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Death of the ACC

Acknowledging that it doesn�t have control over cutting on private land, Nova Scotia has stopped issuing an annual allowable cut figure. 

By Stephen Bornais

Admitting they don't have control over situations has never been easy for governments. But that is what the forestry division of Nova Scotia's Department of Natural Resources was forced to do late in 1999 with its decision to stop publishing an Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) figure for Nova Scotia. 

The province had set the AAC at 3.75 million cubic metres of softwood and 1.5 million cubic metres for hardwood for the past several years. Over that same period of time, however, the actual cut has greatly exceeded that number, by as much as 1.3 million cubic metres in 1997 alone. Harvesting levels over the past five years are at all-time highs-well over 5.5 million cubic metres a year. 

While Nova Scotia lumber is being shipped out of the Port of Halifax at a good clip to export markets, a question being asked is whether the current Nova Scotia wood harvest-that feeds the province's sawmills-is sustainable. High harvest levels on private forest lands in some parts of the province have become a concern. 


Provincial director of forestry Nancy McInnis Leek said the Annual Allowable Cut was inappropriate for Nova Scotia because the province can only control what is harvested on its own lands, which amounts to about 20 per cent of the total forest. In all other provinces, except Prince Edward Island, Crown ownership dominates.

"We have no control over private-land harvesting and we have no control over private-land management," she said. "What we don't do is establish an annual allowable cut on your land or my land or my neighbour's land ."

Nova Scotia was required to develop an AAC when reporting to federal authorities, something local foresters were never comfortable with. An AAC for Crown land is still prepared but McInnis Leek did not release that figure. The provincial forestry division studies where and how much wood is available for harvest on Crown land, then considers how much of that is economically available.

Since it stopped publishing an AAC, the province has moved to a wood supply analysis, a better description for what its foresters had already been doing.

"We can choose what we want to harvest and not want to harvest ." The death of the province's AAC is more a recognition of reality than a failure of regulations, said John MacLellan, timber manager for the province's largest sawmill, MacTara Ltd of Upper Musquodoboit in Halifax County. It has always been an "inadequate tool" for forest management, especially given that 30,000 private owners each have their own needs and plans for their land. "To be able to project an annual cut for that ownership is fraught with assumptions, over which the people making the assumptions have no control," he said.

Environmental activist Charlie Restino-who has a 100acre woodlot of his own on Cape Breton Island-said the move just ignores the problem of the overcutting on private land that is now underway in much of the province, especially in the central counties of Colchester, Cumberland, Halifax, Hants and Pictou. "Whether they publish it or not, the picture remains the same," he said. "It's a desperate situation. I've never heard of a government abdicating its responsibilities ."

In 1998, Restino studied the rate of cutting in Nova Scotia compared to the amount of silviculture needed to justify that level of activity. "It's just gone right off the chart. It's beyond even absurd," he said. McInnis Leek acknowledges that the harvest levels from private landowners in the central region-who are anxious to take advantage of favourable market conditions- are a growing concern. "Our analysis shows there are harvesting pressures greater than silviculture will support," she said.

Eliminating the AAC is just sweeping the problem under the carpet according to Restino. Cutting needs to be regulated so that the province's forests can produce the maximum amount of timber volume within ecologically sustainable limits. "You can't max out productivity in the forest if you're not regulating it," he said. The 5,000 members of the Nova Scotia Landowner and Fibre Producers Association are under no illusion about what can be cut from the forests they own, said spokesman Kingsley Brown. The group has an agreement with Stora Enso in Port Hawkesbury that provides funding for silviculture on members' lands.

It is an arrangement that works, Brown said, and provincial estimates for future wood supply from that land show it. But elsewhere in the province it's a different story, Brown said, adding Natural Resources Minister Ernie Fage is getting bad advice when he says there is plenty of wood since "the fact is, there isn't". "We're cutting from the forest faster than nature can grow them for us," Brown said. There is a combination of factors driving the overcutting, Brown said: a disinterested urban population, private woodlot owners distrustful of losing control over their property at a time of rising prices for their products, a government department that lacks respect, and large industrial users driven by quarterly financial results. The forest is left somewhere in the middle. "Your forests will run into the ground unless the people of this province decide there should be stewardship," Brown said. "And it's not just a matter of talking about it. You have to get out and work on it ."

But one of those large industrial users thinks the alarm is premature. Tony Mee, vicepresident of Northern Fibre Terminal Inc and Great North Timber Inc, which exports hardwood chips to Japan, said there is a perception in Nova Scotia that the forests are being cut at a much greater rate then they should be cut. "Generally speaking the information I've seen indicates this is not happening," he said. "That panic sense that everybody is out there raping and pillaging is not, in my opinion, what is happening ."

Since it stopped publishing an AAC, the province has moved to a wood supply analysis, a better description for what its foresters had already been doing. "This is an analysis of what could be available if you did this, this and this," McInnis Leek said. "We play with different rates of silviculture and say when we change this silviculture rate, this is the likely outcome. How people react to that or administer that within their land areas is up to them ." McInnis Leek insists the wood supply analysis is only a planning tool. "It's not an assumption that that amount of silviculture will happen. It's an indication that this is the amount of silviculture you have to have happen if you want to have this supply in the future," she said. The analysis makes predictions based on increased levels of silviculture, current levels or none at all.

An increased level of silviculture is the goal of new government regulations that require buyers of wood products-as listed in its new annual Registry of Buyers-to pay a small additional fee per cubic metre that would be reinvested in forest management. Run from 1996 to the year 2070, the government analysis predicts an increase in wood supply to more than 10 million cubic metres if the new rules are fully implemented.

An increased level of siviculture is the goal of new government regulations that require buyers of wood products to pay a small additional fee per cubic metre.

Current levels of silviculture would lead to a small increase in supply until 2016 followed by a plateau for the next 40 years. If forest management is ended, the analysis indicated wood supply would plunge to half of its current amount by 2036 and never return to 1996 levels. McInnis Leek is under no illusions as to the ability of the analysis to duplicate a natural system with its untold number of variables.

It is a mathematical estimation model that does calculations based on known factors-how many trees, how fast they are growing and how much wood is being harvested. "It's as reliable as your calculator and the numbers you put into it," she said. The wood supply analysis can tell foresters age classifications and distribution, and how many of those trees are available for harvest. But it does have limits she said. "What it doesn't tell them is the detailed specifications regarding the quality of those trees. It doesn't tell them that those trees that they need are all going to be grouped together or spread with trees they don't need ."

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This page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004