HALIFAX – The recent harvesting of old-growth forests in eastern Nova Scotia illustrates a “desperate need” to reform the province’s forestry practices, says a longtime conservationist.
Ray Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, said Friday he’s not surprised by the findings of a new government report that says two of 12 stands partially harvested by Port Hawkesbury Paper contained old-growth forest.
The report by Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forester Peter Bush also found eight of 15 stands that were scheduled to be cut in the Lawlor Lake area of Guysborough County also contained old-growth forest.
“What we learned through this is DNR does not really oversee these regulations to make sure things are followed,” said Plourde who has held his position at the Halifax-based environmental organization for 16 years. He has also served as a national trustee of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and as a board member of the Nova Scotia Salmon Association.
“The system over time has essentially given a lot of the real management and oversight to their clients, which are the big mills,” he said.
The report says the department’s assessment of the Lawlor Lake area was conducted in March 20, and was “in response to public concern about forest harvesting … in the area.”
It says Port Hawkesbury Paper harvested several hardwood stands in the area under its Forest Utilization License Agreement with the province.
Ben Phillips, director of the Acadian Forest Dendrochronology Lab at Mount Allison University, was hired as part of the assessment to count tree rings.
Many of the stands examined contained trees 125 years-of-age and older, with one stand containing trees that were 178-years-old, the report says. Under the province’s policy, old-growth forest is defined, in part, as a forest stand where 30 per cent of the trees are 125-years-of-age or older.
The report concludes the province’s old-forest policy needs to be updated, along with the scoring system used to identify old-growth trees.
Natural Resources Minister Margaret Miller said she was surprised by the findings, noting the age of the trees surveyed in the assessment.
Miller maintains the department does a good job of providing oversight, although she admitted that didn’t happen in this case.
“This was something that was missed, not only by Port Hawkesbury Paper but by us because we actually approved the harvest plans,” she said. “It wasn’t caught and that’s something we sincerely regret.”
But Miller said it was “unfair” to suggest the province isn’t providing enough oversight of the companies cutting the trees.
“They are being monitored, we do audits before the treatments are done and also afterwards, about 25 per cent are being audited,” she said.
But Plourde doesn’t buy the department’s line, saying the government gives the companies too much discretion when it comes to cutting.
“There isn’t a lot of old-growth forest left in Nova Scotia,” he said. “I do think old-growth trees have been harvested in the past with a kind of a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil blind eye.”
Plourde also notes the province’s Parks and Protected Areas Plan hasn’t been fully implemented, with about 90 areas waiting to be protected. He said a number of those areas have old-growth stands, including near the controversial cut in the Giant’s Lake and Tracadie River areas.
He expects issues such as cutting old-growth forest will be addressed in a yet-to-be-released report by University of King’s College president William Lahey.
“These issues were certainly discussed with him by a wide variety of stakeholders, so we are certainly hoping the reforms that are so desperately needed are in the report as clear recommendations,” said Plourde.
When he was hired last August, Lahey confirmed he had been given a broad mandate to examine all aspects of forestry, including the controversial practice of clear cutting.