FOR THE LOVE OF THE WOODS, A FIGHT FOR FAIRNESS
December 21, 2020
Over the holidays, as I often do, I will venture out into the woods to enjoy the beauty, the tranquility, the stillness. I will trek through my own woodlots, noticing what’s new and different here and there.
It’s a ritual, one that calms me and brings peace. This is part of me – it’s what I love.
“And so began my journey, stretching more than three decades now, as a woodlot owner in New Brunswick. It began as a labour of love, then a duty of stewardship, followed by a way to serve the people – folks who, like me, feel the deep pull of the woods.
I discovered my deep connection to the woods as a young lad, hunting and fishing with my father. But I didn’t realize how important it was to me until I enrolled in a business program at the University of New Brunswick, realizing I wasn’t interested in a life wearing a suit and tie and beholden to an office.
I switched to Maritime Forest Ranger School instead, and set about a career revolving around the woods. At 22, I bought my first woodlot – 162 acres outside of Fredericton. Wandering the lot, I was awed by the diversity I found within it.
And so began my journey, stretching more than three decades now, as a woodlot owner in New Brunswick. It began as a labour of love, then a duty of stewardship, followed by a way to serve the people – folks who, like me, feel the deep pull of the woods.
Doucett photos de famille / Family Photos For six years now, I have had the privilege of serving as president of the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners, advocating for the interests of 42,000 woodlot owners across the province.
Many people ask me why I do it, recognizing the frustrations that come from fighting for a fairer system that recognizes the value of what we do, realizing how government after government have tended to favour industrial interests over hard-working New Brunswickers trying to make a living off their land.
Like my colleagues within the federation and at wood marketing boards across the province, I have an interest in what happens to our forests – a beautiful and hugely important resource to New Brunswick.
PROMISING A FAIRER SYSTEM
Like all New Brunswickers, I’m a taxpayer and am not keen to pay any more tax than I have to – if there’s an opportunity for our government to make more money from our natural resources and keep its hand out of my pocket, that matters.
“If there’s an opportunity for our government to make more money from our natural resources and keep its hand out of my pocket, that matters.
When I look at woodlot owners and see what they can contribute locally to the economy, that's important. There are very powerful entities in this province and it’s difficult to move the forestry sector into balance, to a better place.
As a result, people often tell me I’m wasting my time, that it’s too late to make significant changes. But I don’t believe that – I’m not at the point where I think it is hopeless.
Today’s government, under Premier Blaine Higgs, is promising to restore some balance by ensuring private wood has a greater place in the mix heading off to the mills. Along with Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland, they are promising a fairer system for marketing wood in the province. This after a decade or more of erosion as previous governments stood by and allowed industry advantage after advantage.
WE NEED ACTION
“Collectively, as taxpayers, we’re losing millions of dollars every year as the province undervalues the trees on Crown lands and sells them off to industry.
But I have to be frank – we can’t afford to wait much longer. We need action. Collectively, as taxpayers, we’re losing millions of dollars every year as the province undervalues the trees on Crown lands and sells them off to industry.
The challenge for a lot of woodlot owners is how to manage their properties in this climate. It truly doesn’t pay. At one time, you could get $20 a cord for pulpwood for stumpage. Now you’re lucky to get $5 a cord for stumpage.
That’s a huge part of the challenge of managing a small property. It’s not just a matter of more volume for more money, it’s being able to manage your land, meet your objectives and grow better fibre.
There are forces at foot to subvert the work of the marketing boards tasked under law with negotiating fair pricing for wood, to undermine the work of the Federation, to make sure that the status quo that so favours industry remains firmly entrenched.
RIGHT BACK TO THE 1950S
My interest is ensuring that the woodlot owners of this province, and the people of New Brunswick, see fairness restored in the forestry sector and realize the benefits from that.
“What’s clear to me is that the private woodlot sector is an important part of the heritage of New Brunswick. The fact that a person can own 50 or 100 acres and work that land is something special to the Maritimes.
It’s frustrating that we, as a federation and as marketing boards, have long been ignored in our quest for fairness. But I shudder to think where we would be today as a forestry sector and as a province, if we were not around to advocate for the little guy.
We’d be right back to the 1950s, when mill owners held all the power – and paid whatever they felt like paying, did business in whatever manner they chose, and were quick to undermine anyone they didn’t view as doing their bidding.
Another thing that’s clear to me is that the private woodlot sector is an important part of the heritage of New Brunswick. The fact that a person can own 50 or 100 acres and work that land is something special to the Maritimes.
The farther west you go, the more difficult it is to own a piece of woodland. It’s one of the reasons I stayed in New Brunswick and have a daughter who is now also involved in forestry and woodlot management.
As I head off to wander my woodlots this Christmas, soaking in all of the peace and tranquil beauty, I will hope for a brighter future – for woodlot owners, for New Brunswick, for all of us.
Wishing you and yours a safe and healthy holiday season,
Rick Doucett President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners