NSWOOA Letter to NS Forest Panel

Forests Panel Of Expertise

Hello Ms Crossland, Mr Porter, and Mr Bancroft:

It is our pleasure to submit to your panel the following comments for consideration in Phase Two of the Natural Resources Strategy Review. We will introduce our organization, the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association (NSWOOA), give you a general overview of our philosophy and orientation towards use of our forests, and conclude with some specific recommendations for improvements in forestry policy and practice in this province.

Our Association

The Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association is the oldest independent organized group of woodlot owners and operators (small contractors) in the province. Our mission is to support woodlot owners and operators in sustainable forestry through education, demonstration, marketing, and cooperation. Truly sustainable forestry means that all values of our woodlands - ecological, social, cultural, and economic - must be preserved for future generations.

In our opinion, the NSWOOA can be differentiated from other forestry organizations in Nova Scotia by our firm belief that truly sustainable forest use can be realised only through maintenance of ecological health and integrity. Ecological integrity (completeness) is the foundation which will yield social, cultural, and economic benefits for human communities. To compromise ecological integrity for short term considerations will impact forest use by future generations in, most likely, a negative manner. In consequence, the NSWOOA vigorously promotes ecological education and awareness amongst its members and all woodlot owners and operators in Nova Scotia.

The rationale for an ecological foundation for sustainable forest use

The unique and geographically limited Acadian Forest evolved over twelve thousand years under a set of climatic, biological, and geological conditions. Adaptation and natural selection operated to produce a forest type that is very productive (ecologically), adapted to the natural disturbance regime, and extremely resilient and stable over long periods of time. (This is a useful concept of "forest health", and contrasts, for example, to a layman's definition of health as a forest with tall trees and no dead wood standing or on the ground, and everything is pretty as a park.) The overlapping and interconnected definitions of the terms "stability", "integrity", "health", and "productivity" is perhaps underestimated by forest practioners in Nova Scotia.

Forest policy and practice must accept the premise that a forest must reinvest a portion of the annual (or periodic) net primary productivity of the ecosystem (from the parent material of the soil to the tallest tree tops) in order to maintain the natural level of health, stability, and production of that forest ecosystem. Yes, we can, and do, intervene silviculturally to influence forest production in a manner that increases the benefits to our society. However, if the intensity or method of those interventions act negatively on the web of life that underpins ecosystem productivity, we begin to lose the integrity of our forest. It may or may not be a long time before impaired forest production is obvious. A particularly difficult problem for us is the relatively short timeframe of human lifespans relative to the natural cycles of the Acadian Forest.

Exploitation of the forests of Nova Scotia over the past 500 years has dramatically changed our forest landscapes. Forest stability, health, and therefore, productivity have declined. Forest practice is moving ever faster to higher levels of fibre utilization, expansive operations, and shorter rotations. Expensive (in terms of capital and energy) silvicultural interventions are being used to mitigate natural productivity rates which are falling fast. Ecosystem alteration and simplification compound the issue through ever-greater disruption of the webs of lifeforms which give the forest its vitality. The evidence to support this can be found throughout our forests - we simply have difficulty (or a lack of desire) to interpret the evidence which is available. As for modern science, there is a notable lack of peer-reviewed, reputable research that supports the concept that short-rotation, high-utilization, evenaged forestry is ecologically or economically appropriate to maintain health and productivity in the Acadian Forest.

What is appropriate forest practice for Nova Scotia?

Forest practice should emulate the natural disturbance regime under which the Acadian Forest evolved. This will ensure that we affordably maintain, for ourselves and future generations, forest stability, health, and the consequent yield of forest values, ecosystem services, and timber. Unevenaged management over long rotations, with emphasis on growing high quality stems of our long-lived, most valuable species, offers the best opportunity to realize timber value while restoring forest health to a more natural (and desired) level. Unevenaged management should be mandated on the Crown lands of the province (because they should be held forth as models), and should be vigorously promoted on small private woodlots (because they are usually most accessible and of better than average site quality). Industrial landholdings subjected to economic constraints due to size and accessibility, should be managed, if not truly as unevenaged, on long rotations with allowance for adequate reinvestment of biomass into the ecosystem (coarse wood debris, abundant legacy trees and appropriate clumps, corridors, and wide riparian strips).

The prescription given above is very general, and is so intended to be. Within the concept of maintaining ecological integrity, a wide range of activity is possible, and indeed is necessary, given the vast array of forest conditions found throughout the province. The NSWOOA supports the right of landowners to make decisions pertaining to use of their land. However, we also emphasize the social responsibilities that accompany private ownership of land resources. It is incumbent on makers of public policy that appropriate forest philosophy and practice is well-communicated to landowners and the public alike. A sincere, concerted effort by government to increase the ecological awareness and understanding of woodlot owners and the general public would pay large social dividends as we begin to deal with expensive energy and excessive carbon in our atmosphere.

What is the role of biomass in our forest sector?

There is currently a poor definition of biomass commonly held throughout the forest sector. Biomass, of course, is all organic material found within the forest ecosystem. Each potential user has a unique definition of what is intended to constitute biomass. This can lead to confusion and misunderstanding, and an attempt should be made to better describe forest plant material.

The NSWOOA takes the position that the level of fibre utilization has increased to the point where insufficient biomass remains on harvested sites to maintain site health and productivity. It makes sense to take a precautionary approach and reduce utilization standards. As a starting point, green stemwood only should be harvested, with a minimum top diameter limit of 10 cm. This leaves ecologically important but economically-low value material on the site to maintain forest health. In the absence of solid scientific evidence supporting the practice, no removal of harvest residues should be allowed on Crown Lands, or encouraged through industrial development programs on other land tenures.

Public support of renewable energy initiatives and industrial development must proceed cautiously. Our forests have a limited capacity to yield fibre on a sustainable basis. We have probably already exceeded that limit. New users of woody material will ultimately compete with current users for the same volume of available resource. The market will determine how the fibre is put to its highest value use. New biomass-fuelled facilities will displace current users. The only way to delay that is to overharvest our forest resource, and that is economically, socially, and ecologically unacceptable.

What role shall our forests play in atmospheric carbon reduction?

There is much talk of late of the potential of "Carbon Capture and Storage" as a partial solution to climate changes brought on by excessive carbon emissions of industrial societies. On investigation, however, CCS is unproven technology, exceedingly expensive, and futuristic at best. Nevertheless, billions of public dollars will be spent in related research. On the other hand, forests capture and store carbon every minute of every day, year after year, at no cost to society whatsoever. If ever (and it will happen) Canada institutes caps on carbon emissions, the function of forests as carbon sinks will radically change the economic parameters of all industries which use forest-based resources.

Small private woodlot owners in Nova Scotia will be well placed to take advantage of this development. The Acadian Forest will be managed on an unevenaged basis, producing low volumes of high value wood, while low value wood enters the carbon sink, now an economic forest product, and at the same time improving forest health, stability, and productivity. A great positive feedback loop, at a time when we most need such a thing.

Forest policy in Nova Scotia should facilitate an effort to dispel the myths which surround the subject of forest carbon sinks, and prepare the way for the owners of fifty percent of provincial woodland to finally benefit financially from the production of an ecosystem service so badly needed by society.

How can public policy help small woodlot owners?

The NSWOOA recommends the formation of a Woodlot Investment Fund which would provide support for woodlot owner education initiatives and investment support for woodlot infrastructure. An example would be the purchase of future timber cutting rights so that owners needing to access the financial value of a woodlot today need not harvest immature timber. Modification of the Forest Sustainability Regulations to give woodlot owners some measure of control of the program would be helpful, and would help restore the devastated NS silviculture industry.

The small private woodlot sector can be best promoted by public policy which recognizes the real contribution of the woodlots to our communities' social and cultural fabric and to local and provincial economies.

On behalf of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association, I thank you for affording us the opportunity for input into the Strategy Review process.


Wade Prest
Mooseland, NS