The Feb. 10 issue of The Chronicle Herald featured the editorial “Wood-burning initiative a glimmer of hope for forestry” that appears to endorse a proposal for an industrial wood-pellet mill in Pictou County to replace the shuttered pulp mill.
It would be as big or bigger than the pulp mill, with the pellets shipped to the U.K. and burned for highly inefficient electricity.
Counter to the editorial, this proposal would be a giant step backwards for Nova Scotia’s forests and forest economy. It would offer woodlot owners lower value for their fibre than they made selling it as pulp (the value of which has barely increased since the 1990s). Not only would a huge pellet mill offer less value, it would also provide fewer jobs at lower wages for equivalent or greater volumes. It would also, by necessity, require widespread clearcutting, produce the least valuable “product” we could make from our forests, and greatly contribute to carbon emissions.
The proponent of the pellet mill is quoted as stating: “… if things went according to plan, every step of the forestry process would remain the same, up to the point of arriving at the gate.”
However, as has been identified in two in-depth, exhaustive and expensive government reviews (2011 and 2018), significant changes are required to our current forestry practices. As such, any proposal that requires a continuation of the status quo should not be considered an option.
With the closure of Northern Pulp, Nova Scotia’s forest economy is searching for an avenue for “low-grade” wood and the byproducts, or “residuals,” of lumber production. And, with over a century of ecologically unsustainable forestry practices in our province, we have quite a lot of poor-quality forests.
The question is what kind of industry and ecology do we want in Nova Scotia? Do we want to continue to reach further into the barrel, when we are already “scraping the bottom” as it is, or do we want to create long-term plans that increase, not decrease, the financial value of our forests?
The latter also creates a scenario wherein a diversification of economic output is more easily achieved through carbon offset credits, ecosystem services, and tourism — all valuable components of the multi-tiered approach that is needed.
The Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association stated: “Everyone in the province, from family forest owners to woods workers and municipalities, would be worse off if (the proponent) succeeds. This is not the kind of ‘transformation’ that the Nova Scotia forest sector wants or needs.”
We need value-added solutions that are based in Nova Scotia, made by Nova Scotians, wherein the majority of the profits stay here. Examples of alternative products include cross-laminated mass timber, Glulam posts and beams, and building insulation from sawdust.
Nova Scotia does not need another high-volume, low-value commodity production mill of this scale. We are on the precipice of a tremendous opportunity to diversify and revitalize how we manage our forests in Nova Scotia — let’s not waste it.
Mike Lancaster, co-ordinator of the Healthy Forest Coalition