Forest Nova Scotia’s “simple math” underscores key issue for success or failure of Government’s implementation of Lahey Recommendations: How much wood is to be taken from Crown lands? 22Jan 2021

UPDATE; Comment by Nina Newington on ‘what I actually said”

From the Executive Summary  for the Registry of Buyers of Primary Forest Products Report FOR 2020-1.  In 2005, ~12% of the volume came from Crown lands. It was 25% in 2019, while the contribution from Industrial lands (large Big Forestry  holdings) declined from  37% in 2005 to only 9% in 2019. Most of these  lands were sold to the Crown and in turn  Big Forestry  was given access to most of those lands. Mr. Burgess/Forest NS make it clear that  they anticipate no reduction  in wood volumes from Crown lands regardless of how the wood is cut  when the Lahey Recommendations are implemented. Click on image for larger version

Big Forestry in Nova Scotia, well represented by Forest Nova Scotia, and WestFor and  their individual advocates rarely comment in public in any detail on controversial  issues except for the  platitudes and pretty pictures  and seem to eschew any participation in topical discussions in public forums or on social media.

I wish they would participate in public discussions.   Likewise I wish Lands and Forestry would allow its professionals to be actively “out there”, highlighting and  explaining L&F practices and policies  and   joining discussions about them – and being prepared to modify them based on the public dialogue and the facts and figures, science, and social values.

So  I welcomed the comments by Todd Burgess, forestry outreach coordinator with Forest Nova Scotia,  for his comments in the Chronicle Herald (Wrong Take in Forestry, CH Jan 19, 2021). Those were made in response  to Facts and Figures cited earlier in the CH by Nina Newington (Forest Workers Dwindle, CH Jan 15, 2021) those in turn, responding to earlier letters to the Ed.

Mr. Burgess picked up on Nina Newington’s citation of Stats Canada numbers:

“…the number of people working directly in the woods in Nova Scotia has declined from just under 2,500 to just under 1,000 in the years between 2000 and 2018. Over the same period, the area of forest harvested per worker has increased. The bigger the feller buncher, the fewer the workers. The regime of clearcutting faster and harder may have benefitted some mills, but it has had a devastating impact on rural communities and on the ecosystems that support them.”

Said Mr. Burgess

First, the reason there are fewer  people employed in the forestry sector in Nova Scotia is not because of the machines used – it’s almost entirely because the volume of wood harvested in 2018 was about half of what it was in 2000.

Yes, there are some cost efficiencies gained over time – as most businesses strive to achieve – but the reduction of wood harvested  has a direct impact on employment numbers.

Second, the reason the area of harvest increased is because the amount of partial harvesting has increased in our province. As we move to more partial harvesting systems (less clearcutting), the volume of wood harvested per acre is reduced. We will need more acres/area to harvest each year to cut the same amount of wood

More non-clearcuts will also require more roads, more frequent harvesting, and a greater number  of acres to harvest. It’s simple math, l; but important we compare the right €,- numbers.

Fair enough. The Reports on the Registry of Buyers of Primary Forest Products don’t provide figures on employment but I remembered some analyses of employment conducted by Soren Bondrup-Nielsen in the pre-Lahey days  that were based on Stats Canada numbers; he has recently posted an updated  version:

Analysis of Forestry Statistics for Nova Scotia 1997 to 2018
Soren Bondrup-Nielsen 22 December 2020 on Punta

From his graphs I estimated these numbers for the years 2000 and 2017/18:

Year Area (ha) m3/ha Calculated Total Volume (m3) Employment
2000 ~54000 ~120 6,480,000 ~9500
2017-18 ~30000 ~113 3,390,000 ~4100

So the total volume in 2017/18 was 3,390,000/6,480,000 x 100 = 52.3% of what it was in 2000 and the employment 4100/9500 x 100= 43.2%, i.e. employment went down by more than total volume. By how much does the change in volume explain the decline in employment?  43.2/52.3 x 100 = 83%. So Mr. Burgess, by these stats and calculations, is 83% correct.

But it also  OK to say that increased “efficiency” of harvesting has cost some loss of rural jobs –  but not likely corporate profits. (Nina Newington did not put a number on her comment “The bigger the feller buncher, the fewer the workers”). 

It’s notable that Mr. Burgess did not comment on Nina Newington ‘s concerns about impacts of clearcutting on the ecosystems that support rural communities.

Assumptions about wood supply from Crown lands and role of High Production Forestry

But what stood out to me in Mr. Burgess’s comments was this: because of an increase in partial harvesting, he said “We will need more acres/area to harvest each year to cut the same amount of wood“.

Ouch.  Evidently Forest Nova Scotia has a very clear understanding from L&F that the total volume of wood being taken from Crown lands will not be reduced; not in the short and not in the long term.

And he recognizes that this will mean “more roads, more frequent harvesting, and a greater number  of acres to harvest“. Ouch again. Those increases  will counteract much of the ecological benefit derived from shifting  from clearcutting (variable retention etc) to “partial harvests”. Not to mention that if the predominant prescription is shelterwood followed overstory removal, i.e. even-aged management, that  there are further discounts to the ecological benefits to be derived from the Government’s implementation of  the Lahey recommendations. We  already have forests that are highly fragmented ecologically by roads, and the roads themselves have ecological costs.

It is interesting that Mr. Burgess does not mention High Production Forestry which, in principle, can make up for reduced yields from partial harvesting without increasing the total area of land harvested.  Of course that would be only sometime after HPF is fully implemented. That’s why Lahey & Co. anticipated a transitory reduction in wood supply from Crown lands:

41. The importance of this to the implementation of the triad model is that low forest  productivity increases the wood supply and harvesting‐cost challenges created for industry  by ecologically based limits on clearcutting within the landscape matrix leg of the triad. It  does this by limiting the wood that can be obtained from the high‐production leg of the  triad to offset the reduction in supply available from the wider                  landscape. The seriousness  of this is that actions to increase forest productivity will only yield benefits over decades.  Implementing restrictions on clearcutting on the part of the landscape matrix that is on  Crown land, as this report recommends, will therefore create significant transition  challenges for industry that are connected to but distinct from the issues of expanding the  supply available from private lands.  

64. The Review team estimates that this represents a short‐term reduction in wood harvest  from Crown land of approximately 10–20 per cent, with the loss being distributed unevenly  across regions, depending primarily on the character of the forests on Crown land from  region to region. Greater harvesting from sites of high‐production forestry on Crown lands  is not a short‐term option for addressing this reduction in wood from Crown lands;  harvests from those areas are already included in the wood supply model that shows a 10– 20 per cent reduction in wood from Crown lands due to implementation of the revised  EBM system. Similarly, higher harvesting from private‐land plantations is also not an option  in the short term: they are already projected in the wood supply model to be harvested as  well. This leaves increased harvesting on other private land, including woodlots, where the  proportion of harvesting by clearcutting is already over 80 per cent. Nova Scotia’s  sustainable harvest level, which is above actual harvest, suggests the trees are there. The  issue will be whether they are available to industry on economic terms.

When L&F finally got around to responding to the Lahey Report on Dec 3, 2018,  Minister Rankin let the cat out of the bag on where they stand: From ATV News (bolding is mine):

In August, Lahey said a reduction in clearcutting on Crown land could reduce the overall wood supply for industry, but Rankin said he doesn’t believe that’s the case.

We don’t accept that there will be a reduction or a contraction,” Rankin said. “We believe that we can sustainably grow this industry. There will be more opportunities for industry as they adopt this (ecological) model.”

Jeff Bishop, executive director of Forest Nova Scotia, said companies in the forest sector are encouraged the province is taking more time to consider how to implement its ecological approach.

“I’m hoping at some point that we’ll all be in agreement with where this is going to move us,” said Bishop. “We think there is flexibility within the triad approach.”

Evidently, as I suggested in September of 2018 when L&F withdrew their initial restrictions on crown land harvesting, Industrial Forestry was working the spreadsheets.  Evidently they  concluded that it’s not economic to get the wood only from private lands and so, evidently, L&F just let them to keep on taking as much as they wanted from the Crown lands. At least evidently that’s the case,   that’s the way it looks form the outside.

Now all three candidates in the race to replace McNeil are saying they will implement the Lahey Recommendations – close to 3 years after they were made, and 11 years after big reductions in clearcutting were promised following the Natural  Resources Strategy process.

But  most of the Ecological Forestry Projects have yet to be publicly vetted,  except for the revised Forest Management Guide which was just released yesterday; not to mention important recommendations that have not yet even been considered eg. No 29, p66 related to the riparian zone’; and not to mention that Prof.  Lahey in his report of 2018, viewed the protection leg of the Triad as incomplete (re conclusion 31, page 18); and not mention the federal commitment to 30% Protected Area by 2030; and not to mention IPCAs.

So what does “an immediate implementation of the updated Forest Management Guide to reduce clearcutting on public lands” actually mean on the ground?

All that’s being vetted with the release of the draft FMG are the procedures, not details on how much Crown land working forest will be placed under ecological management or precisely where.

Those details depend  on  what will be in the High Production Forestry plan which, according to the Jan 20th 2021 press release,  “…is expected to be released early this year.  The report, which will outline criteria for site selection, was informed by public and targeted stakeholder consultations held in 2020.” So it will NOT involve further public consultation, and  there is no mention of the “strategic, long-term wood supply analysis” cited in the HPF Discussion Paper released in Feb 2020:

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.

So what are the assumptions and what are the figures for potential wood supply from Crown lands from HPF and from the Ecological Matrix (a) once the revised Forest management Guide is implemented (soon) and (b) once the rest of the plan is implemented (later)?

Prof Lahey recommended a Triad approach very much as a compromise between the demands of the  forest industry  as a whole (big and small players),   and the recognized need  to reverse the declines in habitat for wildlife, especially species dependent on old forests and in surface waters  (including  wetlands)  protected by forests,  as well as to conserve forests for non-timber forest products.

Lahey et al., recognized that the compromise on the industry side would be a reduced take from Crown lands for a period; the compromise on the other side is acceptance of HPF and clearcutting at a limited number of sites within a matrix of forest managed by ecological forestry methods (re, the revised FMG).

So what is the compromise now on the side of Big Forestry if there will be no reduction in the volume of wood harvested from Crown lands? (Smaller scale forestry, e.g. as represented by NSWOOA have been much more supportive of the ecological priorities).

Will current harvest volumes  be maintained or even increased as Rankin said in 2018, and as Mr. Burgess/Forest NS apparently expect, regardless of the  implications for the long term effects on productivity, wildlife and  carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services?

Or as expected by Lahey & Co in their report  and is the basis the rest of us accepting his recommendations, will the total volumes of wood taken from Crown lands be substantially  reduced?

We don’t need platitudes. We need facts and figures, we  need to see the assumptions and the numbers for projected harvest volumes over time for different options (% of Crown land working forest in HPF/% in the Ecological Matrix )  and the associated  locations of plots (polygons) on which those numbers are based; and we need clear justification for any preferred option.

Some recent Harvest Proposals*; one will take out the largest remaining patch of Multi-aged/Old Growth outside of Protected areas in this landscape. Crown land holdings are indicated.  How would HPF and Ecological Forestry be distributed amongst these holdings when the Lahey recommendations are implemented? Will the revised Old Forest Policy provide protection for more of those purple patches; or will high-grading at the landscape scale continue? *View PI204568 atop Dalhousie Mountain 15Jan2021 & PI204080 near Kemptown 30Dec2020

Perhaps all of that is impossible given the host of relevant Ecological Forestry projects still to be vetted and completed or even begun and uncertainties related to Protected Areas.  Given the track record of the projected timelines for the Ecological Forestry Projects, it’s hard to have much confidence that it can all be implemented by the end of 2021.

I am concerned that  the rush to implement the revised Forestry Management Guide ASAP and without specifying more details of where it and HPF will be applied  is a desperate attempt to do something to quell the protests without doing all or at least a lot more of what is required.

Yes,  L&F needs to do something: what they should have done when the Lahey Report  was released: put  immediate and meaningful caps on wood volumes harvested from Crown lands and on clearcutting, and applying some precautionary measures to protect biodiversity while, with full transparency and public consultation, they figure it all out.

I may have misinterpreted or misconstrued some the facts and figures. I welcome corrections. I would also welcome and would publish as guest posts some comment from L&F and Forest Nova Scotia.



Jan 22, 2021: I have received this comment from SC:

“I cannot speak for LF or Forest NS but I see the source of many of your questions and where you and Mr. Burgess may be diverging.  Mr. Burgess in many of his remarks was referring to PROVINCE WIDE CROWN AND PRIVATE whereas you are focused on statements from Lahey/Rankin etc. That apply only to Crown land. Neither of you are wrong but are using different contexts I think unknowingly. For example, considering the TOTAL area of the Province the simple math is that if I remove less wood per unit of area by not clearcutting; than to achieve the same annual sum of wood I will need to cover more area. He is referring to all lands in the Province combined not JUST Crown land. He is correct. It’s not that either you or he are wrong you’re just “looking at different maps” as you apply or interpret things.”

Thx SC. I think you are likely correct, i.e., that Mr. Burgess was referring to all lands and indeed, my focus was on the Crown lands.  It would be good to have the numbers for partial harvesting on Crown versus private lands. They used to be available on a federal site but I can’t find them anymore. It also makes it even more important for L&F to clarify the situation on Crown lands re: Minister Rankin’s comment We don’t accept that there will be a reduction or a contraction,” Rankin said. “We believe that we can sustainably grow this industry. There will be more opportunities for industry as they adopt this (ecological) model.”

If harvesting levels are maintained or increasing  on private lands, then from a conservation  perspective it is even more vital to reduce harvesting on the Crown lands in order  to conserve more of  the Multi-aged/Old Growth stands (the purple patches) which are a prime target of the sawmills.

Comment by Nina Newington:

Todd Burgess, in his letter of 19th January, stresses the importance of comparing the right numbers.

He agrees that the number of woods workers declined significantly between 2000 and 2018. He then quotes me as saying ‘the area of harvest increased’ during that period. The result, he claims, of a move to less clearcutting. 

Did the area of harvest increase? Not according to StatsCan. Has there been a reduction in clearcutting? Not according to satellite analysis of forest cover loss.

What my earlier letter actually said was that ‘the area of forest harvested per worker increased’. My point stands: ‘The bigger the feller-buncher, the fewer the workers.’ 

Would a reduction in clearcutting necessarily increase the area of forest that gets harvested? Only if we keep harvesting the same volume of wood.

The Lahey report, in recommending a shift to ecological forestry, acknowledges that there will have to be a reduction in the volume of wood that is taken. 

Does this mean a further reduction in the numbers of people working in the woods? Lighter touch ecological forestry is more costly because it is more labour intensive, but it results in more valuable timber. Instead of the high volume, low quality race to the bottom forestry we have been seeing, we could pivot towards sustainable selection forestry that creates jobs. It won’t be easy but it’s about time.


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