Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Sorry State of our Forests (again)

There have been some very interesting pieces in the Halifax paper about the sad and sorry state of forestry in the Province, but if one doesn't catch them on the day they were published they often end up lost. So I gathered up a few and present them here:

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A letter to the Editor, Halifax Herald  11 Apr 2012


Shortsighted Focus

The NDP wants to consult with forest stakeholders (April 4 article)? Has this government already forgotten about the public consultation that took place during Phase 1 of the Natural Re­sources Strategy, where thousands of Nova Scotians collectively delivered the clear message that the status quo for forestry in this province is completely broken?

It seems this government is only interested in hearing from stakeholders whose message is in line with its own thinking — that our pulp mills must be kept open, seemingly at any cost.

Forest policy under this government has been focused on propping up an unprofitable commodity sector, rather than redeveloping a more competitive and diverse industrial base or working to implement an ecosystem-based ap­proach to forest management. This stale, shortsighted policy focus serves the interests of only a very narrow group of forest stakeholders, least of which is the forest itself.

Forest policy under this government lacks the innovation, vision and lead­ership needed at this critical time — and it’s the same approach that has been taken by countless previous gov­ernments in this province.

Matt Miller, Forestry Co-ordinator, Ecology Action Centre

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Here's a piece that appeared on the opinion page of the Halifax Herald  4 April 2012


Without a plan, forest industry cutting into own future

By TOM MILLER

As a Nova Scotia woodlot owner and operator for the last 38 years, I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in the forest industry. Right now, the day-to-day outlook is pretty bleak, with the next three to four years supposedly forecast to show some improvement. I know how the years seem to fly by, but when you’re hanging on desper­ately, as the few forestry contrac­tors left are, the good times seem awfully far off. It’s been tough.

So, how to be positive through all this difficulty? Well, that’s tough too.

Way back in 2007, the Nova Scotia government started a policy review around the future of our natural resources. Many meetings were held around the province for public input, a cou­ple of reports summarized the results and plotted a way for­ward, and a new strategy was finally announced. The message from the public was clear: The status quo was no longer an option. Nova Scotians sent a strong message to government that our current forestry model was economically, ecologically and socially unsustainable, and a new path forward was needed.

The government response was weak, ambiguous and late, and today it isn’t clear which direc­tion this policy is going.

On Friday, March 30, I attend­ed, with other woodlot owners, a second meeting with Peter Woodbridge, the consultant hired by the government to advise on the implementation of a new forest harvesting policy. He pre­sented a rosier outlook for the industry in the above-mentioned three to four years. It was he who recommended that the fate of the forest industry lies in getting access to the wood supply held by the province’s 30,000 small woodlot owners who collectively own 50 per cent of the province’s woodland.

The “disengaged" must be­come “engaged." This will be tough as well. This winter, prices paid for softwood logs to be chipped for pulpwood were the same as in 1995. And further reductions when roads open in May are expected. A major in­centive to cut wood is missing — the ability to make a profit doing it!

What’s going on anyway? The people of this province, when asked, said overwhelmingly the status quo is no longer accept­able. And yet, our government, instead of coming up with a new strategy for the next 10 years, is working tirelessly to maintain the status quo. The mills were dead set against any change and it looks like they got their way, as they usually have over the last 50 years. That’s not going to be good for the forest of Nova Sco­tia.

Look at the many trailer loads of wood you see moving on our highways. You can’t help but notice that many of the sticks are so small. That’s because much of the forest that’s getting cut now is too young. That’s our chil­dren’s wood. We don’t have enough mature wood to maintain the status quo in our forest in­dustry, so we’re cutting wood meant for the future.

And what about that rosier picture in three to four years time? Hard to say — it mostly depends on the situation in Chi­na, and our province’s ability to replace one formerly dominant trade partner (the U.S.) with another. Mr. Woodbridge forecast a lumber “super cycle," when prices for lumber and pulp are set to skyrocket. It’s not here yet, though.

So to my fellow woodlot own­ers, I say: Try to hang on to your softwood, if possible. There is more money available for silvi­culture now, so look to do some pre-commercial improvement work on your land. Cut some softwood if needed from thin­ning, but restrict any major har­vesting until the price spike. If our wood is the key to maintain­ing the status quo, we might as well make some money when we harvest it.

Tom Miller of Greenhill was Nova Scotia’s 2005 Woodlot Owner of the Year.

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Here's a Letter to the Editor from back on 27 November 2011. I find his calculations and conclusions quite chilling:

Woodlot Owners Forgotten

With all the focus oj saving our paper-mill jobs, no one has addressed the state of the producers or the standing fibre resources in Nova Scotia.

The people who own and harvest this fibre have no benefits or pensions, and they carry the liability of land and machinery. We had prices for softwood pulp reduced from $51 to $37 per tonne, not because of a drop in kraft prices; meanwhile, still operating mills are subsidised by our government. The price being paid for random hardwood at the biomass chip site is $25 per tonne, down from $35 per tonne before the NewPage closure.

We have been pushed back to the mid- to late- 1980's prices for fibre.

Not calculated in this is the threefold increase in expenses or the fact that in the mid-80s, on average, it took about 17 or 18 trees per cord, and now it takes 35 to 50. Mechanisation enabled us to keep producing fibre cheaply, but realistically, it enabled the industry to cut the next generation's resources - similar to catching the last cod.

Danny George, Guysborough
Woodlot Owner / Contractor

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And finally for today, here's the text of a story that appeared in the Halifax Herald on  21 Jan '12. More testimony to the dismal state of the industry, where prices paid to landowners and contractors are squeezed down so that the mill workers can stay employed and the foreign owners of the mills can get their payout. (I added the emphasis).

Forestry firm to shut, leaving 70 jobless
By RACHEL BRIGHTON

A major Nova Scotia forestry contractor is shutting down in the spring, citing govern­ment regulation and low prices at the mill gate as major factors driving the family-owned business out of the woods after more than 40 ye a rs.

Hodgson’s Chipping Ltd. of Truro, which primarily sup­plies wood chips to the Northern Pulp Nova Scotia mill in Abercrombie Point, told its workforce of about 70 full-time employees Tuesday that they would lose their jobs in March.

“We’re giving it up; we had enough of it," said company president McKay Hodgson, whose four sons all work for the company. “The way the regulations are for the forest­ry, it’s going to kill it."

He blamed the NDP govern­ment’s decision last year to reduce clearcutting by 50 per cent over five years. Hodgson said select-cutting rather than clearcutting would have dri­ven up the cost of harvesting, while the price paid by the mill would have stayed the same.

His son and general manag­er, Vaughn Hodgson, said he would have tried to persevere in business if government had not changed the regu­lations that direct how timber must be harvested.

“The government came up with the genius idea of con­trolling the way the wood is cut in Nova Scotia without our input.

“It (would have) cost us more money to produce that wood because of those regu­lations. It was going to be on our backs to do the extra work that had to be done.

Northern Pulp was not going to pay for it."

Vaughn Hodgson also said the low prices being paid by mills would drive more con­tractors out of business.

“With the way the pulp companies in general treat the contractor, there’s going to be more to follow.

“They treat them with no respect. Zero. They just think that there’s a never-ending supply of contractors, that when one lies down or goes under there’s just going to be somebody else to fill his boots." Other problems forcing the business to close were the high cost of fuel and a labour short­age, said McKay Hodgson.

“The people are leaving Nova Scotia because we can’t afford to pay them really what they’re worth, because we’re not get­ting enough money to do what we’re doing."

He said a shortage of mature softwood stands to cut also meant contractors were spend­ing more money to harvest the same volume from trees with a smaller diameter. He suggested the shortage of viable softwood was so severe it would force a bigger mill to close down.

“One’s going to have to go, because the wood supply isn’t here in Nova Scotia," said McKay Hodgson.

Hodgson’s Chipping is one of two contractors that use ma­chinery in the woods to harvest and chip trees under contract for Northern Pulp.

“We do around $13 million a year with Northern Pulp and a couple of million with New-Page," said Vaughn Hodgson.

The company claims to be still waiting for more than $60,000 owed by NewPage Port Hawkesbury in Point Tupper.

Hodgson’s Chipping will sell its equipment through Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers at the begin­ning of May.

“We have some 160 pieces going in the auction," said McKay Hodgson. “There’s trucks, processors, forwarders — machines that haul the wood out of the woods — chippers and grapple skidders."

According to Mike McLarty, Northern Pulp’s timberlands manager, Hodgson’s Chipping currently supplies about 15 per cent of the fibre used at its pulp mill in Pictou County.

McLarty said it would be “challenging" to find an al­ternative supplier to Hodgson’s and predicted the loss of jobs would be felt “right across cen­tral Nova Scotia" and “small rural communities."

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