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EDITORIAL: Can’t see the forest for the trees

It’s hard to say who’s at greater fault – the company taking down old-growth forest or the government for not being on top of this. We’ll declare it a tie.

A government report last week showed that two of 12 stands partially harvested by Port Hawkesbury Paper contained old-growth forests – areas of natural value that are becoming increasingly rare in the province and certainly deserving of protection.

Natural Resources Minister Margaret Miller, in response to the report, said she was surprised by the finding and claimed that the department does a good job of providing oversight in industrial activity in forested areas. The obvious question here is how then does something like this happen? Ignorance is not an excuse in, for instance, the eyes of the law. Why is it here?

Ray Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, expressed doubts over the level of oversight and claimed that the department leaves too much discretion up to the companies when it comes to what they cut.

Finding out about these transgressions afterward is more than a little reminiscent of the strategy simply finding it easier to beg forgiveness later rather than get permission in the first place.

Nova Scotians should be alarmed that governments are so out of the loop when it comes to industrial activity contributing to ecological degradation, but too often we aren’t surprised. Locally, in Pictou County, people have unfortunately gotten used to the lack of consequences when Northern Pulp exceeds emission limits.

In the case of Port Hawkesbury Paper, this is the same plant that is home to the infamous biomass plant, pitched by the government several years ago as a part of its Renewable Energy Plan. The premise was that it would be fuelled with waste wood products, but many a critic has observed that’s not the case, and trees are going toward this use. Once you’ve created it, you have to feed the beast.

When the company that’s host to this plant is found to be hoeing into old growth forest you have to wonder whether the company or the government have any grasp of the concept of what constitutes renewable. Old growth, as the name implies, doesn’t bounce back in a couple of years.

Work on a report is currently underway by University of King’s College president William Lahey to look into current forestry practices in the province. Many will await that eagerly.

In the meantime, Nova Scotia along with the other provinces is supposed to be inching its way toward greener energy use as part of the goal to reduce greenhouse gases, as mandated by the federal government. Think of the value of our forests in providing carbon sinks alongside this quest to reduce carbon emissions. Indiscriminant cutting of forests perpetuates an imbalance in the aim to get control of carbon emissions. Someone needs to address that discrepancy.

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