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What’s wrong with clearcutting?
Variable Retention
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The text in the box below is from a letter written to the Premier and Ministers of Natural Resources and Environment in 2014.

I understand that the government is committed to the target of reducing clearcutting to 50% of all harvesting, a goal set in 2010 that received all party support and wide public support in Nova Scotia. That support reflects a broader understanding and appreciation of Nova Scotians of the role of older growth forests and multi-aged stand management for biodiversity conservation, protection of water resources and carbon sequestration.

On Aug 15, 2012, the Dexter government released an operational definition of

In Nova Scotia, a clearcut is now defined as a forest harvest where less than 60% of the area is sufficiently occupied with trees taller than 1.3 meters with links to [Clearcut Definition] [Clearcut FAQs] providing more details.

The website where this is posted boasts: “ Nova Scotia is setting a precedent with its
clearcutting target and definition.”

Clearcut at Raven Head, Sep 29, 2011

Clearcut at Raven Head, Sep 29, 2011

However this definition is simply not consistent with the broadly accepted objectives of reducing clearcutting/promoting multiage management, and lacks both professional and public credibility. The rationalization cites “the potential of saplings” noting that “immature trees exceeding 1.3 metres tall are considered saplings … They have distinct visual and ecological impacts on harvest areas beyond what is produced by seedlings.” This is very different from multiage management and the benefits it offers for biodiversity conservation, watershed protection and long term productivity. The best that can be offered in support of the definition is that “protection of sapling sized trees during harvesting has a significant potential to reduce future forest rotation lengths” – hardly a factor that increases sustainability in an ecological context!

Forester Jamie Simpson views it this way:

What’s wrong with the definition? First, let’s look at the context. The government promised to reduce clearcutting to 50% of all harvesting. So, half of all cutting can still level the forest to the ground, clearcut and whole-tree harvested, leaving nothing but ruts, exposed soil and the occasional “wildlife clump” of trees. According to the new definition, this devastation can take place in any forest type, including those forests least able to recover from such barbarous cutting.

The other half of all cutting can reduce the forest to a scattering of trees that need only be a little more than 4 feet tall. Within a “non clearcut”, 40% of the ground can be devoid of any trees, and in the remaining 60%, as long as some scraggly 4-foot-and-3-inches-high balsam fir or tamarack remain (standing or not), then presto, it’s not a clearcut. And when determining if the embarrassingly low threshold has been met, feel free to include trees up to 25 metres into the surrounding forest, outside of the cut.

So, what have we got? Half of all cutting can leave a moonscape; the other half can leave a scattering of low-quality trees, none necessarily higher than 4.25 feet. The government has reached their contrived, twisted goal, but have we really made any progress towards sensible forest management? No: our entire forest can be reduced to young, even-aged, low-value forest, and the Government can happily say they’ve fulfilled their promise to Nova Scotians. SOURCE: “NDP definition far from clearcut” Op-ed by Jamie Simpson in the Chronicle Herald, August 25, 2012

What was widely anticipated before the definition came out was “a policy and definition promotes more partial harvesting and uneven-aged management – basically harvesting that leaves behind an intact forest overstory. The current definition fails because it can be met by leaving behind only seedlings and saplings, and still allows for the complete
removal of the overstory” [Matt Miller, Wilderness Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre, personal communication].

Clearly, this definition needs to be revised through a transparent and scientifically credible process. As it stands, it renders the commitment to a 50% reduction in clearcutting meaningless. Conditions that the government might attach to harvesting permits open the door to claims that a company has met restrictions on clearcutting when in reality they have not.

Aug 16, 2016: Now we have The big weasel: NS Liberal version | Dubious claim: forest harvests in Nova Scotia are aligned with nature-based requirements
The government/NSDNR now say that they no longer need to work on reducing clearcutting to 50% of all harvests because “We have now developed tools that ensure that all harvest treatments are aligned with the nature-based requirements of Nova Scotia’s lands.” That’s a dubious statement on its own, but they still retain the dubious definition cited above, so even if they were keeping track of the extent of clearcutting, the numbers would be next to meaningless.

See EAC Press Release, August 18, 2016 : Government kills key forestry commitments

March 4, 2019:  Now NSDNR/L&F have “eliminated” clearcutting altogether, the word that is



For an example of how intensive clearcutting is in Nova Scotia, see Mimicing natural disturbances

Also these posts:

Give our forests back to the people
Bob Bancroft in CH, Mar 4, 2016.”Centuries ago, Maritime forests loomed over freshwater shores; tall, vibrant, thick and strong…More than 40 per cent of the operable forest in Nova Scotia has been clear-cut in the last 25 years. Many Nova Scotians understand that clear-cutting and other large-scale methods of forest flattening cause drastic environmental changes.” Read more.

helicopterA related issue: Glyphosate battles

On its Harvest Map Viewer site, NSDNR categorizes harvests on crown land as “Clearcuts” or “Partial Cuts”.

Clearcuts are defined by NSDNR as described above. So what is a “Partial Cut”?

I could not find a definition on the NSDNR website, but in the Woodbridge 2011 report: Wood Supply Scenarios, Clearcut Harvest Policy Analysis, it refers to partial harvest treatments as selection harvest, commercial thinning and 2 stage shelterwood harvests.

These harvest types are described by NSDNR as follows:

Selection Harvest
“Maintaining a distribution of ages, sizes and species of trees can be achieved by harvesting trees in small patches, called group selection, or by harvesting trees uniformly throughout the site, called individual tree selection. A thorough knowledge of tree species characteristics (called silvics), and site factors is essential in selection management. Typically, a cross-section of trees of all ages and sizes are removed during each harvest.” Source: NSDNR Woodlot Harvesting

Loss of tree cover (pink) over intervals given; gain (blue) 2001-2012. Most of the blue is in recovering clearcuts. Click on image for larger version

Global Forest Watch images NE of Halifax showing Loss of Tree Cover (pink) over intervals given & Gain of Tree Cover (blue) 2001-2012.Most of the Gain (blue) is in land clearcut prior to 2001. Block ID HX060122 is planned cut for 2017. Cutting 2015 and 2016 not shown.
Click on image for larger version.

Commercial Thinning
“Commercial thinning is the removal of the poorest quality trees from a mature, even-aged stand of trees. The purpose of this treatment is to give the remaining trees increased space and light so that they will grow faster.” Source: NSDNR: Commercial Thinning

Two Stage Shelterwood Harvests
“Windfirm mature trees are left uniformly distributed on a harvested site to provide seed and shelter for natural seedlings. The trees are harvested once the seedlings are well established. The harvesting can take place in two or more stages over the next 20 years.” Source: NSDNR Woodlot Harvesting

So only a Selection Harvest can be called multi-aged management which is what much or most of the public assumes is happening under “Partial Cuts” on crown land.

And we can ask, what about cuts that are not clearcuts by the definition of DNR, but nor are they Partial Cuts as defined above? Bob Bancroft sees it this way:

Partial cuts can mean almost anything under the new policy, from cutting one tree to harvests that leave 60 per cent of the area with scattered, chest-high trees, and the remaining 40 per cent totally bare. The policy effectively transfers the ecologically degrading clearcutting attributes of dryness, heat and wind exposure to the partial cut category.

Trees left behind are usually low quality. The valuable, longlived tree species that developed over thousands of years and provide excellent wildlife habitats can be completely removed during a harvest under this policy. The new clearcut definition is driving harvesters to cut just beyond the new, deceptive and complicated definition of a clearcut to render it a partial cut instead. It’s playing with words, not better forest policy and offers no help to forest wildlife.

Also see:

What’s a clearcut and what’s not a clearcut in Nova Scotia? (Post, Jan 23, 2017)

A silvicultural and economic comparison of clearcutting and partial cutting studies in northeastern North America
by C Chappell and J. Simpson, 2010 Ecology Action Centre, Halifax. “We reviewed and synthesized information sources that examine yield, regeneration, stand composition, costs, revenue and employment generated by clearcutting and partial cutting systems in the Acadian and other forest types in north-eastern North America with the aim of informing an analysis of the potential impacts of reducing the prevalence of clearcutting in Nova Scotia.”