Nova Scotia forestry workers are a “misunderstood bunch,” especially on the contentious practice of clear cutting, a legislature committee was told Thursday.
“They are portrayed publicly as Joe Lumberjack with a chain saw looking to cut every tree from Cape Breton to Yarmouth,” Marcus Zwicker, general manager of Westfor Management Inc., told the resources committee.
“The effort and the decision-making and the passion for what we do really doesn’t make it to the public eye.”
Clear cutting and other forestry practices will be examined in a highly anticipated report by University of King’s College president William Lahey, that is expected to be released soon.
In 2016 the province’s Liberal government backed away from a previously stated goal of reducing clear cutting on Crown land by 50 per cent.
Jeff Bishop, the executive director of Forest Nova Scotia, told the committee that industry doesn’t like set targets for various harvesting methods.
“Because the fear is we will not be doing proper forestry and what’s best for the land if we’re basing it on a number.”
He said considerations have to be driven by what’s growing or not growing on a particular stand of trees.
Bishop said forestry is more complex than boiling things down to discussions about whether clear cutting is a good or bad practice. Concerns have to be balanced between market demands and the best approaches to harvesting in various areas of forest whether they be on Crown or private lands, he said.
Zwicker, whose company is owned by a group of 13 mills from across western Nova Scotia, said wherever companies use clear cutting, decisions are based on assessments of individual tree stands.
He said those considerations include such things as soil, vegetation, and the quality and abundance of certain tree species.
Zwicker said clear cuts are used for several reasons, including during salvages where a large number of trees have been blown down by wind, and in stands where there is a large number of over-mature trees.
He later told reporters that cost is also a factor – clear cutting can be up to 30 per cent cheaper than certain selective cuts.
WATCH: Provincial clear cutting targets ‘abandoned,’ advocates say
However, Raymond Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre said cost is the primary reason for the practice.
“It is the cheapest way to get the most amount of wood into the mill doors at the lowest possible price,” said Plourde. “It’s not because the land is telling us it needs a good shellacking every five years.”
Plourde said Nova Scotia’s Acadian forest is ill-suited to clear cutting because of its multi-species composition, adding that the province needs to get back to a strong target like the one abandoned in 2016.
“That’s why we have such a low percentage of old-growth forest and such a high percentage of increasingly young scrubby forest,” he said.
NDP committee member Lisa Roberts said she believes the forest industry lacks the “social licence” to conduct wide-spread clear cutting.
Roberts said companies such as Taylor Lumber in Middle Musquodoboit are an example of how forestry can be done. She said the company produces value-added products while conducting few clear cuts, and employing people year-round.
“It shows us a path forward,” she said.