Gareth Davies: A New Forest Management Paradigm

20 08 2014

Time for a New Forest Management Paradigm

Spring 2014 has brought yet another forest management strategy that New Brunswickers cannot accept. Over the years, each “new” strategy that the provincial government has produced is supposedly about balancing the values that the forest provides. If this is about balance- why can we not accept it? Is it because New Brunswickers are unreasonable and extreme in their views?

The science community has spoken- told us that this new forest management strategy crosses ecological thresholds; putting biodiversity and ecosystem integrity at risk. The sociologists have confirmed that New Brunswickers care about nature- care about the integrity of forest ecosystems. But, New Brunswickers also want, and need, a forest management strategy that stimulates and fosters economic opportunity.

New Brunswick is a forest ecosystem. The people of New Brunswick rely on the social, economic, and ecological values and services of the forest. The current New Brunswick forest management strategy has clear ecological consequences, and it will not foster effective economic opportunity.

The current forest management strategy in New Brunswick first and foremost seeks to maximize a sustained supply of timber to the traditional forest industry. In this respect, the provincial government’s new forest management strategy for Crown Land is no different than the previous strategies. The underlying assumption is that maximizing a sustained yield of wood is the primary goal of managing Crown Land forest. This timber supply value marginalizes all other values- and consistently produces forest management strategies that New Brunswickers cannot accept.

Maximizing timber supply is the current (and traditional) forest management paradigm in New Brunswick. Maximizing growth and yield of wood has become synonymous with “good” forest management. This assumption is fundamental to forest management in New Brunswick. Maximizing timber supply not only marginalizes other forest values- it is has also become bad for business.

It is time for a new forest management paradigm- where forest products are seen as by- products of managing forest ecosystems. We need to manage for a desired range of forest conditions- long into the future. All forest products (timber included) need to be kept in their rightful place as secondary benefits of ecosystem management.

In the province of New Brunswick, in 2014, focusing on maximizing a sustained timber supply to the dominant timber industry is a bad business model. Our forest is too small, the climate is too cold, and our operating costs are too high.

The traditional timber industry in New Brunswick is dominated by the production of low- value softwood pulp & paper products, and low-value softwood construction grade- lumber. By the late twentieth century, it became clear that in order for this industry to

Gareth Davies, 2014

 

remain profitable, mills have to modernize, and continuously improve their efficiency and production. This requires huge sums of capital investment, and massive quantities of wood. In order to encourage this investment; it is assumed, this type of forest industry requires large quantities of guaranteed wood supply. This is the basic premise of timber licenses in New Brunswick: guarantee sustained wood supply in order to attract, and secure big business investment.

The traditional forest industry in New Brunswick is no longer competitive. When it comes to mass producing low-value forest products and selling them on the international market; the traditional forest industry cannot compete with companies that are growing wood in tropical climates. Compared to New Brunswick’s climate; growth and yield of wood can be increased by at least 10 times in a tropical climate- at less cost. New Brunswick simply cannot compete with this- our forest is too small, the climate is too cold, and our operating costs are too high.

In terms of guaranteeing increasing yields of wood supply- Canada is not a level playing field. One could pick up the forest of New Brunswick; throw it into northern Quebec, Ontario, or British Columbia- and lose it! In the larger provinces, increasing guaranteed wood supply has simply been a matter of freely giving wood that supposedly “nobody” else is using. In small provinces, like New Brunswick, increasing guaranteed wood supply must be done on a small, finite, piece of land. This can only be done by investing megabucks in intensive silviculture- in order to increase and sustain growth and yield of wood.

Maximizing growth and yield of wood (i.e. timber) is known in the forestry profession as “intensive forest management”; the activities associated with it are known as “intensive silviculture”. In order to maximize growth and yield of timber; the natural forest must be intensively cultivated. At the very least; this requires frequent and intensive thinning where “undesirable” trees and other vegetation are removed- the “desirable” trees are uniformly spaced in order to maximize growth. In its most extreme form, the natural forest is removed- replaced with a tree plantation.

A bit of history here. Intensive forest management, as we practice it, was developed in central Europe, by the Germans. By the 18th century; central Europe had been suffering from what has been called “timber famine” for centuries. The forest had been cleared for agriculture- yet a sustained supply of wood was critical to the everyday life of an 18th century European. The Germans developed the science and technology of intensive forestry, in order to maximize growth and yield of wood, on a very small portion of the landscape. This professional expertise was exported to Scandinavia, Finland, Britain and Ireland- and eventually North America. All of the western world’s great forestry schools were founded by German-trained foresters. The paradigm of maximizing wood supply was born in another time and another place. Why would we assume that a forest management paradigm born out of the social, economic, and ecological context of 18th Century Germany, would be a good fit for 21st Century New Brunswick?

Gareth Davies, 2014

Managing a patch of forest in order to maximize growth and yield of wood marginalizes all other values. Biodiversity and ecosystem integrity cannot be maintained in an intensively managed forest. This is precisely why protected areas and conservation forests are traditionally so important in New Brunswick. Traditionally, the only way to attempt to “balance” ecological values, with maximizing timber supply, is by maintaining a critical amount of protected areas and conservation forest.

The provincial government’s new forest management strategy will require the tax-payers of New Brunswick to pay for the forestry practices necessary to sustain an increase in wood supply. In order to sustainably increase wood supply from Crown forests, there will have to be an increase in intensive forestry practices. This will further marginalize all other values.

Maximizing growth and yield of wood is about wood quantity- not wood quality. Here are just two of the many questions that should be asked regarding this:

  • Given the government’s current economic situation- can New Brunswick afford to pay for the increase in costs necessary to sustain an increase in wood supply?
  • Given the fact that we cannot compete with timber quantity- should we not shift our forestry investments towards timber quality?

    New Brunswick may not be able to compete when it comes to quantity of wood, but we can compete when it comes to wood quality. In order to become and remain competitive, the forest industry must transform itself from a focus on quantity- to a focus on quality.

    If we want quality, the biggest challenge is that we have to be willing to give up our devotion to maximizing growth and yield of wood. In small provinces like NB, we also have to be willing to accept that, without an increasing guaranteed supply of wood- we may no longer be able to secure big business investment in forestry.

    It is commonly believed that we can both maximize timber supply and maintain ecosystem integrity. This is science fiction- not science.

    The natural range and variability of forest biodiversity cannot be maintained in an intensively managed forest. For example: just because a marten occasionally wanders into a spruce plantation to eat a red squirrel; does not mean that the marten can live in a spruce plantation. An intensively managed forest cannot produce the old forest structure (large old trees, cavity trees, snags, and fallen trees) that a marten needs to survive.

    In order to maintain forest ecosystem integrity, intensively managed forests must make up the smallest possible portion of the landscape.

Gareth Davies, 2014

As a forestry professional and forest ecologist- I am extremely concerned about the ecological implications of the current forest management strategy in New Brunswick.

What causes me to lose sleep are the social-economic implications of the current forest management strategy:

  • Maximizing timber supply will not save the traditional forest industry in New Brunswick- we simply cannot grow enough wood to pull that off (if the traditional forest industry is going to survive it will need a lot more wood than our forest can produce).
  • We are creating a forest condition that severely limits innovation and diversification in the forest economy. Intensive forest management is about quantity- not quality.
  • The current forest management strategy will benefit very few New Brunswickers- economic wealth will be in the hands of a few. We must foster forest-based business that offers much more employment opportunities.
  • There is no opportunity for new business- and most importantly there is no opportunity for new business ideas.
  • The current forest management strategy will not generate much needed provincial revenue to a province that is almost bankrupt.

    We need a new forest management paradigm in New Brunswick. We need to practice long-term ecosystem-based forest management at all scales- from the small streams and patches of forest in our backyards; to the forest wilderness of Crown Land. We need a forest management strategy based on a short set of meaningful and timeless core values (free of commitments to timber supply). We need complete and meaningful community participation in forest management planning. We need to develop forest management plans that seek to produce and maintain the full range of natural variability that our forests are capable of. We need to invest in silviculture that seeks to maintain or restore natural forest composition, structure and function. Forest products must be seen as secondary social-economic benefits of managing our forests. Timber objectives must focus on quality- not quantity. There must be equal-opportunity access to the economic resources our forests can provide. We need to fully benefit from the full range of economic, social and ecological values and services that our forests can provide.

    Gareth Davies July, 2014 Stanley, NB

Gareth Davies, 2014

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