HALIFAX — A member of an expert panel that examined management of Nova Scotia's natural resources in 2011 says he's disappointed the province is moving away from a goal of reducing clear cutting in forests by 50 per cent.
Allan Shaw, chairman of the Shaw group of companies, said Thursday a progress update released last week by the Department of Natural Resources doesn't include the "better balance" between conservation and development that was called for five years ago.
"I am very disappointed," he said in an interview. "We have too much clear cutting now and what we do now is not sustainable."
The update said the province's 10-year natural resources strategy committed to taking action on forestry practices such as clear cutting and whole-tree harvesting based on "our best information and intentions at the time."
But the document said "times had changed" and that the department had learned more about what it means to take an "ecosystem-based, landscape-scale approach to land management."
"In some areas, clear cutting will not have an impact on the total health of the forest—it may even improve it," the document states. "In others, clear cutting could have a negative impact."
Shaw said it appears the Natural Resources Department has decided to "revert to the status quo."
"I think they have gone to doing what they've done for the last 100 years or so ... which is be largely supportive of the larger pulp and paper and forestry companies."
Asked about the criticism, Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines said that much had changed in the five years since the panel's report was released, including new scientific approaches to managing the forests.
As for clear cutting, Hines said it is easier to influence what happens on Crown land than it is on private woodlots, which account for the majority of the forest land in the province.
Hines said there are about 30,000 private woodlot owners in Nova Scotia, and Crown land accounts for only about 35 per cent of forested areas.
"We need to recognize the fact they (private owners) have sovereign rights on their property," said Hines.
The minister said his department is working to develop best practices on Crown land through a pre-assessment system that looks at such things as harvesting methods and the species available in a particular area.
"We may end up with some clear cut for sure, but conceivably even less than 50 per cent because we are drilling down a little further," he said.
As things stand, Shaw said he doesn't see any evidence the province is using best practices on Crown land and he's skeptical about claims of new scientific evidence.
"I do not know what that evidence is," he said. "I am not aware of it and I don't think that is really the case."
The province is expected to release a new Crown land forest policy in the fall that will address issues such as clear cutting limits and whether to keep a ban on herbicide use.