Clear Cutting

FANE Position on Clear-cutting

– by Ian Goudie

The matter of clear-cutting our forests is an ongoing debate that has advanced with the model of industrial forestry. Industrial forest managers (in NL they are classified as ecosystem managers!!) apply what can be likened to a mode of agriculture. The model is to cut-out everything present so that it can be regenerated with even-aged single species tree plantations. Such a monoculture is very suitable to future mechanical harvesting. It is all about maximizing returns in fibre for efforts applied. Foresters evoke a number of arguments to justify clear-cutting, the most frequent being that if you don’t cut it all down, the remaining residual stands will become diseased, blow down, or burnt (and by extension be wasted). Herb Hammond of the Silva Foundation Inc. who has tirelessly promoted the importance and need for ecosystem-based management across Canada stressed the importance of determining what to leave before deciding what to take. In his interview in NL when asked if clear-cutting was a problem stated that “… they serve an industrial agenda and that is about it ….” The notion that our forests must be harvested or “renewed” (before they “collapse”) is all nonsense, and we need only look and admire the extensive mature forests of Terra Nova and/or Gros Morne National Park to appreciate that our boreal forests left alone will attain old-mature status and remain so for perpetuity. Our Labrador forests are also a good model of what Nature sustains in perpetuity, that is, 85% mature forests despite fires, insects and wind-throw.

It is our old forests that support the maximum amount of biological diversity, and are particularly important for iconic species such as caribou and marten but the footprint of forest industry across the boreal zone of Canada has resulted in progressive loss of old-growth forests, and a landscape disproportionately represented by younger even-aged stands favoured for single (conifer) species through replanting programs. The industry propaganda often promotes that it plants a tree for every tree cut. Of course there is so much more to the forest ecosystem than the resulting tree plantations now evident across vast tracts of the boreal forest of Canada.

The basic problem in NL is that any commercial operator is forced by the Provincial Government management agency to cut everything in the licensed area, despite needing for example only suitably mature sawlogs. This ensures that the site is a resulting industrial clear-cut, notwithstanding some “retention”, such as 20 m buffers around water bodies, or otherwise “sensitive” areas. Alternative approaches to retain intact areas of watersheds and maintain ecological integrity are few and far between although the Innu Nation was influential in achieving an ecosystem-based forest management plan for District 19 in Labrador. This plan has received international awards and recognition for its integrated approach grounded in ecology. The government managers have vehemently resisted applying such a model to forest management areas on the Island of Newfoundland. Not surprising to some of us, the District 19 ecosystem-based management approach resulted in the need to reduce the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) by 50%. In fact it is the AAC that is the basis of all the allocation of fibre, and because of its industrial forestry optics, ongoing and competing conflicts with landuse will continue to emerge. To put this in perspective, it is a fact that through the application of AACs, essentially all the accessible old-growth temperate rainforests of BC were logged-out in less than a century. If you wish to view old-growth trees there now you are limited to a few small park areas, such as cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island, unless you can afford a remote excursion well away from the road networks.

Before the big industry players came along, forest harvesting took place in Newfoundland on a much smaller scale, and it had far less impacts on the landscape and environment than clear-cutting. Small cuts that were more selective in removing only matured timber ensured community sawmillers (sawyers) could return to areas within a 20 to 30 year period and harvest again. Relatively small geographic areas provided a sustained wood supply to communities for lumber production. It also had the important benefit of maintaining rare and endemic biota, such as the globally endangered boreal felt lichen, that rapidly disappear from the industrial landscape. Sweden has more than 2000 forest-dependent species on their list of endangered species, where such biota are only remaining in some 5% of the forest landscape protected from modern forestry.

Public outcry against proposed clear-cuts will continue to emerge in NL because the government lacks any kind of a comprehensive landuse planning framework. Essentially all our forest lands are Crownlands, that is, public lands, yet the Forestry Agency takes a position that if it is not “alienated” for some other use (e.g. park, municipal watershed, etc.), then it is available for forest harvest. Without landuse planning we fail to determine what to leave before deciding what to take. Rural residents and communities will continue to be blindsided by the forest management system that still has not evolved and adapted its public engagement approach as was promised in the 2013 Provincial Forest Management Strategy. In these times, about the only option to prevent the liquidation of our forest landscapes is through local opposition. Much forest management in NL is the domain of the provincial government (only one industry player remaining with tenures). In general, the responsible Minister and local MHAs generally get nervous when there is strong local concern for proposed forest management operations. The sad thing is that these proposed areas have away of coming around again in the next 5-year management plan cycle, and it often seems that sooner or later they get to shave-off another piece of our natural heritage.

Dr. Ian Goudie is Scientific and Resource Management Advisor to FANE and has worked extensively on evolving the forest management system of NL