MOUNT WILLIAM – Will Martin lives on the South Shore of Nova Scotia and vividly remembers what seemed like the end of an era for the region.
“After the Bowater Mersey mill closure, I watched as the community tried to respond to the challenge or chose to wait and see how long they could hold on,” he said. “It is really part of a bigger picture, to start adapting and figuring out the future of forestry in this province.”
It’s this need for balanced discussion in an open environment that has led Martin, chairman of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association, to organize a public meeting on the future of our forest and communities in Pictou County.
The open discussion will take place Aug. 27, 7 to 9 p.m., at the Pictou County Wellness Centre.
Plans for the meeting started after the board of directors for the association saw the need to act as discussions around Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corp. heat up. One thing was clear however: choosing sides was not on the table.
“For too long, we have been told that we have to choose between jobs and the environment, to pick sides, to turn against each other,” he said. “The reality is more complex, and these challenges are beyond the ability of any of us to address on our own. It is time to start that conversation.”
The topics of discussion at the public meeting, among others, include: how are we affected by the current state of the Northern Pulp mill; what is the cost of maintaining the current path of forestry in this province; and is there a new vision that we can build together.
The association’s mandate is focused on promoting prosperity of woodlot owners, building healthy forests and building a sense of solidarity of woodlot owners. Its membership spans the province.
While the association hasn’t taken a side or expressed a firm position on behalf of its membership, Martin noted they weren’t about to let the mill or province do it for them.
“We’re inviting the conversation to happen because we don’t want to be silent. We also don’t want the government or pulp mill to be speaking on our behalf.”
Without minimizing the importance of Northern Pulp to woodlot owners and the community, he said the picture painted by the mill often includes the forestry workers and mill workers.
“What we want is a talk about the viability of the mill. The current levels are unacceptable. Besides that, the overcutting of wood is also a problem. It’s not a political stance but the reality of challenges ahead.”
The invitation is to woodlot owners, operators and forestry workers and to the general public. Martin believes that both sides need to hear what each other has to say and what ideas can be exchanged.
“We need to hear the voices from regular citizens. Only by really hearing each other can we come up with solutions that move the region and the province forward.”
While industry has sometimes looked to government for subsidies, funding or direction in the forestry, Martin argues government isn’t great at coming up with new solutions.
“(Government isn’t) great at innovating new solutions and it’s not designed to respond to something new. They’re pretty quick to flow resources to maintaining status quo but when it comes to alternatives, they’re risk adverse.”
He’s hoping for quite a good turnout at the Pictou County Wellness Centre.
“I’m hoping to see constructive discussion and a chance for people to hear each other. People have legitimate concerns and, unfortunately, there’s an element in this debate that drives people apart,” he said. “I hope there is an opportunity to, as a community, build alternative systems.”
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn