Objective
To review and update the current Pre-treatment Assessment (PTA) Process and the Forest Management Guide (FMG) to focus on long-lived, uneven-aged management species in support of the conservation and sustainable use of Nova Scotia’s natural resources

Next Steps and Timelines
• Summer 2019: Select team members, including experts have, or will visit Maine, Quebec, and Western Nova Scotia to explore shelterwood and retention levels; Prepare an initial draft of the revised FMG/PTA process for targeted stakeholder input
• Fall 2019: Broader stakeholder engagement on draft FMG (including targeted stakeholder input)
• End of 2019: Finalize the revised FMG that includes stakeholder input

There was a stakeholder consultation in Aug of 2019 (I participated as a rep of the Healthy Forest Coalition).

As currently stated (document created/modified May 20, 2020), we were/are still to expect

• Winter/Spring 2020: Targeted stakeholder and public consultation

My understanding of the Current Status : There was a 2nd stakeholder consultation  in early 2020. My understanding is that the Guide is far from completion – at least there is far from a consensus amongst “stakeholders”  on the suitability of the draft content they reviewed. No pubic consultation has been announced. There is no  publicly available info on the state of the PTA process.

High Production Forestry (HPF)
From the initial June 25 2019 document describing the Project:

Project Objective
To develop a strategic approach, involving methods and procedures for identifying, ranking and selecting sites
for High Production forest management on Crown land

Next Steps and Timelines
• 2019: Finalize definition of HPF and develop draft selection criteria at the provincial scale for
stakeholder feedback [Targeted (Summer/Fall 2019), Broad (Fall 2019/Winter 2020)]
• Winter 2020: Final Report on Phase 1 deliverables

According to  the currently posted document (created/modified May 20, 2020), we were/are still to expect:

• Winter 2020: Stakeholder consultations
• Spring 2020: Finalize definition and criteria in Spring 2020.

Current  Status, as available to the public:

– A link to a “Research paper on the triad ecological forestry model” appeared on the Ecological Forestry webpage in late 2019.  The document is titled TRIAD – A NEW VISION by Dr. Graham Forbes (one of the two external experts for the HPF project).The document has a “Created Date” (accessible under Document Properties) of Oct 7, 2019.

– On Feb 19, 2020, L&F released a High Production Forestry Phase 1 Discussion Paper to the public with a request for feedback by Mar 13, 2020, later extended to Mar 31, 2020.

There has been no subsequent comment/update from L&F on its status.

The Discussion Paper generated a lot of public comment.

Marcus Zwicker of WestFor was OK with it, ‘thought it would meet wood supply needs; Port Hawkesbury Paper’s Andrew Fedora was concerned about an initial drop in wood supply (view CBC News Mar 12, 2020). The difference in perspective likely reflects differences in wood volumes currently on Crown lands in western and eastern NS respectively, the former currently holding a lot of high volume, mature/multi-aged forest, the latter not nearly so much.*
* See maps in Post on NSFN Oct 29, 2018. Lahey & Co. had predicted that implementation of the recommendations would result in at least a transient reduction in wood supply of 10 to 20%, “with the loss being distributed unevenly across regions, depending primarily on the character of the forests on Crown land from region to region”, however the Minister disagreed from early on, generating some suspicion that ‘the fix was in’ –  view NSFN posts of Mar 15, 2020, and Aug 20, 2020.

Comments from more environmentally oriented folks have been much more critical. A major issue, highlighted by Shelly Hipson,  concerns the proposed assignment of lands to HPF and to the Ecological Matrix.

As summarized  in the HPF Phase 1 Discussion Paper and  by CBC Mar 12, 2020 (bolding mine):

From the HPF Discussion Paper
One approach to satisfying these [different] demands is to divide the land into zones, each managed to provide a specific set of desired values. Triad zoning exemplifies this concept (Seymour and Hunter 1992, Lahey 2018 ) and divides the forest into 3 zones; a conservation zone with no resource extraction (for conservation of biodiversity and natural processes); a highly productive zone supporting timber production; and an ecological matrix zone comprising the majority of the land base where there is a mix of biodiversity conservation and timber production 

From CBC Mar 12, 2020
The new regime would see 333,000 hectares (18.2 per cent of Crown land) be converted to high-production forestry. That means treating the land like a tree farm on 35-40 year crop rotations.
Forty-seven per cent of Crown land (862,000 hectares) would be managed to return to a natural Acadian forest type, primarily occupied by long-lived hardwoods (sugar maple, yellow birch, red oak, ash) and softwoods (pine, hemlock, red spruce). This regime would stress leaving standing dead trees and woody debris on the forest floor for wildlife habitat and microbiotic soil health.
The remaining 34.5 per cent of Crown land (630,000 hectares) would be off-limits to any harvesting or industrial activity because it either qualifies as old forest or is an established or planned protected area.

Hipson noted that L&F included a lot beside forests in the Ecological Matrix and calculated that the true ratio of HPF to EM  forest [or working forest] is closer to 1:1 than 1 to 2.6 (47/18.2).

From Shelly Hipson on People for Ecological Forestry in SW Nova Scotia (Public Facebook group)

Says Hipson: “We are concerned about clearcutting. We are not concerned about clearcutting land where you can’t clearcut.”

As well, by not including the immediately contiguous or enclosed non-harvestable areas in  the proposed HPF sites,   the  area that will be impacted environmentally by HPF is under-stated – it is clearly much larger than 18% of Crown land.

What should the actual ratio (or percentage) of HPF be? From Lahey, Conclusion 36

Areas where ecological forestry would  be practised would form a matrix surrounding protected areas and high‐production areas.  Their function in the triad is to provide a substantial degree of ecosystem integrity across  the landscape, connectivity between protected areas, and forest products.

In Triad – A new Vision, Dr. Graham Forbes describes the Ecological Matrix as “the larger, dominant zone; the production forest and protected forest zones are embedded in this landscape”.  Lahey does not cite a specific percentage except that he said   (Conclusion 63) that clearcutting associated with HPF  would amount to 10-15% of total forest harvesting;  clearly that would not be achieved if the area of working forest under HPF is similar to the area of working forest outside of the HPF units.

Specific goals for the percentage of lands in each of the three components of the Triad were not cited by the original authors (inventors) of the Triad concept (Bob Seymour & Malcolm Hunter of the University of Maine, both on the team of Expert Advisors to Prof. Lahey), beyond the general principle that the objective is to increase the area of conservation areas + low impact forestry/ecological Forestry (the Ecological Matrix) by practicing high production forestry (HPF) on a relatively small area (versus lower production forestry on a larger area).*
* View Seymour, R.S. and M.L. Hunter, Jr. 1992. New forestry in eastern spruce–fir forests: Principles and applications to Maine. Maine Agr. Exp. Sta. Misc. Pub. 716. 36 p.
Seymour, R.S. and M.L. Hunter, Jr. 1999. Principles of ecological forestry. In M.L. Hunter, Jr. (ed.).Maintaining biodiversity in forest ecosystem. pp. 22–61. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA.

“The triad does not, as some have inferred, suggest an equal allocation; exact values in each sector must come from case-specific analyses” – Seymour & Hunter, 1992

Messier et al. (2009) modelled three scenarios of a Triad system that could be applied to an area of boreal forest in Quebec and noted:

The TRIAD scenario with the highest proportion of land in the wood production and conservation zones (40% and 20%, respectively) had the highest timber production and the lowest cost. Thus, if as a society we are willing to accept a high proportion of more intensive wood production (40%) to compensate for a high proportion of protected area (20%), there is strong economic support for such a scenario. However, depending on the economic and social value of conservation (e.g., from tourism, recreation, improved quality of life, water quality, air quality, etc.) and the efficiency of the ecosystem management zone in providing wood while preserving biodiversity, other TRIAD scenarios may be more desirableMessier et al. 2009. TRIAD zoning in Quebec: Experiences and results after 5 years. The Forestry Chronicle 85, 885-896

In other words, you can make the Triad produce the wood you want – which is what L&F has apparently done in this first draft – but what is called for is consideration of  the other values.  In the case of NS,  it is those other values that Lahey has said should have priority on Crown lands, not logging.

“In other words, I have concluded that protecting ecosystems and biodiversity should not be balanced against other objectives and values as if they were of equal weight or importance to those other objectives or values. Instead, protecting and enhancing ecosystems should be the objective (the outcome) of how we balance environmental, social, and economic objectives and values in practising forestry in Nova Scotia.” – William Lahey, Aug 2018

Simply put, the proposal put forth in the HPF Discussion Paper does not do that, it priorizes logging.

Also relevant is the size of the HPF units – will there be many small units or fewer larger ones? Forest fragmentation is cited by Seymour and Hunter (1992) as one consideration in that regard – so we can ask, for example,  ‘how will the HPF units affect connectivity of the natural (non-industrial) forest?’ Seymour and Hunter (1992) comment that “The location of harvest areas on the landscape is also critical”. So there is  a lot still to be fleshed out.

There were many other issues raised in submissions that have been shared publicly e.g., see
HFC Response to High Production Forestry Discussion Paper
Posted on Healthy Forest Coalition Public Facebook Page;  the document is Dated March 31, 2020. Examples of concerns: “The HFC would like to view a more clear demonstration of how HPF would play out economically before being convinced that HPF is a ‘wise investment’. Can you supply us with more information regarding economic details? Who will fund HPF? Will taxpayers fund HPF? Are there subsidies?”
Conservation Committee of HFN comments on High Production Forestry Discussion Paper
Post on website of the Halifax Field Naturalists Apr 1, 2020. Primary concerns: “Need for Biodiversity Landscape Planning before finalizing HPF, Ecological Matrix components of the Triad, and for caution in selection of HPF sites in acid-stressed watersheds”
Addie & Fred Campaigne: Nova Scotia’s High Production Forestry Phase 1 omits consideration of Species-At-Risk and ecosystems (March 2020)

The most concerning omission from the High Production Forestry Phase 1 – Discussion Paper is how the current species at risk and Nova Scotia’s ecosystem take priority over the lands earmarked for High Production Forestry. There are formulas to ensure nothing happens to our current large scale sawmills and forest industry, but how do we ensure the survival of our critical species at risk and guarantee continuous ecosystems for them?

More recently, Bob Bancroft wrote an op-ed questioning the fundamental premises of the HPF/Triad approach

“Clearcutting followed by even-aged softwood plantings on former hardwood and mixed hardwood-softwood sites severely degrades these sites over a short period of time. The resulting ecological imbalance promotes pest infestations, disease, vulnerability to strong winds and stresses caused by hot, dry weather….” – Bob Bancroft in Chronicle Herald Aug 19, 2020

The Minister describes the forest industry as “not as vocal as the side that wants to see no clearcutting”. What does that mean, that L&F  doesn’t hear anything from Big Forestry, or that their communications are more cryptic?  Lahey  has called for much more transparency in L&F’s dealings; a good start would be to make all submissions and records of related meetings with stakeholders public.

Another major step has yet to be reported on

In addition to the analyses detailed in this discussion paper, the HPF team plans to complete a strategic, long-term wood supply analysis as part of Phase 1 of this project which will use the Crown Lands Forest Model (CLFM) to explore impacts of zoning varying amounts of total HPF area on Crown lands (e.g. 5%, 10%, 15%, 18%). Also included in this analysis will be the impact of ecosystem-based management (EBM) targets. This analysis, which will be a part of the Phase 1 final report, will allow the trade-offs of varying HPF area to be quantified when selecting the total area allocated to HPF in Phase 2. Input will be gathered from various stakeholders, the general public, L&F staff, and external experts through stakeholder engagement which will be used to finalize the Phase 1 report, detailing the methods and strategy used to identify potential HPF sites, along with potential wood supply and EBM target impacts of HPF. The final report will serve as the baseline for Phase 2 of the project, which involves site selection and classification of HPF on the landscape.

It is good to see that they will be modelling varying amounts of total HPF area on Crown lands” . However, it’s hard to see how  “This analysis…will allow the trade-offs of varying HPF area to be quantified when selecting the total area allocated to HPF in Phase 2” if the only “tradeoff” being looked at is wood supply.

Comment added Aug 29, 2020: Lahey’s Conclusions #85, 86 and 87 (attached below) are very relevant; it seems that  the paragraph cited above is attempting to address those conclusions to some degree, but it also seems weak in that regard.

In any case it seems we are a long way away from the initial schedule for completing HPF Phase 1

Winter 2020: Final Report on Phase 1 deliverables

…let alone to embark on HPF Phase 2.

In addition, in principle, several of the other Projects, notably Environmental Assessment, Old Forest Policy,  and Outcomes-Based Forest Management should be completed prior to completion of the FMG and HPF projects. I will comment on what we know about the progress of those projects in the next and final post in this series.

While we wait, likely for at least another year, logging on Crown lands continues pretty much according to ‘Industry Needs’ with minimal changes from the pre-Lahey practices.


From the Lahey Report, Conclusions 85, 86, 87

85. On wood supply, the Review team conducted a preliminary analysis of the impact that proposed changes for DNR’s ecosystem based system of management would have on wood supply. That analysis suggests a short term reduction in wood harvest from Crown land of between 10 and 20 per cent. It also suggests that the reduction cannot be addressed in the short term by shifting production either to high production sites on Crown land, including plantations, or to plantations on private land. More broadly, the analysis indicates that the reduction can be addressed by increased harvesting on other private lands, given that the sustainable harvest level (as estimated by DNR) is currently above actual harvest levels. The issue will be its economic availability and the cost of procurement and of harvesting. Further scenarios should be run, particularly to determine the impact on wood supply from Crown land of different levels of required retention on Crown land; that is, within the proposed 5-30 per cent range.

86. Otherwise, the Review team did not have the opportunity to complete the kind of analysis of my recommendations that industry urged me to complete. If such an analysis is part of the consideration of my recommendations, it should look at benefits as well as costs and it should look at both broadly, including ecological and social considerations as well as economic ones and consider all three in the long as well as the short term. These should be compared to the costs and benefits of current forest practices, again taking ecological and social as well as economic outcomes into account for both the short and the longer term. The analysis should be completed openly and transparently. This will not only ensure its credibility but help to avoid a flawed analysis. It will, for example, prevent the kind of discrepancy that occurred in the past when DNR commissioned a review of the cost to industry of the goal of reducing clearcutting to 50 per cent or less of harvesting in five years; instead of analyzing the impact of a reduction in the percentage of harvesting done by clearcutting, it analyzed the impact of a 50 per cent reduction in the volume of harvesting, a very different thing. Openness and transparency will also help to ensure that the analysis is conducted on the basis of fair, defensible, known, and openly stated assumptions.

87. Specifically, if there is to be a cost analysis of recommendations that limit or reduce clearcutting on Crown land outside of plantations, there should be a parallel analysis of the socio-economic and ecological costs of current harvesting practices on those Crown lands. For the reasons given in the preceding paragraph, this analysis should be conducted openly and transparently. This will ensure that there is clarity and accountability for the tradeoffs being made among economic, social, and environmental factors in decisions based on a costs/benefits analysis of my recommendations.

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