Harvesting on Crown land gets second look

By Lois Ann Dort    
March 7 2018

In an interview last month with The Journal, Scott Cook expressed concerns about the harvest of old-growth stands in the county and called for the practice to be stopped. He said the best value for the wood taken from Crown land in Guysborough County was not being realized this way.  At the time of that story, a request for an interview with the Department of Natural Resources was not answered in time for publication. Mark Pulsifer, the regional resource manager for DNR, addressed Cooks' concerns and others recently raised in the media by local woodsmen Danny George, in an interview with The Journal on Monday.

In terms of value for harvested wood, Pulsifer said, “There is an expectation when you are harvesting the wood, you'll market your product to whatever location will give you the highest value. There are a variety of values out there...everything from veneer wood to saw logs on one of the end of scale and on the other end wood used for biomass or fuel.” He added that when people harvest wood off the Crown there is an accounting system where tonnage of wood harvested must be submitted, broken down into uses, to the Department of Natural Resources. The actual stumpage rates however, are confidential.

Speaking directly to the question of the Loon Lake area, Pulsifer said the Department will be taking a close look at the area in the next couple of weeks to determine what kind of wood is there. “We had no indication in the beginning that there was any old forest in there but thanks to Mr. George, and we do appreciate that Danny brought this to our attention, we're going to be spending a considerable amount of time out there looking to see exactly what that is.”

When asked if this review might be a little like closing the barn doors after the cows escaped, as cutting has already occurred in the area, Pulsifer said, “Now that we are fully aware of it, nothing is happening in there right now. We want to go in there and take a good hard look at it so that we are in a much better condition to comment and to make some decisions as to how we should approach this in the future. Unfortunately, yes, some stands in some areas have already been harvested...We can only go forward from here and try to do the best that we can.”

Pulsifer added that previous to the recent mounting concern, “All indications for us in our approval process was that it was suitable for harvest. There were no flags with respect to old forest in the beginning to indicate to us that there were any concerns in there. That was the reason that the harvest was actually approved because we did not have any indication that there was any old growth. It wasn't until Danny (Danny George) brought it to our attention that we understood that there was something in there that we should be going back in there and doing further work on.”

In discussion of the cut that has already taken place in the Loon Lake area, Pulsifer said that the treatment type used was a group selection, not a clearcut treatment but a partial harvesting treatment, where approximately 30 per cent of the stand would be harvested in small patches. The method would encourage an uneven age structure in the remaining forest where important structures such as snag logs, fallen trees and cavity trees would remain to retain the characteristics of the original stand.

George had expressed concerns that harvesting swaths were being cut too wide to allow for the regrowth of valuable shade tolerant species such as yellow birch. Pulsifer disputes this assertion stating that the current harvest opening are appropriate for yellow birch.

Questions have also been raised about the amount of old-growth forest in the county and how much Crown land is currently available for harvest. Pulsifer said 12 per cent of forested land in Guysborough County has been identified as old forest or becoming old forest and 48 per cent of Crown land in the county is considered suitable for foresting activity.

When asked about monitoring of cuts on Crown land, Pulsifer said a new monitoring program was instituted in 2016 where inspections are carried out during and after harvest. The inspections are carried out by both the Department of Natural Resources and in the case at hand, Port Hawkesbury Paper, the licensee of the land.

Speaking to the best economic use of the forest resource, Pulsifer said, “Long-term forest management is carried out on other Crown lands to support the long-term economics and other benefits that come from that forest. With respect to Loon Lake and the hardwood, the stands are being partially harvested to improve the future timber quality. We are trying to get some long term value out of those forest through these particular treatments.

“From a forest management perspective we are trying to create conditions that we can manage for good tolerant hardwood forest 50, 60, 100 years from now. It's not quite as short-term as some people may say. It is certainly not our intent to be in and out on the short-term.”