There are two sides to forests, according to Nature Newfoundland and Labrador president John Jacobs. On one end, forests protect biodiversity, yet they are also an important part of the province’s renewable resource-based economy, particularly in rural regions.
“The challenge is to realize the economic benefits without compromising the ecosystems in which they are based,” he said in front of more than 20 attendees during a public consultation session held Tuesday night in St. John’s on the development of a new provincial sustainable forest management strategy.
The new 10-year strategy will replace the previous one released in 2003 by the Department of Natural Resources.
Talk of striking a balance between ecological and economic concerns was brought up by multiple presenters Tuesday. Ian Goudie of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said governments for too long have believed clear cutting mimics natural events such as insect infestations and forest fires.
“For the sustainable forest management strategy to go forward and truely be a sustainable forest management strategy, there really has to be some new thinking,” he said.
Goudie recommended the government create an independent science-based panel to advise the province on the sustainable management of forests.
“It’s hard to envision how state-of-the-art management can arise from within an institution that’s largely holding an old paradigm as its model for all forest management.”
That said, he did commend department officials present at the event for working with a science-based agenda and said it is good the government is showing an interest in boreal forest certification.
John Baird of the Newfoundland and Labrador Lumber Producers Association said the forestry sector has been negatively affected by the rise of the Internet and the move by many people to a paperless existence.
Mill closures in Stephenville and Grand Falls-Windsor and reduced operations at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper have been a testament to worldwide trends in paper usage.
According to figures from the Department of Natural Resources, newsprint production from Newfoundland and Labrador dipped from 762,000 tonnes in 2005 to 258,000 tonnes in 2010.
Baird said while the market for solid wood has also struggled in North America as a result of the housing crisis in the United States, he said lumber prices will eventually rise. He said he considers the downturn cyclical.
“Unlike newsprint, lumber will be in demand again and prices will be increasing again,” he said.
Baird said people need to look at the best end-use available for timber by using the most valuable wood for the most valuable products. He added the government could help this process by introducing new legislation, as has been done in other places.
Baird also spoke about the potential for bioenergy with wood waste, noting British Columbia has set a 15 per cent target for using wood waste as a heating source. He said the price of heating homes with oil is expected to rise dramatically in the years ahead, and using wood as a heat source is more carbon-efficient than oil heat.
Wayne Holloway, who operates three hunting and fishing lodges in the Terra Nova region, said a decline in caribou herds can be attributed to forest management practices that have cost him $300,000 in annual revenue. While he understands there is a need to balance efforts to preserve nature with the demands of a renewable resource-based economy, he said there are tradeoffs.
“If we are to implement strict environmental rules for the way we utilize the forest ... there’s going to be fallout for lumber producers as well as there’s going to be fallout for just about everybody who derives their livelihood from the forest,” said Holloway. “If these sacrifices have to be made in the public interest, it is my view they ought to reach into their pocket and compensate the individuals whose livelihood has been impacted.”
Wayne Kelly, director of the department’s Centre for Forest Science and Innovation, told attendees of the consultation session a draft of the new strategy will likely be completed later this year.
Further public consultations are scheduled next week in Corner Brook (March 20) and Happy Valley-Goose Bay (March 22).