WE SHOULD BE WORRIED ABOUT THE FUTURE OF OUR FORESTS
January 11, 2022
CONSCIENTIOUS WOODLOT OWNERS HAVE ALWAYS TAKEN PRIDE IN THEIR WOODLOTS, UNDERSTANDING THE VALUE OF RESPONSIBLE MANAGEMENT, BUT INCREASINGLY TODAY THEY ARE BEING FORCED TO FOREGO THOSE INVESTMENTS – THEY CAN NO LONGER AFFORD THEM.
The imbalance in New Brunswick forests is damaging to more than the pocketbooks of woodlot owners and the province’s reputation: it is reshaping forest management and the composition of the forest in a way that bodes ill for the future.
“This unfairness means that commercial thinning no longer pays for itself.
A great deal of the commercial thinning, spacing and planting that needs to be done to maintain stands in top form has fallen by the wayside.
Conscientious woodlot owners have always taken pride in their woodlots, understanding the value of responsible management for today and into the future.
But increasingly today they are being forced to forego those investments – they can no longer afford them.
For instance, woodlot owners receive only about four per cent of the value of northern bleached softwood kraft pulp – compared to the roughly 20 per cent they were getting just a few years ago.
Where is the fairness in that?
This unfairness means that commercial thinning no longer pays for itself. Commercial thinning should provide a small return to the owner while at the same time setting the site up for the harvesting of saw material at a later date because the remaining trees have additional room to grow.
LONG-TERM VIABILITY OF OUR FORESTS AT STAKE
You’ve heard already how woodlot owners were left out in the cold as lumber prices soared this year but they saw virtually no increases in what they could fetch for their wood.
“We have fallen prey in New Brunswick to the short-sightedness caused by four-year election cycles and an industry prioritizing immediate profits for shareholders.
As woodlot owners are caught in the vise of poor prices and declining margins, they can no longer afford to make the investments in management that they used to.
The government and the public should be worried. We all need to be concerned with the long-term viability of our forests, particularly with industry’s laser focus on increasing profits year over year.
We should pay more attention to the Europeans who see themselves as temporary tenants of the land with a responsibility to leave the forests in good condition for the next generation.
We have fallen prey in New Brunswick to the short-sightedness caused by four-year election cycles and an industry prioritizing immediate profits for shareholders. We are all suffering because of these truths – they subvert focus on ensuring a sustainable, healthy forest for future generations.
This is an especially important discussion in the context of the climate change threat and the discussions that were held in Glasgow at the UN Climate Change Conference. More than 90 countries supported the declaration on Forests and Land Use at the COP26 summit, which has garnered the support of world leaders, financiers, global companies and civic leaders to promote the positive effects of forests and land use on the climate, people, economic development and biodiversity.
There seems to be a growing impatience and anger with large corporations determined to bleed profits from forests without regard for the waste and the degradation they leave behind. Many New Brunswickers are horrified, with good reason, at the massive clearcutting that happens all too frequently as industry moves to squeeze as much as it can from our forests.
Our politicians, who are supposed to be stewards of New Brunswick’s forests, ignore this at their own peril.
INDUSTRY OVERUSING CLEARCUTTING
As woodlot owners, we recognize that clearcutting can have a place in forest management. We often come across over-mature stands where the best course of action is to knock down the trees and let regeneration work its magic. However, we rarely see the need for clearcutting whole woodlots. There is no question that, today, industry is overusing the practice and it is degrading the natural habitat and the diversity of our forests.
“As woodlot owners, we recognize that clearcutting can have a place in forest management. However, we rarely see the need for clearcutting whole woodlots.
On smaller woodlots these days, the problem is there is little ability to manage the lots as they have been in the past because woodlot owners can’t get enough money to pay for it. The fact of the matter is the low prices we’re getting now are contributing to bad forest practices.
Economic pressures and industry-first focus in this province squeezes corporate foresters who operate in an environment where only one or two harvesting methods are viable and approved by company management.
This creates a real difference in philosophy between industry practices and woodlot owners like myself.
I remember a field trip a few years ago where we were asked to come up with a plan for a stand that had naturally regenerated after harvest. It looked great to me and the other woodlot owners: there were eight or 10 different species, including fir, spruce, maple and oak, they were well spaced and had about eight years of growth. Our attitude was to just leave it, to possibly thin it in a few years. But the industry fellow, his attitude was to crush everything into the ground and start over.
The thing is, industry will defend that approach to their last breath. They like single species plantations because of the economics – that is their focus. People need to know that, right now, all the cards are in the hands of people who may not have the best interests of the province at heart. They are going to grow the forest whatever way they want, and that way is driven by economics and current industrial demand, which everyone knows is subject to change in the future.
Final thought: forests are one of New Brunswick’s prized natural resources – shouldn’t we be managing them as best as we can for today and tomorrow? Instead of industry forcing the forests to meet its demands, shouldn’t government be leading responsible management in the best interests of the forests and our province, and ensuring industry follows?
Rick Doucett President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners