The N.S. Liberals made some key environmental commitments on May 8 including
- Maintaining the moratorium on fracking (the Liberal government introduced a moratorium on fracking in 2014);.
- Introducing a new Coastal Protection Act;
- Introducing a new Biodiversity Act and launching a Biodiversity Council;
- Initiating a “thorough and independent review of our current forestry practices. Until that review is complete, there will be no additional long-term timber harvesting leases issued for Crown Land…That review will begin immediately, with an independent expert beginning in the western region.
View Press Release
From what I have heard from environmental and sustainable forestry folks so far, the first item is widely applauded, the second and third are welcomed but people want to see details, while there are mainly questions and skepticism about the commitment to an independent review of forestry.
Clearly the Liberals are responding to increasing public concern about the extent of clearcutting in Nova Scotia as recorded by posts on this website beginning on June 21, 2016. Major issues that have come up during that period include:
- Herbicide spraying
- Biomass and Biofuels
- Clearcuts close to Protected Areas
- Handing both access and management of the Western Crownlands over to Westfor
- The Liberals backing away from the commitment to a 50% reduction in clearcutting
- Lack of attention to private woodlots
- Biodiversity conservation
- The Science
I could add a couple of items I hope will receive more attention:
- Extreme acidification of forest soils and aquatic systems in SW Nova Scotia
- Mitigation and adaptation to climate change
On the positive side, the Liberals did during their tenure:
- Stop the 24/7 running of the Point Tupper biomass plant;
- Institute stiff fines for illegal clearcutting;
- Establish clear timelines for cleaning up Boat Harbour;
- Institute some needed changes in upper echelons of NSDNR;
- Stop direct handouts to the big mills
(so I was told by a cabinet minister and appears so in fact).
An “independent review” of forestry was cited in the budget speech on April 27th. The more recent rendition is a re-iteration with one difference: the budget speech said that “Government will also appoint an independent expert to review our forestry practices” while the May 8th announcement refers to a “through and independent review”, presumably involving more than one person.
The main criticism of this as yet-to-be-defined process is why the government wouldn’t simply adopt the recommendations coming out the 2011 Natural Resources Strategy Report (The Path We Share). At least the McNeil folks could have said something like, ‘updating and building on the Natural Resources Strategy…’ and perhaps they will.
In the meantime there are still more questions than answers such as who will conduct the review, what opportunities will there be opportunities for public input etc.
As it stands, I do not find the statements coming from Premier McNeil reassuring.
McNeil said it’s worth doing more work for a variety of reasons, including a lack of clarity on the definition of clear cutting and ensuring a balance between supporting industry jobs and protecting the environment. “Some people feel that balance has not been struck,” he said. “And that’s why we’re going outside looking for some complete independent advice, quite frankly, away from our department and away from industry and away from community.” – CBC May 10
A report in the Halifax Examiner adds these comments by McNeil: “That work shouldn’t take any more than a short period of time,” said McNeil. “We will know by September.”
I am glad to see reference to the definition of clearcutting, but there is a lot more about the science of forestry or its application in Nova Scotia that deserves scrutiny.
The reference to September seems to reflect a prior agenda rather than an assessment of how long a thorough and independent review would take.
I am encouraged, somewhat, by the Premier’s apparent recognition that he may not have been getting the best or most objective advice from “our department”.
Hopefully, more details will dispel the feeling that the fix is in and it would be a thorough and independent review.
If the Liberals form the next government and don’t respond to the growing chorus of concerns about clearcutting, the first the Premier will hear from will likely be his own constituents. Residents and councillors in Annapolis Co., which has a high proportion of Crown land, have expressed major concerns about clearcutting and the WestFor agreement.