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When is a Clear Cut not a Clear Cut?

Definition of Clearcuts Not Clear Cut: Government abuses public trust

by Miles Howe

Nova Scotia's Forest Future? Photo: Jamie Simpson
Nova Scotia's Forest Future? Photo: Jamie Simpson

Perhaps the only thing worse than doing nothing is doing something that's worse than doing nothing, and then touting it as having done something good. Such is the case with the Nova Scotia government's application of the Natural Resources Strategy as it relates to the future of our forests.

Readers may remember the wide-sweeping public consultation that went into “Phase 1” of the Natural Resource Strategy. Over 2,000 Nova Scotians from all walks of life participated, and over 600 submissions were received in response to the opportunity to shape Nova Scotia's future.

Phase 1's voluntary planning process birthed a document, titled “Our Common Ground: The Future of Nova Scotia's Natural Resources", in March of 2009. The demands contained within the document were clear as crystal. Clear cutting and whole tree harvesting practices in the province had to change, now. Readers should note that this was the last example of voluntary planning that the Dexter government ever requested. After 50 years of the process being a very important step in government/public communication, the current NDP government decided that voluntary planning really isn't for them.

Phase 2 involved an expert panel. The panel consisted of biologist and woodlot owner Bob Bancroft, forest ecologist Donna Crossland, and Bowater-Mersey forestry manager Jon Porter. Unfortunately, the three could not see eye to eye, and Mr. Porter went off on his own, and prepared his own report which touted the status quo, company line.

As for Mr. Bancroft and Ms. Crossland, backed by science, and flowing from public consultation, in February of 2010 they released the document “A Natural Balance: Working Toward Nova Scotia’s Natural Resources Strategy”. Included within the 132 recommendations was the need to drastically reduce clear cutting and end whole tree harvesting.

The public reacted, groups from across the province rallied in October of 2010 in support of the government's verbal promises to reduce clear cutting and stop whole tree harvesting. John MacDonnell, then Minister of Natural Resources, postured hard on the side of Nova Scotians, and promised a drastic reduction to clear cutting, and an end to whole tree harvesting.

In December of 2010, the government released it's "strategic directions", which were approved by cabinet, and stated, among other promises, that whole tree harvesting would be stopped, and clear cutting within the province would comprise no more than 50% of all cuts, by area, within 5 years. Phase 3, the government's Natural Resource Strategy, was released in the summer of 2011. It carries the same promises as the "strategic directions", which sound promising. But unfortunately, the proof is in the details.

The minimum regulatory targets for a clear cut, as defined by the Wildlife, Habitat and Watercourse Protection Regulations, are 10 trees per hectare, and one clump of 30 trees for every 8 hectares of clear cut. So, in theory, if one were so inclined, a certain Nova Scotia government might decided that they could define “not clear cut” as being just the least bit more than this minimum. They could, for example, claim that any cut that leaves 11 trees per hectare is not a clear cut. And this is exactly what they have done. The definition of "clear cut" and "not clear cut" is thus rendered meaningless.

Is this better than doing nothing? Arguably not, because now the general public has been fleeced into believing that the notion of “50% of cuts will not be clear cuts” means something more than just one extra tree per hectare. But the NDP government has perverted the people's demands, and this is indeed all that it means. Is this what we expected? Or did we want an actual reduction in clear cut lands?

As for whole tree harvesting, it continues unabated, under review by the province. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamiesimpson/ for photos of clearcut whole-tree harvesting taken in November 2011

Please enjoy the following conversation with award-winning forester and author Jaime Simpson, Matt Miller, award-winning independent woodlot owner and Forestry Program Coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, and Raymond Plourde, Wilderness Coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre.

 

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Commentaires

Thanks

The question I have after reading: does the goal of reducing clearcutting by 50% in 5 years have to be based on current definitions of clearcutting, or can it be based on a new definition? The document that accompanies the strategy lists updating and changing of legislation as one of the tasks for the next 24 months - if the Forestry Act is updated, could this include a change in the definition of clearcut? Was this mentioned at all at the event?

Probably a good course of action

I know that there were attempts at presenting the government with a scientifically-reached definition of "clear cut", drawn up by the EAC and others, that actually wasn't so blatantly still a clear cut +1 tree. It was more along the lines of responsible, sustainable, harvesting. The definition itself that the EAC seemed satisfied with took a lot of variables into play, as one must when contemplating what kind of cutting will not radically alter the forest-scape once it's done. I'll get the definition and post it here in the next day or two.

As for altering the definition of clear cut from the current definition being bantied around, that's a really good idea. Maybe if enough people knew about the current definition and weren't impressed by this side-step on the part of our government, we could hold them to task.

"From Strategy to Action"

The "From Strategy to Action" paper that accompanies the final strategy says that decision-making with regards to things now is in the hands of Natural Resources staff, and that the public input aspect of the process is over, but also says this:

"An external advisory panel will oversee our work from outside government. Senior staff within the Department of Natural Resources will lead the implementation of actions in the four focus areas of the strategy. They will build partnerships and work with other government departments, the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia, industry, nongovernment organizations, academia, and other interested groups."

So, if "at the time of publication, a technical definition of clearcutting was being developed", maybe there is still a window for the public to get involved to help form that definition. Not encouraged of the possibility of this given how much the public's opinion seems to have been "managed" thus far.

 

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