ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — While the residents of Port Blandford offer a resounding ‘no’ to planned clearcutting in their forests, Fishery and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne is asking them to “consider compromise.”
Byrne told The Packet in an interview today, following a meeting at Confederation Building with members of the concerned citizens group, that he’s also met with local harvesting operators, and says they would welcome the notion of compromise.
The meeting with Byrne is the latest development in the efforts by citizens of Port Blandford to have the province pull back on its plan for clearcutting a section of forest in zone 2, including the South West River Valley and Thorburn Lake.
“I did emphasize to the town and the committee that this is a working forest,” said Byrne. “This has been scheduled. This is part of our active forestry inventory … for decades, and it does provide jobs to many people.”
The Packet also reached out to the members of concerned citizens committee for comment after today’s meeting, but they said they would prefer to wait until after they have a chance to present information from today’s meeting with Byrne at a public meeting in Port Blandford on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, Byrne says he’s personally witnessed this exact dilemma in other areas in the past, and both harvesting and industries like tourism can successfully working together.
He says he wanted to see if there was an opportunity for a scenario in Port Blandford that would mutually benefit both the harvesters and the residents.
According to the minister, the meeting included discussion about water protection and the possibility of expanding buffer zones and protecting “viewscapes” from the town itself.
He says they talked about the actual specifics of what the “clearcutting” might entail — saying he thinks clearcutting is not necessarily the proper term. He says he calls it simple forestry management — a standard practice.
“(Clearcutting) is the forestry harvest and management technique that is employed throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and has been for many, many decades,” he said. “(It) does conjure somewhat of a negative image.”
In reality, he said, within the cutting blocks there are buffer zones and blocks within the blocks and “very little forestry activity occurs exclusively as what some as described as a moonscape extending for miles.”
Byrne contends the actual opposite of this “barren” notion is true, saying, according to scientific research, the forest needs this type of deforestation to promote the regeneration of vegetation.
“It’s actually a more effective method of forestry regeneration than what some would call selective forestry practices.”
He says the clearcutting mimics the natural method of forest fire — which can actually be a major risk for an old forest such as this one. As well, he said, pests like spruce budworm and hemlock looper can attack an old growth forest.
If this old-growth forest remains untouched, said Byrne, nature will still inevitably take its course.
“We will be experiencing less and less forest biomass and more and more decay and fallen trees … regrettably, and this is an inevitability.”
Byrne also noted the management of this section of forest may not only involve clearcutting, but silviculture; the replanting of trees.
“We, as a department, will be very much prepared to introduce silviculture immediately following any commercial forest activity,” he said, while admitting that in other cut blocks in the province it is not common practice to replant. He says most areas can often be regenerated naturally.
However, in this case, he says they can plan a replanting program immediately after harvest.
As for the concerns of whether or not harvesters will adhere to proper forest management requirements like buffers and spill kits, he told the group proper forest requirements are very easily enforced — they are simply able to investigate any and all forestry infraction.
“If there’s any violation of any requirement that’s part of the management plan, enforcement activity would be expected to occur and it can be easily done,” said Byrne.
Terra Nova MHA and Port Blandford resident Colin Holloway arranged the meeting in St. John’s with Byrne.
In addition to the MHA and Byrne, the meeting was attended by representatives from the Town of Port Blandford and the committee of residents against clearcutting.
They presented a petition to the minister at the meeting.
The committee is holding a public session at the Port Blandford Legion this Thursday night, March 8, at 7 p.m. to present their overview of the meeting with Byrne to the public. It is for this reason members of the committee declined to comment to The Packet after today’s meeting. They say they want to ensure there will be no misunderstanding of the facts they present to the community and would prefer to do it in a public meeting session.