GUYSBOROUGH – The Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) admits that it allowed old growth forest to be harvested in Guysborough County -- in contravention of department policy. Minister Margaret Miller, in reaction to a Forest Technical Note on the Lawlor Lake area in Guysborough County released on May 9, acknowledged the error.
The department examined the area this spring in response to concerns raised about the classification of the forest by Guysborough area residents Danny George and Scott Cook. Their concerns were documented in several articles in this paper this past winter.
The Forest Technical Note stated, “that 2 of the 12 recently partially harvested stands were old growth forest (OGF), and a further 8 were considered old forest that did not meet the criteria for old growth. Of the planned harvest stands (not treated), 11 of the stands were OGF.”
Minister Miller, in an interview with The Journal last week confirmed that due to this recent assessment, “We are making sure that the harvesting of anything that is either an old forest or an old growth forest, has been stopped.”
The system to assess stands for harvest failed, admitted Miller. “These should have been picked up. PHP (Port Hawkesbury Paper), their staff as the licensee, their staff did the pre-treatment assessment. We approved them for harvest; we both bear that responsibility. Certainly it is something now that we have to learn from.”
Miller continued, “There's lots of blame here for all of us. This is a system, the process has failed to protect some of those old growth sites...It was never the intention to even partially cut any old growth forest.”
A flaw in the process identified by George and others, is the reliance on business to conduct the pre-treatment assessments on Crown land. When asked about the possibility that this practice would be changed in light of these losses, Miller said, “Not at all. I think what we need to do is make sure all our licensees know exactly where we stand and cutting old growth forest is not going to be acceptable and we are going to be watching for that as well in our pre-treatment and after-treatment audits.”
Addressing measures to ensure OGF isn't harvested in the future Miller said, “In going forward, we know we need to do a better job, that we need to stress the importance to all licensees and DNR staff that they identify potential old growth forest during the planning, pre-assessment and the approval process. We have to make sure with the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging--remote sensing) that we actually have a secondary back up system, like LIDAR, that will do a better job also at picking them up...it's also going to be the boots on the ground. The assessments that are going to happen, we know when we stress to our licensee how important this is, they are certainly not going to want to go against our policy.”
Old growth forest cannot be replaced, but the question of compensation for the loss of a valuable resource, was put to the minister. “The damage that has already been done...we're also partially responsible for that. This is a case where we can work on the flaws in the process and where we've missed it and know that we have to do a better job going forward. I don't think this is somewhere where we want to sanction people. I think this is going to be a learning exercise and we are going to make sure all licensees and DNR staff are fully aware of the importance of identifying these old growth forest. This will be part of the planning, field assessment and approval process- to be more aware that we can't be missing sites like this because they are too important to Nova Scotians.”
In this instance, local citizens concerned about the forestry practices in the area worked to get the government's attention on this file for years. When asked to justify funding for DNR when the department has not fulfilled their mandate to protect the Crown's natural resources, Miller stated, “DNR is responsible for a lot of the Crown land in the province. About 30 per cent of our land mass is DNR land. I think we are doing a really good job in the vast majority of the cases in managing Crown land, for the benefit of tax payers. We are protecting 13 per cent of the land for all of Nova Scotians to enjoy. It is a very complex problem and we have such a diverse system of Crown lands across this province. It is a difficult job but I think our staff treat it seriously. This is one incident where there has been a failure in the system. We are all prone to failures...I do believe this is something we can learn from and do a better job.”
Danny George spoke to The Journal about the decision to halt all cutting in the Lawlor Lake area several days after the report was released. “I'm pleased that it is recognized but it is such a small part of the problem and the historic problem. The damage that has been done is much greater than the damage that has been prevented in the future. This has been happening for a long time. I believe with historic wrong doing somebody should have to pay the piper. The only positive is if it brought to light similar minds that would continually monitor them (DNR and PHP) and challenge them.”
The problem lies, said George, not in the assessment of these particular stands but in the current process overall. “It is not good that citizens have to police a public resource. It's pretty pathetic. There needs to be an independent body that monitors this sort of thing. That is what DNR is supposed to be. But the problem lies in that you can't be in the policing business and issuing licences at the same time.”
Scott Cook, another local advocate for the the protection of old growth forest, told The Journal last Friday that he was impressed that the government finally decided to seriously examine the situation. “I tried to have it looked into in 2010 and as far as the mill cutting down big hardwood for the big boilers, that's been going on for maybe 40 years.”
Cook added, “I am really happy about it but unfortunately the bigger half of it (old growth stands) has been destroyed. It was certainly good of the minister to think maybe there are a few honest, intelligent men in the country that know forestry too, and Department of Natural Resources, why are we paying them to manage our forest lands and then giving the management over to the pulp mill company.”
“It was nice to know that more people besides Danny and I realized that this wasn't the right way to do it,” concluded Cook.