Environment featured Uncategorised

David Patriquin: Why we need a clearcutting moratorium – a brief history lesson

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – What follows is the text of a speech by naturalist and retired biology professor David Patriquin, delivered at last Tuesday’s rally at Province House in support of a temporary clearcutting moratorium and marking the end of Jacob Fillmore’s hunger strike after 23 days.

David Patriquin at the Province House rally. Photo Robert Devet

First I want to thank the people next to me, younger and older, Jacob Fillmore and Nina Newington, for all they are doing and for inspiring so many,   and across  from me,  Ron Coleman who many years ago (circa year 2000) laid the foundation  for our formal understanding of the impacts of forestry in Nova Scotia.  

I want to say a few words directly to Mr. Rankin. 

But first I want to say a few words about some of the history behind this event  and particularly about the role of Forest Nova Scotia. 

ForestNS is the organization that we have learned so much about in  the last  couple of weeks, and how by creating a fake  organization and false narratives, it  succeeded in convincing our young premier to gut the Biodiversity Act. 

It is not the first time that ForestNS, an avowed forest industry advocacy group that receives large sums of money from the government  to administer programs, not  very different from the We Charity story,  has been involved in such underhanded campaigns. 

In fact our being here today, supporting Jacob and our demand to protect the  moose, and to impose a moratorium on clearcutting has a lot to do with Forest NS when it existed under the name  FPANS, the Forest products Association of Nova Scotia.  

On Nov 6, 2010, over 11 years ago, I stood outside this legislature when NDP Natural Resources Minister MacDonell, a farmer and teacher by background, said  “We don’t really have an industrial  forest, a small private forest and Crown land.  We have one forest. It’s one forest for all of us”.  and he promised a 50%  reduction in clearcutting on Crown AND private lands…. Yes on those now totally taboo private lands. 

That commitment reflected the recommendations of the NRS (Natural Resources  Strategy), which  involved inputs from over 2000 citizens from all walks of life,  through a Voluntary Planning process in 2008/9, and on two technical reports,  one by a wildlife biologist  Bob  Bancroft and forest ecologist Donna Crossland  and one by Jon Porter who at the time was woodlands manager with Abitibi Bowater (whose assets were later sold to the Crown).  

The  precise recommendations were selected from these competing perspectives  by a panel of elders: Justice Constance Glubey;  Allan Shaw, a prominent  businessman;  and Joe Marshall,  Executive Director of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians.  

But when the first hints of what was to come came out earlier in 2010, FPANS got  to work, and paid a purported six figure number of dollars to Robert G Wagner, a  prominent Professor of Forestry at the University of Maine, to review the  technical reports; his report remains hidden from the public to this day but it was  forwarded secretly to Government, the Premier in particular. 

He concluded,  “the recommendations on clearcutting, herbicides, and whole-tree  harvesting by Bancroft & Crossland were not consistent with the best available  forest research or with the principles of sound forest management,” and  therefore that he believed “the underlying rationale by the Steering Panel for the  regulatory restrictions of these three practices to be based on a weak scientific  and/or technical justification.” At the same time, he praised the Porter report.   

I was given a leaked copy of that review at the time, and was shocked by how  biased it was and forwarded lengthy comments (which were made public) to the government. (NB, see also David’s note at the bottom of this post)  

Needless  to say the train had left the station. In early 2011, Macdonell was shifted to Agriculture and replaced by the much more industry-friendly Charlie Parker.  

Environmental voters matter 

Mainland moose habitat, Digby County. Photo Facebook

From then on it was downhill for the reduction-in-clearcutting promises, as we  know, and the failure – we might remind Mr, Rankin – to implement the NRS  recommendations was a big factor in the Dexter Government losing the election in October of 2013.

But before that, the Bowater Mill closed in June of 2013, and a Buy Back the  Mersey campaign, initiated by people in Rankin’s corner of the woods spread  broadly in Nova Scotia and convinced the government to buy the land owned by  Resolute  Forest Products, so would it not fall into the wrong hands, so it would be used for  conservation, and community forests and recreation and, yes, for some of the old- school forestry.   

220,000 hectares were Purchased in Dec of 2012. That made a Total of Old Forest-rich 566,000 ha in the  Western Crown Lands,  the  “last great wood basket of Nova Scotia”. 

The new Liberal Government however didn’t waste time in continuing where Dexter & Co left off, making a secret deal with Northern  Pulp in January of 2014  to increase its wood supply to 225,000 tonnes annually from 100,000. It  was  widely suspected that this would come from Western Nova Scotia. 

In April of 2014, the new Liberal government hired Jon Porter – the very Jon  Porter of the Porter report (then out of regular work with the closure of the Bowater Mill) as Executive Director of the department of Natural Resources’ Renewable Resources Branch. 

That was followed by DNR setting up of a consortium of mills in the fall of 2014 – to become WestFor in 2016 – to harvest the Western Crown lands. 

And then the free-for all began, harvesting this last great wood basket in the most  biodiversity rich and carbon storage rich area of Nova Scotia, also the most inherently nutrient poor and the most susceptible to degradation by clearcutting.

And then the free-for all began, harvesting this last great wood basket in the most  biodiversity rich and carbon storage rich area of Nova Scotia, also the most inherently nutrient poor and the most susceptible to degradation by clearcutting. 

Of course the plunder did not go unnoticed and with the public uproar, the Liberals announced an Independent  Review of Forestry as a major plank in their successful re-election strategy in 2017. 

They got back in and we got the Lahey Review with things on hold while it was in process. 

But then after the report was released (Aug, 2018), the plunder again began, this time with Iain Rankin as Minister of Forestry. Again that generated  more public uproar and we are where we are today…

So the trajectory since the Lahey report is a very familiar one, it’s the same  trajectory that followed the NRS, and ForestNS had a big role in it then and now a and so far we are seeing the same result:  No change or minor change in the  status quo with a lot of window dressing. 

It’s good news to hear that Jon  Porter is finally retiring from Lands and Forestry at the end of this month, tomorrow I guess. But watch where he goes. The last company  man to  leave, Alan Eddy went to Port Hawkesbury Paper. 

“Mr. Rankin, let me talk to you directly” 

So now with that little bit of history, Mr, Premier, let me talk to you directly. In brief Mr, Rankin, my message is, you need us, and we need you

You need us if you want to accomplish those laudable environmental goals you  say you are committed to.  

You need us because in the next election,  your industrial forestry supporters  won’t be voting Liberal, they will be voting for the party nipping at your heels, because it has catered to big forestry unequivocally, through thick and thin  including the Northern Pulp  closure. 

So that leaves us, mr. Premier. And you know that. 

In the run-up to the election of a new leader, you and your campaign team called pretty well every environmentally-oriented person known (I was  called about 5 times) and a lot of them joined the Liberal party to vote for you, if  they weren’t members already. 

I don’t know whether that carried the day… but in a general election, there is no doubt that the environment will matter big time, and that you now need to gain credibility, not make more promises. 

That credibility will be based on what you are able to do in your remaining months in office.

And Mr. Premier, we need you. You remain right now our biggest hope for seeing  real change in the way our government of whatever party makes the right decisions related to the dual and related threats of climate change and  biodiversity loss. It is the simplest route. Make the tough decisions and we will  support you. 

But there is now a credibility problem, a big one, with your quick backtracking on  the Biodiversity Act, Your Act, Mr. Premier, in response  to ForestNS’ campaign of  division and deception; and your refusal to date to implement a moratorium while we wait for the Lahey report to be fully implemented. 

You have promised to implement Lahey before the next election, expected within  a year. But there are some big problems with implementing the Lahey report, especially in a hurry.  

First we still have only a very vague  idea of how it will be implemented; the big question is what will the HPF (High Production Forestry)  component look like?  

The discussion paper propositions  from February 2020  were clearly excessive. 

And we have not seen anything since. We have not seen the wood supply model and the assumptions it is based on. In particular we need to know whether there will be a substantial reduction in wood supply from Crown lands, as Lahey and Co. expected but you said in December 2018 was not necessary.  

If we don’t see such a reduction  Mr.Premier, the  results will be worse than what  we have now. Clearcutting will be sanctioned on the best forested Crown lands  remaining and the rest will be pocketed with holes and crisscrossed by roads as the system is pushed to produce the wood demanded by the mills, all at public and nature’s expense, 

We also, Mr Premier,  have heard nothing about the Old Forest Policy. 

And nothing about the mysterious  Environmental Assessment process that will  dictate  how public input is to occur.

For the Lahey process to work, to gather widespread support and to achieve what  is intended to do, you can’t push it out of the door on an election timeline.  

In the meantime we will soon be three years since the  Lahey Report was  submitted and in our 12th year since the NRS. 

That’s why we need a moratorium.  

The destruction of forested land has actually accelerated in the past year of Covid  because of the change in the market and high lumber prices… Those have made the High Volume Old Forests of Southwest Nova Scotia  a prime target,  the same  forests that store so much carbon and that are so valuable  biodiversity-wise.  

So there is a lot we are nervous about. 

But it has been clear from the very beginning there should have been a  moratorium on clearcutting – because of Lands and Forestry’s semantic tricks, we have to say a moratorium on clearcutting/even-aged management.  

In fact Lands and Forestry secretly floated significant reductions in September of 2018, within a month after the Lahey report was handed in, but then quickly retracted them, all behind  closed doors were it not for CBC opening a few of them up. 

And McNeil, when his government announced the independent review, placed restrictions on harvesting by WestFor while the review was occurring and just coincidentally the election campaign  was upcoming—but then,  again  secretly,  removed them in a deal with Westfor on Oct 1, 2018 (I have always found the  coincidence of that deal with the day a New NAFTA was agreed upon very  curious).  

So you know, you understand why a moratorium is needed, you and the government of the day simply  buckled under pressure from ForestNS & Co or assumed it was the way ahead strategically. 

Now it’s your turn Mr. Premier. And it is not just Jacob and us standing here  asking for a moratorium. Half of the Advisory Committee for the Independent 

Review, essentially the scientific half,  broke ranks and called for the moratorium last winter

So It should be an easy fix for you Mr. Premier. 

You don’t need to do it for Jacob – well now it’s too late,  although it sure would have been  nice and a sign of respect to him and his generation just to talk to  him, but that is your decision Mr. premier and that was a political choice. 

And  you don’t need to do it because  we are all out here pleading with you to do it.  

Mr. Premier, You need to do it simply because it is the right thing to do. The right thing for forests, for your climate goals, for all of us.   

* Note from David Patriquin: There was more going on than I have talked about. In  2010 after the Natural Resources Strategy recommendations were published, FPANS initiated a disinformation campaign amongst its members to discredit the recommendations and in particular the Bancroft and Crossland report. They told members that ‘Many of the recommendations are impractical. They are not based on credible science and come from a few vocal people who would prefer to see our industry die…” and asked them to write Minister MacDonell and Premier Darrel Dexter and their local MLA.. View this Ecology Action Centre page for more details: EAC Response to Forest Industry Campaign against Steering Panel Report. Also view various related links, documents at http://nsforestnotes.ca/perspectives/#Bancroft (several items, scroll down).

David Patriquin is a professor of Biology at Dalhousie. He retired in 2008, and since then has been active in several natural history, environmental and trail organizations. He publishes an excellent blog, Nova Scotia Forest Notes; and maintains several websites at versicolor.ca.

See also: “Log the best and leave the rest” – A conversation with David Patriquin about the state of our forests

Check out our new community calendar!

With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.

Subscribe to the Nova Scotia Advocate weekly digest and never miss an article again. It’s free!



  1. Thank you for sharing this. I have a hard time keeping track of all the to’s and fro’s; promises made and broken; reports submitted and kept secret or not followed. I’m trying to create a full picture in my head of the harm done to Nova Scotia in the name of ‘development’ over the past 40 years, starting with the fight of the inshore fishermen against the big factory ships. In weighing up options I attempt to see it all through a critical green lens. This fills in quite a few gaps for me. Thank you!

  2. David Patriquin’s “a brief history lesson” is so worth reading and sharing (especially with the rest of Canada), so others will come to understand what happened to us in Nova Scotia: that the unaddressed consequences of global warming thundering down on us .. the ongoing relentless assault on biodiversity, and the destruction of our few remaining mature forest habitats and carbon sinks .. are largely a result of leadership by so many badly raised children – elected and corporate.

Comments are closed.