Province taps law professor for forestry review

by Brittany Wentzell And Michael Lee

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>The province has named Bill Lahey, a lawyer and law professor, as project leader in a review of forestry practices in Nova Scotia. The announcement was made in Halifax on August 30.</p>

This story has been updated.

The province has picked law professor and former deputy minister Bill Lahey to lead the government's wide-ranging review of forestry practices in Nova Scotia.

Natural Resources (DNR) Minister Margaret Miller made the announcement in Halifax on August 30, telling reporters the government is fortunate to have Lahey lead the review.

Lahey will consult with experts and look at wood harvesting overall, with a specific focus on the western region of the province.

He will also address concerns around market access, cuts on Crown land and clearcutting.

A final report with recommendations will be made public by February.

Lahey said the minister and premier have given him a "blank sheet of paper to carry out the analysis" as he sees fit.

This isn't Lahey's first foray in the provincial government. He has previously served as deputy minister for the Departments of Environment and Labour, and helped craft a series of recommendations around aquaculture with fellow law professor Meinhard Doelle. The latter recommendations are commonly referred to as the Doelle-Lahey report.

Lahey is also President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of King's College, an associate professor at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University and chair of Efficiency Nova Scotia. He will be on leave from King's while he leads the review.

The province will pay $30,000 to have Lahey conduct the review, as well as any additional expenses deemed necessary.

Premier Stephen McNeil promised a forestry review during the last election and later halted the signing of long-term forestry agreements on Crown land.

For months, private woodlot owners have voiced concerns over their inability to move fibre, particularly pulpwood, on the market.

Meanwhile, environmentalists have criticized the amount of clearcutting on Crown land and their proximity to ecologically sensitive areas.

Much of the blame has been directed at WestFor Management Inc., a consortium of 13 mills with access to approximately 500,000 hectares of western Crown land, most of which Bowater previously managed.

WestFor is looking to sign a 10-year Forest Utilization Licence Agreement and is currently operating on an extended interim lease with the province.

However, the province will not be signing anymore long-term agreements until the review is complete.

Miller said she has spoken with private woodlot owners about their concerns, but has not seen evidence to support claims that wood harvested on Crown land is the problem.

However, she pointed to low wood prices as a possible culprit in many cases, adding the department is looking at different ways to use wood.

"I don't think you can put the blame on anybody. Certainly the mill closing in the Liverpool area probably had the biggest impact on the forestry sector, but these are all things that Professor Lahey is going to be looking at," she said.

Colin Hughes, a woodlot owner from New Ross, said he hopes the province consults with woodlot owners moving forward.

"I hope they keep the economical factor in the rural communities in mind."

He and former MP for South Shore-St. Margaret's, Gerald Keddy, chaired a public meeting in The Forties in July to discuss what they perceive as a lack of transparency from the DNR, and unfair agreements between the province and WestFor.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," said Keddy regarding Lahey's appointment. "Mr. Lahey certainly should be a qualified individual to carry this out.

"I think it's up to us to reach out to [Lahey] once we understand the parameters and have all the context."

The review will also take into consideration The Path We Share, the province's natural resources strategy which came into effect in 2011 and is set to carry over into 2020.

The strategy involved consultations with hundreds of people, including Mi'kmaq communities, industry and environment.

"I don't want to put anyone through a duplication of process," said Lahey, regarding the strategy, adding he is sure there will be an opportunity for the public to provide some input.

Raymond Plourde, wilderness coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, said The Path We Share included commitments to reduce clearcutting to 50 per cent.

He says he would have preferred to see the province follow through with those commitments, calling the new review "classic kicking the can down the road," but he is hopeful something will get done with Lahey's report.

"There are thousands of creatures that rely on a diverse multi-aged forest to survive and for many of them, their habitats are being completely removed by this repetitive clearcutting of the land," he said.

"We are a small jurisdiction and our forests has been continuously harvested for centuries now and it's having a devastating effect on wildlife."

NDP Natural Resources critic Lisa Roberts said she welcomes the review, but added, "I don't think we needed a review to tell us that there's too much clearcutting happening, that the forestry methods that are currently being pursued are not economically sustainable or not environmentally sustainable."

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