October 30, 2019
Given the competing interests in New Brunswick’s forests these days and the lingering inaction of successive governments, it’s fair to say we’re coming to a time of reckoning in the way our woodlands are managed.
It is long past the time to keep quiet about difficult issues that confront us.
At our recent annual general meeting, we heard from politicians of all stripes in New Brunswick express a willingness for change and action on forestry. This was not a surprise – heading into the last provincial election more than a year ago, that sentiment was there.
“I don’t remember another time when all political parties in New Brunswick agreed on the need for reform in forestry.
But hearing the commitment for change from the Conservative government, the Liberals, the People’s Alliance and the Green Party was admittedly encouraging. That kind of consensus backs up what we have been advocating for a long time – that the current system is broken. I don’t remember a time when all political parties in New Brunswick agreed on the need for reform in forestry. I came away from the meeting cautiously optimistic that we might actually see action from the powers that be.
David Coon, the leader of the Green Party, is the first to propose concrete action. He announced at our meeting that he will bring forward a bill to amend the Crown Lands and Forests Act that would secure woodlot owners’ access to markets – fair access is something the Federation has been pressing for for a very long time.
I look forward to learning the details and our federation is committed to working with David and others to move important changes forward. We hope that he is supported by the Conservative government and others in his quest for reform.
FROM TALK TO ACTION
That is what I and my colleagues are looking for – moving from talk to action. We have been waiting for a very long time.
“Other nations and provinces long ago found a better balance – we can too.
We need a system that treats woodlot owners and other users of our forests with fairness.
For years now, successive governments have bought into the myth that what is best for industry is best for all.
Yes, we do need a strong forestry industry in the province. But governments need to come around to the reality that supporting private woodlot owners and other smaller players in the industry will help our forests prosper and thrive. Other nations and provinces long ago found a better balance – we can too.
There are those that prefer our federation and others not press for change, that we should all just button up and say nothing. That somehow seeking a better future for our forests and seeking fairness for people like contractors and woodlot owners is wrong.
Only those who reap tremendous advantage from the status quo would fear change. Instead of suggesting to the growing chorus of critics to stay quiet, vested interests should join us in our desire to tackle the problems in an open and transparent manner. After all, as Premier Blaine Higgs noted recently, “there’s room for everybody” in the forest.
"APPARENT BIAS TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND INDUSTRY."
Speaking out for a better future is not undermining the forestry sector. It is about rebuilding the sector with a clear-eyed understanding of the ecological, economic and social objectives for our timberlands now and into the future. And it’s about re-balancing to correct what Auditor General Kim MacPherson has described as an "apparent bias to economic development and industry."
“It is an unfairness that has handed the advantage to big industry and is costing the province’s taxpayers millions of dollars.
Premier Higgs has said the Crown Lands and Forests Act, enacted in the early 1980s, is “outdated” and in dire need of an overhaul.
Back in 1980, the objective for a management plan was simple: ensure a sustainable supply of softwood timber. Unfortunately, governments in this province have had a history of ignoring the legislation – and that has lead to the fundamental unfairness that plagues us today. It is an unfairness that has handed the advantage to big industry and is costing the province’s taxpayers millions of dollars.
When the Act first became law, Crown land was only to be the residual supplier of wood. It was a straightforward equation: mill demand was defined on one side of the equation and on the other side was the wood supply from a company’s own land plus the wood supply from private woodlots. If that added to 80 and the company requirement was 100, the residual, the 20, would come from Crown land. That gave private woodlots primary source of supply because they were built into the equation before the residual Crown requirement was defined.
“There seems to be a belief that fair-market access is an outdated model
However, the old adage that nothing stays the same has proven true in forest management in New Brunswick. Over the years, the equation for private wood supply has been altered – there has been a clear shift by industry towards the use of Crown land. That has had unfortunate results for many, especially the province’s 42,000 private woodlot owners.
It’s not difficult to see why industrial interests seek to dominate decision-making and want nothing more than a take-it-or-leave-it approach when it comes to private wood. There seems to be a belief that fair-market access is an outdated model – of course, they want to take us all back to the 1950s when negotiations were everything but fair to the little guy.
MORE VALUE FROM OUR TREES
We believe the path forward for a prosperous forestry sector in New Brunswick is about extracting more value from our trees, not in constantly harvesting more trees from our forests.
“the fact that mills directly or indirectly control so much of the timber supply in New Brunswick means that the market is not truly an open market. In such a situation it is not possible to be confident that the prices paid in the market are, in fact, fair market value. — Kim MacPherson, Auditor General of New Brunswick
There are a lot of numbers that can be used to illustrate the state of the private wood market these days, but perhaps the most telling is that while pulpwood sells for about $95 a tonne in Nova Scotia, it’s only $38 to $45 per tonne here. Even with increased transportation costs, a private woodlot owner in New Brunswick is probably doing about $20 a tonne better by selling it to Nova Scotia.
As the auditor general has said, "the fact that mills directly or indirectly control so much of the timber supply in New Brunswick means that the market is not truly an open market. In such a situation it is not possible to be confident that the prices paid in the market are, in fact, fair market value."
Time is catching up to outdated thinking that the interests of industry should come ahead of everyone else. That attitude has cost our province dearly, and we are still seeing it played out in the countervailing duties our biggest trading partner, the United States, seeks to keep in place. Last year, the punitive trade action sucked about $100 million right out of our economy at a time when no one can afford it – not the forestry industry, not the government and certainly not the taxpayers of this province.
The good news is it's never too late to make things right. Remind your MLA that it is time for action to restore economic balance in the sector and address society’s changing expectations for our forests.
Thank you for listening,
Rick Doucett President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners