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The Chronicle Herald recently reported on the pending closure of Hodgson’s Chipping — a forestry contracting company that cuts and chips trees — and the loss of some 70 jobs.  Add to this the nearly 50% cut in jobs at Bowater, and who knows how many potential job losses to come with the changing ownership of the NewPage mill in Port Hawkesbury.  This is sad for the families affected, but hardly new.

Mr. Hodgson blames several factors forcing him to shut down: loss of mature softwood forest for him to cut, poor prices paid by the mills for wood, high costs and a shortage of workers. Indeed, as woodlot owner and contractor Tom Miller points out in his letter to the editor (pasted below), these are real issues facing forestry workers.

But Mr. Hodgson reserved his harshest criticism for government’s forestry policies: “the way the regulations are for the forestry, it’s going to kill it.”  Mr. Hodgson says he would have tried to stay in business if government had not changed the regulations.

I can understand the frustration and need to lay blame somewhere, but in reality the NDP has done nothing to change forestry regulations.  There has been no additional burden placed on forestry contractors — neither the clearcutters nor the selection cutters.  To assert otherwise is nothing but swinging at ghosts.

In fact, the NDP has been spending tremendous amounts of taxpayer’s money to prop up the industrial forestry sector — $100 million and counting, according to Dan Leger’s recent blog post: http://danleger.ca/wp/?p=40.

Mr Hodgson does make an important point about the cost of selection harvesting versus clearcutting.  Forest that have been hard-hit and degraded by a long history of poor forestry require remedial work to restore value.  This is just pay-back for past practices that degraded the woods.

The answer to the challenge is two-fold.  First, we need more education on non-clearcutting methods.  Government has devoted some funds to this over the past few years, and must continue to do so.  Partial-harvest techniques takes brains and skills.  Second, government must put more money into partial-harvesting silviculture funding.  Government has done this at a “pilot project” level for a few years now, but it is peanuts compared to the millions that the government spends on silviculture that supports clearcutting.  As a contractor said to me once, “if I selection cut, there’s very little support available, but if I clearcut, I can get all kinds of money from the government.”

Transitioning to a forestry industry that relies on more partial harvesting techniques is one way to help keep people working in the woods.  It’s all about taking a bit more time to manage and cut higher-value wood.  It’s not cut-and-run, it’s cut-and-stay-and-cut-again.

As forester Herb Hammond says, “We do not support the forest, the forest supports us.”  In other words, if we abuse it, we lose.

I’ll leave the last words to Tom Miller — here’s his recent letter to the Herald (thanks to Tom for giving me the thumbs up to include this):

TOM MILLER:  Need new land ethic

Re: “Hodgson’s Chipping to close after more than 40 years in the woods” (Jan. 21). I’ve been a woodlot owner and operator for 37 years in Nova Scotia and can confirm some of the things that Vaughn Hodgson stated.

Low prices, indeed. In 1995, the last year the Abercrombie pulp mill bought roundwood from producers, we received $36 per tonne for our softwood. Today, we receive $30-$37 per tonne (two grades) for that same softwood at a satellite chipping operation for the Abercrombie mill. I bet diesel fuel was about 70 cents a litre back then, not the $1.38 of today.

He’s right, we’re going to lose more producers and maybe another mill. If we weren’t artificially propping them up, we’d be down two right now. Our need for wood has exhausted the supply. Everyone sees the small wood moving on the highways. That’s our children’s wood. Wood is cut to a market size, not when it’s mature. This is greed and folly at their worst.

Not only is there no respect for the hard-working forestry contractors, there’s no respect for the forest. If the mills we have can’t pay more for this very valuable resource, we need new mills that can. This can’t just be about the people in town and at the mill. We need a new land ethic and appreciation of our forest. The old ways must be phased out; our wood is too valuable to be given away.

Tom Miller, Greenhill