Green groups pipe up about forestry practice

Clearcutting, biomass electricity among issues pointed out to premier
By DAVID JACKSON Provincial Reporter
Chronicle Herald
Date published: 
Thu, 2011-04-14

Piper Pat Melanson leads demonstrators representing groups from across Nova Scotia, who marched to Province House to protest forestry practices and call for more protected wilderness areas. (CHRISTIAN LAFORCE / Staff)

Dozens of environmental groups and their supporters rallied Wednesday at Province House to punctuate their call to limit the burning of forest products for generating electricity and press for other demands.

A bagpiper led the crowd to the legislature from a downtown Halifax hotel, where they held a news conference.

They released a letter from 54 groups to Premier Darrell Dexter urging immediate action on stopping biomass electricity projects, reforming forestry practices and protecting more wilderness areas.

The province plans to allow 700,000 tonnes of biomass to be used annually for electricity generation. The groups said that amounts to a 14 per cent increase in forest cutting, the equivalent of clearcutting a one kilometre-wide strip from Yarmouth to Sydney once every 6½ years.

The Dexter government had planned to allow one million tonnes of wood, or 500,000 dry tonnes, to be used for electricity generation, but reduced the amount to 350,000 dry tonnes this week.

"That’s still way too much," said Raymond Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

He and other opponents say the use of biomass is inefficient, and there is no evidence the province’s forests could handle the cutting that would be required.

"We’re here to say there is a conflict between the renewable energy plan and its policy direction, and the natural resource strategy and its policy direction. And that conflict needs to be resolved," Plourde said.

The natural resources strategy is still in development, although 2007 provincial legislation required it to be finished by the end of 2010.

Plourde pointed out the extensive public and expert consultation done on the strategy resulted in a recommendation to government that it "exercise great caution in the use of biomass for power generation."

Natural Resources Minister Charlie Parker told the crowd of about 150 outside Province House that the strategy will be released within weeks.

"I’m excited about some of the things that are in there, and I think you will be, too," he said.

He reaffirmed the government’s policy directions announced in December for a 50 per cent reduction in clearcutting, an end to public subsidies for herbicide use and a ban on whole-tree harvesting.

The crowd shouted at the minister when he said the use of biomass will be permitted under strict conditions. "You can do better," said one woman.

The crowd included Bob Bancroft, a biologist who was part of a three-person expert panel looking at forestry issues in the development of the natural resources strategy.

The panel ended up submitting two reports because he and panellist Donna Crossland didn’t find consensus with panellist Jonathan Porter of Bowater.

Bancroft and Crossland called for higher levels of conservation.

Bancroft said he is angry that the province hired a consultant to do an economic impact analysis of the forestry recommendations. The province hired Woodbridge Associates in September at a cost of $98,000.

"I’m outraged that I volunteered to do this and that those people got $100,000. Excuse my bluntness," Bancroft said.

Natural Resources Department spokesman Bruce Nunn said the panel’s work didn’t include looking at economics, and that was something the department was going to do.

Parker said Monday that the Woodbridge report will be released soon, but its recommendations led the government to reduce the annual biomass quota.



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