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Nova Scotia’s forestry industry in ‘crisis mode,’ says Colchester County wood lot owner

N.S. woodlots feeling impact of impending Northern Pulp closure
Nova Scotia logging business says the forest industry has reached a state of emergency

Without a pulp and a paper mill like Northern Pulp, a healthy forest industry can’t survive as the two are intricately connected, says a logging family in Tatamagouche, N.S.

David and Julia MacMillan are loggers and own and manage 15,000 acres of land in Colchester County.

The pair say they’re still in shock with the decision by Northern Pulp to close its paper mill in Pictou County at the end of January.

READ MORE: Northern Pulp hands out layoff notices to employees

“This is the biggest hit to rural Nova Scotia in my entire lifetime,” said David, who, along with his wife, has been plying the logging trade in the backwoods of Nova Scotia for the past 35 years.

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With Northern Pulp set to close, the MacMillans say the market for pulpwood has withered away overnight.

They’ve lost logging contracts and jobs because the mill already has its quota of wood to get it through until closure.

“We went from having two years of work to having four weeks,” said David.

The MacMillans don’t clear cut, although the practice is still widely used in the Nova Scotia forest industry. Instead, they have been implementing a selective harvesting measure to improve the biodiversity of their forest properties.

The MacMillans say selective harvesting is a costly practice, and they figure 50 per cent of its cut timber today is sold as stud wood, but the other 50 per cent is low-grade pulpwood that for years Northern Pulp would buy at a good price.

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“Selection harvesting and pulp mills go hand in hand with each other,” said David.

“If you’re trying to improve the forest then what you harvest is all the low-grade stuff like what we are looking at here and in Nova Scotia. If you produce low-grade softwood then you need a pulp mill.”

N.S. forestry industry concerned about Northern Pulp closure
N.S. forestry industry concerned about Northern Pulp closure

The Bowater Mersey paper mill in Liverpool, N.S. closed in 2012, isolating wood lot owners and loggers in the west of the province.

Come February, Port Hawkesbury Paper will be the only mill operating in the province, creating a further gap to get pulpwood to market for those wood lot owners and loggers in the west and central region, as Port Hawkesbury paper doesn’t purchase half the amount of wood, that Northern Pulp did annually.

Peter Duinker is a professor emeritus with Dalhousie University’s school of resource and environmental studies while serving as an expert advisor to the Independent Review of Forest Practices in Nova Scotia, also known as the Lahey Report.

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The Lahey report was commissioned by the province in 2017 to examine current forestry practices in Nova Scotia and to outline how to improve and balance environmental, social, and economic goals in the forests.

One thing the report identified was that the forest industry and Northern Pulp were tightly integrated and a healthy forest industry relied on the mills operating here.

“That mill [Northern Pulp] probably consumes about a quarter of the fibre that’s harvested from the woods of Nova Scotia,” said Duinker.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia review recommends ‘fundamental’ changes to forestry industry

This is a big loss for those wood lot owners, who manage their lands to produce timber for the economy.

“There’s going to be a huge price hit,” said Duinker. “It’s just a matter of how supply and demand works.”

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Julia MacMillan says the value of their land has likely been cut in half since Northern Pulp’s closure announcement.

“In the case of some of my land that we have, on a $1,000-per-acre lot, it’s probably $500 for value now,” said MacMillan.

With the mill closing, it means a loss of 300 jobs but it’s anticipated the ripple effect could spread across the forest industry and affect thousands of other jobs in the process.

Logging truck drivers like Stanley Keating, who’s been trucking timber for more than 20-years, is already feeling the pinch and says he may have to move his business out west.

“It’s very scary not knowing what’s going to happen next,” said Keating.

“I might just have to cash it in. I might have to do something different. I don’t know, but it’s not good.”

The MacMillans planned to retire in five years, but say they might not last that long.

“This will be our last selection cut, we can’t afford to do this,” said David.

Premier Stephen McNeil has invested $50 million towards a transition fund to help those affected by the mill closure.

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On Friday, the team in charge of the transition fund was announced.

It will be led by Kelliann Dean, deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade.

The transition team includes government and industry leaders as well as experts from the forestry industry; Julie Towers, deputy minister for the Department of Lands and Forestry; Simon d’Entremont, deputy minister for department of energy and mines; Ava Czapalay, acting deputy minister department of labour and advanced education’ Don Bureaux, president of the Nova Scotia Community College; Jeff Bishop executive director with Forest Nova Scotia; Robin Wilber president Elmsdale Lumber Company; Debbie Reeves chair of the Large Private Non-Industrial Landowners of Nova Scotia; and Greg Watson, manager of North Nova Forest Owners Co-op Ltd.

The group will hold its first meeting on Jan. 9, 2020.