History of NSWOOA

Left: Former NSWOOA President Wade Press (center) attends a NSWOOA program.

By Wade Prest

The NSWOOA has its roots in the pre-industrial era of rural Nova Scotia. Over 30,000 small woodlot owners hold title to half of the province’s forests. In general, the small woodlots are found on more productive ground and are more easily accessible than remote industrial freehold or Crown woodland. Prior to 1960, woodlot owners had little opportunity to benefit financially from woodlot management, as markets were characterized by oversupply of roundwood and control of prices was in the hands of the buyers. Woodlot management simply did not pay. Consequently, private woodlots were increasingly being degraded by poor harvesting practices or were sold to industrial interests.

The construction of a pulpmill in Port Hawkesbury by Swedish multinational Stora Kopparburg in 1960 was followed by a modern mill in Pictou County by American corporation Scott Paper in 1965. By the time Stora expanded its operation at Port Hawkesbury in 1971, consumption of pulpwood in Nova Scotia had almost quadrupled in less than a decade. Pulpwood from small private woodlots now found a market which had been historically absent, although the prices paid for that wood continued to be abysmally low, and woodlot owners had gained no power or influence in the marketplace. This industrial development largely provided the impetus for woodlot owners in central and eastern Nova Scotia to begin serious organizational efforts.

In the late 1960’s, the Extension Department of St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish sponsored a project, funded through the federal Agricultural and Rural Development Agreement, to organize woodlot owners at the county level across the province. After three years of kitchen table negotiations and town hall meetings, twelve county associations convened a general meeting in January of 1969, at which the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners Association (NSWOA) was formed. The not-so-modest objectives were to lobby government and industry for the rights and interests of the small woodlot sector, to promote responsible and profitable forest management, and to represent woodlot owners in their quest for fair return from their woodlot operations.

Throughout the 1970’s, the NSWOA fought a difficult and often-disheartening battle to establish the role of the small woodlot owners as a crucial and equal partner in the forest industry in this province. It is an understatement to say that woodlot owners had few friends in the forest sector. Only the idealism, selfless dedication, personal sacrifice, and dogged determination of woodlot leaders from rural communities throughout Nova Scotia enabled the NSWOOA to prevail against repeated legal challenges and obstructionism by the industry and Department of Lands and Forests. The Pulpwood Marketing Act was passed in 1972, setting the stage for creation of woodlot owner-controlled bargaining agents. Pulpwood supplier divisions of the renamed Nova Scotia Woodlot Owner and Operators Association finally signed hard-fought contracts with Stora in 1980 and with Scott Paper in 1981. Woodlot owners in central and eastern Nova Scotia now had effective economic representation.

Entering the 1980’s, the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association was now a parent organization with a Nova Scotia Forest Industries (NSFI) Suppliers Division and a Scott Suppliers Division. The NSWOOA continued to represent the interests of all small woodlot owners to government and to lobby for improved forest management policy and practices. In 1985, the NSFI Suppliers Division evolved into an independent association, the Nova Scotia Landowners and Forest Fibre Producers Association (NSLFFPA), based out of Port Hawkesbury. The NSLFFPA continues to represent the pulpwood producers from the seven eastern counties who supply fibre to the Stora mill. It now includes in its bargaining mandate progressive agreements that provide silvicultural reinvestment for private woodlots and Forest Stewardship Council certification services for its members.

The Scott Suppliers Division was eventually renamed the Central Suppliers Division and concluded several successful contracts with Scott Paper. In 1995, the company closed its woodroom at the mill and discontinued the purchase of roundwood, dramatically curtailing the activities of the Central Suppliers Division. Although it launched several legal challenges over the next six years, the Division was unable to resume its bargaining role. It did, however, establish certain facts and precedents in law which reinforce the enabling legislation and protect the role of the Division as bargaining agent for private suppliers to the mill, now owned by Neenah papers, should circumstances change.

The 1990’s were turbulent times for the NSWOOA and for woodlot owners in general. Ironically, the bargaining successes of the Central Wood Suppliers and the Landowners and Forest Fibre Producers led to a decline of support for the role of the NSWOOA as the province-wide representative of woodlot owners. The successful Group Venture Program had created a large number of independent voices for groups of small owners. The impacts of the decline and eventual demise of federal funding of silviculture, and the subsequent failure of several Group Ventures, was tempered by improving prices for roundwood and stumpage, which rose steadily throughout the decade, reaching all-time highs in 2001. The Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association, never a favorite of the Department of Lands and Forests, lost its core funding from that Department in 1991. Since that time, the NSWOOA has been funded entirely on membership fees and operating proceeds. The NSWOOA remained a stalwart advocate for woodlot owners, helping to launch two independent cooperative-based business ventures which sought to create value-added markets for woodlot products. The Association participated in national and provincial forestry initiatives and was involved in the Forest Stewardship Council’s Maritime Initiative from its genesis in 1996. It played a key role in the development of Nova Scotia’s new forestry strategy in the latter part of the decade.

The Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association underwent a renewal process in the first years of the new millennium. Since the 1950’s, there have been watershed changes in the forestry industry, in the lifestyles and aspirations of the woodlot owner population, and in public attitudes and expectations of our wildlands. The Association reaffirmed its commitment to “Stewardship, Solidarity, and Prosperity” through truly sustainable forest use. It recognizes that the well-being of woodlot owners and rural communities depends on respect for all aspects of our forest environment – ecological, social, and economic. The NSWOOA supports the Forest Stewardship Council Maritime Initiative by promoting this globally preeminent forest certification program to members. The Association also holds a seat in the economic section of the regional steering committee.

In September of 2002, the Association reconnected with history as it embarked onto a new vision for the future. The first annual NSWOOA Fall Field Day was held on the Halifax County woodlot of Wilfred Creighton, then ninety eight years old. Dr Creighton was the Deputy Minister of Lands and Forests, leading that organization through its golden years. He retired in 1969, the same year as the NSWOA was formed. Woodlot ownership is so much about understanding the past, respecting the present, and being unafraid to envision a future of sufficiency for all beings. Education of members through activities such as this will be a dominant theme as the NSWOOA passes it fortieth anniversary.