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Tracking Timber

Nova Scotia's new Registry of Buyers program will provide detailed information on harvesting on private woodlots and could be a model for other provinces.


By Tony Kryzanowski
Copyright 1998. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Canada's private wood resource is now more valuable in this era of tight wood supply and strong demand for round wood, and Nova Scotia's new Registry of Buyers program represents a blueprint that other provinces could mimic to accurately monitor harvesting on private woodlots.

The Registry's purpose is to provide detailed information regarding who is harvesting the province's timber resource, where, how much and what species. It also notes how much wood is leaving the province, how much is being imported and predicts what level of harvesting Nova Scotia's forest industry can comfortably sustain.

It was launched this spring to a generally positive response from industry. "It's definitely a positive move," says Hugh Ross, manager of private wood resources at Stora Port Hawkesbury Ltd. Stora is a large pulp and paper mill, which is among the largest softwood consumers in the province. They require 1.2 million cubic metres of softwood annually, and 80 per cent comes from Nova Scotia's private woodlots.

Forest Management

The issue of harvesting timber from private woodlands is critical to the sustainability of Nova Scotia's forest industry.

"We in the industry have complained quite a bit over the years that the province didn't have a good handle on where all the wood was coming from, how much, where it was going, and if any sector was being overcut or undercut," he says. "It's necessary to help plan things a little bit better in future."

The issue of harvesting timber from private woodlots is critical to the sustainability of Nova Scotia's forest industry, as over 70 per cent of its timber resource is held on private woodlots, which are unique in Canada for that reason. Most other rovinces mana e and control harvesting on large tracts of forested crown land.

Acting director of Forestry for the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, Nancy McInnis Leek, says the province has witnessed a significant increase in the amount of wood being harvested from private woodlots. Increasing demand throughout North America for round wood in the past five years, coupled with tight wood supply in some parts of Canada and the US, has resulted in a trickle-down effect to provinces like Nova Scotia, which is not subject to the US softwood lumber quota.

The value of timber held within private woodlots has increased dramatically, so owners are taking advantage of what McInnis Leek calls an "artificial situation" that has partially been created by the US softwood lumber quota agreement, and strict harvesting regulations in some provinces.

As more private wood is cut in the province due to increased demand, that raises the question of sustainability. Therefore, a program like the Registry of Buyers becomes essential to track harvesting patterns and volume on private woodlots, and to predict when shortages may occur and how they may be avoided. She adds that it also helps the government focus its silviculture program.

The Registry is the central hub to a new provincial forest strategy that will eventually include a Forest Practices Code, guidelines for wildlife management, as well as guidelines for integrated resource management.

She says the Nova Scotia government has taken a softer approach in its dealings with the forest industry, preferring to work with them by providing relevant and up-to-date data, as well as education on responsible forest management practices. But they have included stringent fines for those required to register with the Registry of Buyers, who fail to comply. Businesses are liable for a fine of up to $100,000 and individuals up to $50,000.

So far, about 400 businesses have registered, representing 98 per cent of the province's traditional annual harvest. Data from the province's previous method of gathering harvest information was often a year or two behind, and consequently out of date once it became available. The department has set a target of having the information available 60 days after February 28 of each year.

She adds that many of the province's approximately 250 smaller sawmills will likely benefit significantly by having accurate timber resource information sooner. "People ask for the document simply to find out who is selling what, so they know who to buy from," she says. "So, it's a marketing tool."

Nova Scotia sawmill owner Eric Williams agrees that the Registry of Buyers program is a positive step. He operates Williams Bros. Ltd., a seasonal sawmill at Barney's River, near New Glasgow. He says having detailed information about wood availability could mean year-round operation of their sawmill because of the potential to buy more timber.

An interesting statistic about the Registry of Buyers data that will undoubtedly catch the attention of Nova Scotia sawmill owners is how much timber is leaving the province, and how much is being imported.

Williams says many people will be surprised by how much timber is leaving Nova Scotia - he suspects it's a lot more than people think. The data will represent hard evidence, but whether it will provide ammunition to support any move by local sawmill owners to pressure the government to keep more timber in the province, and thus provide more local employment, remains to be seen. Stora's Hugh Ross says it's a touchy subject.

"This province has a long tradition of resistance to government interference on that sort of thing, especially where it is on small, private land," he says. Individual landowners feel strongly that they have the right to market their timber resource as they see fit.

If the government tried to impose any sort of marketing restriction, "I can say for sure that there'd be a lot of resistance to it," he says.Timber sales from private woodlots are brisk. He also says there is no doubt in his mind that there is a need within the province to step up its silviculture effort to keep pace with the current high level of harvesting activity.


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