The Forest and the Trees
This is my column in the Halifax Sunday Herald for October 17, 2010. It may seem pretty local, because it’s about forest practices in Nova Scotia, and the debate currently raging here about the future of the forests — but it applies in many other places around the world. The forces that have decimated the Acadian mixed forest of eastern Canada are the same forces, and the same attitudes, that are clearing the tropical rainforests all around the belt of the world — and in numberless other locations. — SDC
The Forest and the Trees
Which is more important, the forest or the trees?
The trees, say the forest corporations. The forest, say the rest of us. That’s the clear message from the public consultations led by Voluntary Planning for Nova Scotia’s Natural Resources Strategy Review, which started in 2007.
Let’s be clear about the terms. A genuine forest is a natural community, complex and diverse, full of complicated interactions. Soil fungi pass nutrients between plants, bears flip salmon ashore to nourish the trees, birds and insects distribute pollen and seeds. A living forest inhales greenhouse gasses like CO2, and exhales oxygen. It prevents soil erosion. It absorbs rainwater, filters it, and regulates its release into the streams. It nourishes the human sense of wonder, attracts visitors and supports recreational activities like hunting, fishing, birding and hiking. Its inhabitants pollinate our crops.
An industrial “managed forest“ is not a forest at all. It`s a plantation, a farm for pulpwood. Its trees are all the same species, all
the same age, maintained by chemicals and grown to be clearcut by monstrous machinery. It resembles a forest about as much as a plastic turkey resembles a Thanksgiving dinner. But that`s what the “forest“ industries want, and that`s what they`ve created on vast tracts of the Nova Scotian landscape.
According to the consultations, Nova Scotians want a real forest, not a plantation. Voluntary Planning’s first report accurately reflected those opinions, and its Phase 2 report massaged them into proposals designed to shape the province’s new forestry policy – and, ultimately, its new forest.
But the forest corporations are desperately concerned that the provincial government may actually do what the citizens have called for – a truly horrifying novelty. Behind the scenes, they’re staging a veritable orgy of lobbying, spin-doctoring, bullying and arm-twisting.
Their scare campaign could very well succeed, says Wade Prest, a professional forester, woodlot operator and former president of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association. The three big pulp mills absolutely dominate forestry in Nova Scotia, and they have been strongly supported by the provincial Department of Natural Resources. In effect, the mills now control the whole provincial market in wood fibre.
A sawmill, for example, absolutely requires a reliable source of saw-log and a place to sell its waste products. A pulp mill can provide both – but the agreement binds the sawmill firmly to the pulp mill. By the same token, many woodlot owners feel they have no choice but to do the bidding of the pulp companies, which diligently foster the illusion that they’re the only game in town.
And that’s how the companies got the clout they’re using to put pressure on Natural Resources Minister John MacDonnel – who, say Wade Prest and others, really does understand the desperate need for reform.
The Forest Products Industry Association of Nova Scotia, for instance, boasts over 600 members including loggers, truckers, “sawmill operators, pulp and paper manufacturers, small and large landowners, forest equipment operators, maple product producers, woodlot owners, Christmas tree producers, silviculture and harvesting contractors.” FPANS is calling on all its members to write the Minister opposing the Voluntary Planning report.
Why? The report’s recommendations, FPANS declares, “are not based on credible science and come from a few vocal people who would prefer to see our industry die. These people forget the forest industry is the backbone of the rural economy of Nova Scotia. Without a viable forest industry – we will see rural communities fade off the map.” Apparently the whisper campaign goes so far as to insinuate that the wicked socialist government intends to expropriate private woodlots.
Get a grip, lads. Who are these bogeymen who want the forest industries and the rural communities to die? The real enemies of rural communities are the pulp companies who have been mechanizing and cutting jobs for decades, who come and go as it suits them, whose forestry “management” closely resembles the fisheries “management” that extinguished the cod fishery, and whose idea of democratic procedure is to bully its suppliers and employees – and, if possible, the government itself.
There’s a better way to do things, both in the woods and in the legislature, and the time to start is now.
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