As well as addressing widespread concerns about the extent and intensity (clearcutting) of logging in Nova Scotia, the Independent Review of Forest Practices in NS, aka, The Lahey Report, was tasked to “Evaluate market access for private forest owners, particularly in the western region, and provide recommendations to address any identified issues.”
One of the issues: the influence granting a consortium of 13 mills (WestFor) exclusive access to the Western Crown Lands on small contractors and woodlot owners in SW Nova Scotia.
” I heard quite a bit about about the disposition of the western Crown lands, largely acquired from Bowater. While some of these lands have become part of the province’s network of protected areas and others remain in the state they were in when acquired, there is disagreement with DNR’s decision to provide a licence to WestFor Management Inc. to allow mills that constitute WestFor to harvest on a significant portion of these former Bowater lands. I also heard from many about their dissatisfaction with market conditions for contractors and woodlot owners in the western part of the province. For the most part, these submissions claimed causation between DNR’s grant of a licence to harvest Crown land and perceived market access issues. That said, many also spoke about the effect on woodlot owners of the distance of parts of the western region from potential buyers after the closure of the Bowater Mersey paper mill. I address these points further below, finding that the perception of cause and effect between licensing of harvesting on the western Crown lands and market conditions in western Nova Scotia are not consistent with the data. Lahey, p. 6.
At the time (2017/2018), there was weaker pricing overall, intensified in SW Nova Scotia by the closure of Bowater Mersey pulp mill, and concerns revolved largely around markets for low value wood/pulpwood.
Lahey Report Appendix section 21.6: The gap between supply and demand suggests that woodlot owners will generally have weaker pricing power in the west and purchasers can be choosier about which woodlots they will purchase wood from. This pressure intensified with the closure of the Bowater Mersey pulp mill, which removed the major user of low‐grade timber from the regional market, leaving Northern Pulp as the next closest major user. (The Brooklyn power plant, now owned by Emera, has been very uneven in its use of wood sourced directly from the forest.) The Review heard on numerous occasions that the break‐even distance for sales of pulpwood is 150 km. Accordingly, to the extent the western woodlots are located beyond that distance from a low‐grade user, they may be challenged to sell their timber. If they have a high proportion of pulpwood in their woodlots, they won’t get much revenue at all, and if they have a high percentage of sawlogs, they can get their woodlots cut, but their return will be limited due to little revenue from the pulp component. Thus, certain woodlot owners in western Nova Scotia face an economic choice that is different from other woodlot owners in the province.
Well, while we continue to wait for L&F to implement the Lahey recommendations which at least addressed management of the western Crown lands, if not the smaller operators’ concerns about market access, times have changed.
Another mill (Northern Pulp) closed. The initial fears about the impacts of its closure on the market for low value wood/chips have partially dissipated as other buyers are found; then Covid19 stayed around long enough to generate a boom in home renovations and with it, an upsurge in the demand and price for lumber.
All of a sudden the big sawmills in NS are doing just fine.
But at least one small contractor in SW Nova Scotia is not. In a CBC Info AM interview, Ken Gray explains.
View listen to
Wood prices dismal, says logger
On CBC Info AM Sep 17, 2020.
I have provided an “abbreviated transcript”* below, bolding is mine.
*I often post “abbreviated transcripts” of interviews on radio and TV as a matter of record, a prime objective of this blog being to keep track of Nova Scotia forestry in the news (see About this site). One can listen to the interviews, but in this rushed world it’s faster to read the transcript, albeit you miss some of the nuances. It is not Hansard, and for the sake of getting though it in less than a day, the transcript is not always precise, but I attempt not to change the essence of what is said in any way, and in most cases one can check out the original audio files or videos. I also do it because it makes me listen carefully to what is being said, whether I like what’s being said or not.
CBC: As we have been hearing in the news this week, the lumber mills in the province are doing really well during the Covid19 pandemic. There is a strong demand for wood for renovation projects, for new construction too, the prices for lumber have gone up the stores. However not everyone in the forestry industry is doing so well. Ken Gray cuts trees in Yarmouth Co, and he says that the prices he is being paid for his logs today is less than he got 30 years ago. Ken is on the line, Good Morning… Ken you have been on the show before talking about selective logging which is what you practice, remind us about the kind of wood that you cut and where you work.
KG: I work in Deerfield… I generally work within a 30 mile radius of my home there is a lot of small private woodlots around here…in need of some selection harvesting, certainly not clearcutting. My product is mainly red spruce sawlogs… if there is straight red spruce trees that they use to saw lumber out of, 2 by 4s and such for building
CBC: That’s mainly for homes, and who are you selling to these days.?
KG: Yes.[for homes]. Right now I am selling to our local mill here, they are paying a little better price than the Freeman mill is
CBC: What would be the comparison?
KG: There is probably 10% difference right now but the Freeman Mill is paying a lot less than they should be considering that the lumber price has doubled in the last 3-4 months.
CBC: How does that compare to what you in the mid-90s?
KG: It’s less. Back in the mid 90s we had a bit more competition, we had 6 or 7 mills in the SW region of the province and now we have only one big mill and they see fit to pay us as little as the possibly can, apparently and the prices in the mid-90s were probably 15-20% higher than we are getting now.
CBC: And is that because there are fewer mills taking your lumber or are there other factors at play?
KG: I think the biggest factor at play is the oversupply of wood coming from the Crown clearcuts that this group of 13 mills called WestFor has lobbied our provincial government long and hard for exclusive rights to cut on our public land, and they have gotten away and they have been cutting and cutting and cutting and they have deforested 100s and 100s of acres of our land and now we are left with a flooded market where the mills don’t have to pay high prices because they get the cheap Crown logs and it’s kind of the provincial government competing with every private woodlot owner in the province as far as I am concerned.
CBC: Is part of the equation maybe that the mills don’t value the kind of wood that you are cutting today that they are looking more for what they had in the 90s?
KG: Oh no.. its all the same product. The trees that are mature today were 20 years from being mature in the 90s or 25 years, they were smaller trees then so we didn’t cut them or I didn’t cut them. Now the trees are coming mature and should be cut. They are beautiful mature red spruce sawlogs, they are every bit as good as they were in the 90s and in the 50s and the 40s. We have the best quality building material logs in the world right here in SW Nova Scotia. Our windswept red spruce trees are the best there is and these companies want to plant their hybridized spruce that grow faster yes, but produce way less quality wood and in doing so they are taking away our Acadian forest and turn it into a boreal forest, all one species and all one age which is nothing but a nightmare for our forests…we are doing it the wrong way.
CBC: Where do you see that situation leading?
KG: That situation is going to lead to our grandchildren having a complete lack of forest products or even forest for recreation. Its got me quite angry to tell you the truth, the way our forests are being treated, as well it’s on private land [also] because it’s like a free-for-all, these processors are running around and just flattening land every they go, just take a look at Google Maps and zoom in a few areas in the province , it’s. a patchwork quilt of clearcuts. This never happened before.
CBC: Ken, what does this mean for small harvesters like you who are getting less for their products and the way they you log?
KG: Well essentially its put most of the people like me out of business. It takes time and skill and energy and it costs a little more to do proper forestry work. Most of the industry has been drawn into the guise of you have to have a processor to cut wood and you have clearcut to cut wood. That is just so wrong. Our grandchildren are going to suffer because of it too. I just hope we can end it… the clearcutting on Crown land, we should call for a complete moratorium on Crown land.
CBC: The Lahey report does call for Ecological Forestry, and if and when that is brought in fully and we are not sure when that will be, how will that help you, how will it help you?
KH: That will help because it will promote slower cutting, that alone will make higher prices for the logs because it will curtail a bit of the flow to the mills.., and then of course supply and demand rules will take over and market conditions will set the price. If they did right now we would be getting almost double of what we’re paid for logs. But the market is not being allowed to control the price right now.
CBC: Do you expect to feel any of the pandemic market benefit, Ken?
KG: I have my doubts I haven’t seen a cent of increase yet and the mills are just going to use more excuses that they have more expenses . The Northern Pulp closure, of my gosh it’s going to kill them, they have been telling these mistruths to the government for a long time about closing and not being able to operate without selling their wood waste and its just more lobbying its all that is to get more money and they are taking from the small private woodlot owners every day and its wrong and the provincial government is competing directly with us. So it’s a bad situation for small guys like me.
CBC: I appreciate you talking to us this morning and perhaps you have ear of Lands and Forestry on their radios this morning too. Ken Thanks you… That’s Ken Gray, he’s a selective logger and he’s working in Yarmouth Co.
Some Related News Items and NSFN Posts
Logging one-tree-at-a-time in Nova Scotia 18July2019
NSFN July 18, 2019. The post cites an earlier CBC interview with Ken Gray.
I’ve got grandchildren. I have come from five generations of guides, hunting and guiding in East Camp and we rely on the forest and we always will in one shape or form and if nothing else, then to create the oxygen we breathe and to sequester the carbon that we are polluting the earth with and if we knock it all down, cut it all down, it’s not going to be there
Protecting supply of “wood” but not necessarily big trees from Nova Scotia’s Crown lands remains the priority at L&F 15Mar2020
NS Forest Notes Mar 15, 2020. It’s about L&F continuing to promote harvesting at high levels on Crown land after Northern Pulp closed, and a question I have long had: “why is Big Forestry, apparently, so dependent on Crown lands when we are told it accounts for only 20% of the supply?” A wood buyer commented on it to me and offered a somewhat different perspective. I said he could present it in a “Guest Post” on NSFN, he said he would do that, but I’m still waiting.
N.S. forester concerned the woods are ‘taking a back seat to business’
Michael Gorman · CBC · Posted: Jan 14, 2020. Ken Gray is not alone in his concerns about WestFor in 2020. Some extracts:
Davis, who does consulting work, said he’s particularly concerned about the way the woods are being worked right now, as people scramble to harvest as much value from their land as they can before prices for softwood drop much more.
“The forest is taking a back seat to business right now,” he said.
“Everybody is trying to survive. Everybody is trying to shuffle the deck to make their business go and the forest is taking the brunt of it.”
Davis said he and many others need prices to stabilize before things become too dire, but in the meantime, there’s a panic and fear in the industry. Davis said he’s never seen so many trucks on the road hauling wood during his many years in business.
…Like Prest, Forrest believes there should be a reduction in cutting and more vision for the future, with thoughts of managing the woods focused on the next generation. He’d also like to see any reductions in harvests focused on Crown land, in hopes it drives up value for private landowners.
Hard to Hide: a virtual flyover reveals extent of clearcutting close to Kejimkujik National Park 15Sep2020
Post on NSFN Sep 15, 2020. A virtual flyover illustrates the intensity of clearcutting in SW Nova Scotia
Biodiverse Southwest Nova Scotia at Risk
Post on NSFN Oct 29, 2018. What we have to lose, any why the Big Mills want to harvest it all. Quickly.