HALIFAX: Crown land in Antigonish and Guysborough counties has been set aside in zones promoting what the provincial government is calling ecological forestry.

In a press release on Jan. 17, the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) announced that it dedicated a “high production forest zone,” which will complete its “triad model of ecological forestry.” They noted that this will ensure that 90 per cent of Crown land is “managed with biodiversity as the top priority.”

“We started with the conservation zone first and then the mixed-use zone,” said Tory Rushton, Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables. “Now we’re moving ahead with a high production forest zone where there’s opportunity to approach timber harvesting very much like agriculture and support our rural economies.”

The province said 10 per cent of Crown land, about 185,000 hectares, will be allocated for the high production forest zone where clear-cutting is allowed.

According to the DNRR, they identified Ecodistrict 360 which is located in Guysborough and Antigonish counties.

The DNRR said the district covers 99,765 total hectares; there are 43,140 hectares of Crown and protected areas lands in that area; the existing conservation zone covers 12,100 hectares; and current planted forests and abandoned fields being considered for high production encompass 4,605 hectares.

In Ecodistrict 360, the sites total 9,395 hectares of potentially suitable area to be confirmed by licensees through field verifications, said the DNRR.

“… There are 39 ecodistricts across the province,” DNRR spokesperson Adele Poirier wrote in an email to The Reporter. “We are assessing each one for sites that meet the criteria for high production forestry. These are just the first three.”

The province said the landscape level assessment process will continue throughout 2023, and as assessments are completed, maps and information will be released to Crown land licensees, and sites will also be shown on a high production forestry map that will soon be added to the publicly available geographic data directory.

Once forestry licensees have harvested an area in this zone, they are expected to prepare and add nutrients to the soil, plant high-quality, fast-growing seedlings, and manage the crop for decades, said the province. This method of forestry can produce crops of trees that mature in 25 to 40 years, compared with 60 to 90 years through traditional approaches, they said.

The department estimates that each year for the next 35 years, licensees will establish about 5,000 hectares of Crown land in the zone. This means they will harvest the existing timber followed by site preparation with specially designed equipment to prepare ideal soil and site conditions for replanting with spruce seedlings, they noted.

The department said licensees will have to tend the crop of seedlings through its development and eventually harvesting again in 30 to 50 years. They said tending will include applying herbicide and using saws to thin out unwanted, naturally regenerated trees during the establishment stages. As the trees mature, commercial thinning will be a commonly used harvesting method, said the department.

Eventually, the department said the site will be completed harvested and the cycle will begin again. The zone will be fully implemented once 10 per cent of the triad is being actively managed for high production forestry, they said.

The province said high production forestry will be done mainly on Crown lands that have been previously used for forestry or agriculture, are conducive to growing spruce trees quickly and are relatively close to existing sawmills. They said it will not be done on Crown lands that include or are near parks and protected areas, old growth forests, sensitive habitats, tolerant hardwood or pine forests, special wildlife management zones, buffers along watercourses, or areas with high Indigenous cultural value.

Three initial sites, totalling about 0.5 per cent of Crown land, have been identified, the province said, noting that licensees can now determine the suitability of these sites, develop harvesting and silviculture proposals, and submit them to the Department of the Natural Resources and Renewables.

Proposals must go through a review process, which includes an opportunity for the public to submit their local knowledge about sites, the province noted. More sites will be evaluated and made available until a maximum of 10 per cent is reached, they said.

The province said the conservation zone is currently about 35 per cent of Crown land and includes old-growth forests conserved under the old-growth forest policy, existing parks and protected areas, pending sites in the Parks and Protected Areas Plan, and other lands being conserved without legal designations. This zone will never get smaller, the province said, noting it might get larger as lands are identified to reach the goal to protect 20 per cent of Nova Scotia’s land and water mass by 2030.

The mixed-use zone is currently about 55 per cent of Crown land, the province said, noting it could get smaller if some of this land is conserved. As of June 1, both new and previously approved harvest plans for Acadian forests in this zone must follow low-intensity practices that put biodiversity first, the province said.

According to the province, the 2018 Independent Review of Forest Practices recommended that Nova Scotia adopt a triad model of ecological forestry, which includes 1.85 million hectares of land managed under the Crown Lands Act, Wilderness Areas Protection Act, Special Places Protection Act, and Provincial Parks Act.

The province added that the three zones of the triad model “work together to allow ecological and economic goals to coexist,” which they claim leads to healthy forests and a sustainable forestry sector.