Chronicles

Future of the Forest

        Recently, the provincial government announced that its response to the Select Committee Report on the future of the forests in New Brunswick would be to establish another committee to study the whole issue further. Predictably, stakeholders from all sides of the issue expressed their disappointment. I, too, thought that we would see something clearer than what did emerge from all of the work and consideration that the Select Committee and, before that, the Forest Products Association of New Brunswick had done (in commissioning the Jaakko-Poyry report). Still, I think that the present government position reflects its realization that determining the future of our provincial forest is a much more complex issue than it might seem to be - and that a great many people with widely divergent interests care deeply.

        Spokespersons for the forestry industry have been foremost in denouncing this decision not to take a decision. On several occasions over the past couple of weeks I have read dire predictions of the immanent collapse of the whole industry unless government move immediately to implement of the major recommendations of the Jaakko-Poyry report (principally to double the wood supply and to convert 40% of the forest into plantations).

        In writing this column over the years, I have tried to refrain from repeating myself, but in this instance, the same old arguments on the part of the industry (principally expressed by the spokesperson for the NB Forest Products Association) demand the same old responses, particularly since they have not been considered hitherto.

        I would like to ask a question in response to these demands: Does anyone out there seriously think that the day will ever come when spokespersons for the industry will stand up somewhere and say, in effect, "We want to thank the government and the people of New Brunswick for giving us enough wood to supply our needs?" More only demands more, it seems, and we are left with the logical absurdity of imagining that doubling the wood supply now will only (inevitably) lead to demands down the road for further increases until we reach the point where the entire province is one massive plantation.

        Spokesperson often raise the corollary that presently the industry has to import 13% of its fibre in order to continue to operate now. My reaction to that is also a simple one, but one that no one else seems to be articulating. If I am spending 13% more money than I have, I am living beyond my means; why does that principal not apply to the industry? Further, does anyone really take seriously the opinion that unless the forest industry gets its way, it will abandon the whole operation in the province? Some might actually welcome that highly unlikely prospect, but I find it ludicrous to imagine that even a reduced wood supply will not be of value to someone. As far as the argument that jobs will be lost is concerned, a brief survey of the job history of the industry will demonstrate the absurdity of that position.

        I would have liked to have seen a clear sense of direction from the government. I am not certain what another study or round of hearings will accomplish, but I am encouraged by the government's obvious realization that they have to get this issue right, that they will only have one opportunity to do so, and that their mandate in working toward that end is to come up with something that addresses the needs and the desires of all citizens of the province.

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