Matt Miller and Raymond Plourde
Now that the Bowater ransom has been paid to save half the jobs at the mill in Liverpool, all eyes turn towards the bankrupt Stora/NewPage mill in Port Hawkesbury. But whereas Bowater owned a large amount of private forestland, the Port Hawkesbury mill operated primarily on our publicly-owned Crown land. This is an important difference.
In 1961, a license agreement for approximately 1.5 million acres of Crown lands in eastern Nova Scotia was signed with Stora Forest Industries Limited as enticement to build and operate a pulp mill in Port Hawkesbury. The terms of the deal were extremely generous to the company, including control of fully 40 percent of provincial Crown land – a stunning 11% of the province. It was known as “The Big Lease”. The deal was finalized in an act of law in 1961 and set for a term of 50 years. That’s 50 years ago this year.
Given the deepening crisis in the forestry industry it would seem timely and prudent of the government to roll-up the lease with Stora – since they are now long gone – and develop a new, modern lease with any potential new mill owner based on 2011 conditions and realities. Because Crown lands are public lands, owned by the people and managed by government in their name. In theory at least, they are supposed to be managed for the best public benefit. The six points below are required to make any new agreement more in line with current realities and the public’s best interests;
1. The amount of Crown land licensed to any new buyer should be greatly reduced, in line with shrinking levels of employment, and with shorter terms
Over the years the pulp and paper industry has seen a disturbing trend of dramatically decreasing employment despite ever increasing harvesting rates and government subsidies. Allowing use of such a valuable Crown land asset must come with strict conditions regarding employment levels and the amount of lands made available should reflect this. Any lease with a new owner of the Port Hawkesbury mill should be much smaller in size than was the old 1959 lease with Stora. Terms should also be much shorter than half a century in order to deal with rapidly changing circumstances.
2. Exclude any Crown lands that are currently proposed for protection under the 12% by 2015 process and establish a mechanism to exclude and/or substitute future lands from the agreement
Doing so will avoid having to provide compensation for protecting some of our own Crown lands. A new licence agreement should also include a mechanism to exclude or substitute land in the event that the government should wish to designate further protected areas or promote alternative uses in the future. Similarly, no compensation owed to Stora for past protected area withdrawals should be passed on to the new operator.
3. Develop a legal and policy framework to allocate freed-up Crown wood to value-added wood manufacturers and local forestry enterprises
Some of the freed-up Crown land from the old Stora lease should be made available to smaller, local forestry enterprises to support a more diversified forestry industry. This includes better access to wood supply, especially tolerant hardwood stands, for value-added manufacturers in the region. Many of these manufacturers are also FSC Certified and receive no wood from Crown land to fuel expansion of their businesses. They should.
4. Require new buyer to maintain Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification on all licensed lands
Stora/NewPage was a leader in terms of having the best industrial harvesting practices in the province and FSC certification of their Crown land holdings was the main driver for this improved environmental performance. Maintaining this certification, including the protection and special management of areas already identified as High Conservation Value Forests is required in order to ensure continued good stewardship of the Crown land resource.
5. Must be in line with the province’s new Natural Resources Strategy
Any new agreement must incorporate the spirit and intent of the Natural Resources Strategy – where Nova Scotians stated that Crown lands must be managed to the highest standards of ecological sustainability. This means a specific emphasis on managing this substantial Crown resource to the highest standard of ecosystem-based forest management to ensure conservation of native biodiversity and recovery of identified Species at Risk.
6. Require the new buyer to provide public input into Crown land operating plans
Extensive public consultations are required to designate Crown lands as protected areas, yet no such public consultation is necessary to clearcutting our Crown forest. This is wrong. A process similar to the protected areas consultation, where maps are provided to the public, public meetings are held and written submissions are received, is proposed to meet this requirement. This will align Crown land management with the values of Collaboration, Transparency and Informed Decision Making that are the core commitment of the government’s new Natural Resources Strategy.
Any public sector support going forward should be aimed at developing a modern forestry sector that is more diversified, resilient and environmentally acceptable to the public. The Crown lands of Cape Breton and eastern mainland Nova Scotia are too valuable a public asset to be sacrificed in the panic of the moment. We simply cannot afford to give away the farm again.
Matt Miller is Forestry Coordinator and Raymond Plourde is Wilderness Coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre