POINT TUPPER: The region’s largest employer has made changes to agreements it reached with the provincial government more than a decade ago.

According to a press release issued by the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) on Feb. 8, agreements reached with Port Hawkesbury Paper (PHP) have been updated to support sustainable ecological forestry and the management of public lands.

Geoffrey Clarke, Director of Business Development for PHP, said these are not new agreements.

“Back in 1957, when Stora originally came here, they signed a 50 year forestry licence for the area,” he told The Reporter. “When Port Hawkesbury Paper came in 2012, we signed a 20-year renewable licence for Crown land for a volume of wood to supply the mill. What comes with that is a 10 year check-in so it accounts for all new developments; there’s a new forestry paradigm in place now, any of the natural disturbances that come.”

Clarke said PHP met and exceeded all its commitments to the province under the first agreement.

The province said it has two agreements with PHP, first signed in 2012. They said the forest utilization licence agreement is a long-term agreement that guarantees an annual volume of timber from certain parcels of Crown land in Cape Breton, as well as in Guysborough, Antigonish, and Pictou counties, and sets out terms and conditions.

Originally for 20 years, the deal is now extended to 2043, the province said, noting that changes include a lower volume of timber so the province can accommodate multiple priorities on Crown land.

Adele Poirier, with the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said the reduced volume of timber also ensures a sustainable base supply for the company.

“Biodiversity and conservation are key priorities,” she wrote in an email to The Reporter. “There are protected areas, buffers, special management zones for species at risk, and Indigenous protected and conserved areas within the area that the agreement deals with. There are also things like twinning highways that take up some of this land. All of these reduce the amount of timber available from Crown land within this area that Port Hawkesbury Paper can access.”

Under the agreement, the company can harvest up to 275,000 green metric tonnes of timber per year on about 520,000 hectares of Crown land, down from 400,000 green metric tonnes.

Clarke said this was done to include new forestry practices and account for new environmental factors.

“Things change over time so we feel this number is a good and sustainable level,” he stated.

The province said PHP also has a fee-for-service agreement under which government pays the company to provide services that support sustainable forest management on Crown and private land.

The original agreement was for 10 years and the new agreement runs until 2033 ensuring services are aligned with ecological forestry objectives, like helping implement sustainable practices on private woodlots, the province stated.

“This continued partnership with the province also means that we are able to deliver the services the province requires based on reimbursement for costs incurred to educate and implement sustainable forest management activities on private lands; the direct benefit of which accrues to small businesses and individuals in the eastern region who are contracted or hired by PHP to complete the various land management activities currently required by the province,” Clarke wrote in an email to The Reporter.

Like the previous SFM&OP agreement, Clarke said there is a funding mechanism that allows PHP to expand activities and support forest management on private lands.

“For instance, we will be able to support the development, repair, access and maintenance of roads and bridges that, while primarily focused on land management, also facilitate recreational and tourism access and use of Crown land in the region,” he wrote. “We will also be able to support new and enhanced research activities and enhanced forestry contractor training and retraining with a focus on new technology use.”

Noting that PHP and its employees are committed to responsible forest management practices, Clarke said this will continue in Nova Scotia’s evolving ecological forestry paradigm.

“The forest management practices we follow on the Crown land managed by us on behalf of the province are audited by third-party agencies,” he noted. “PHP is the only industrial company in the Maritimes that is independently certified to three internationally recognized standards.”

The closure of the Northern Pulp has changed things, Clarke said.

“The intention is to make the remainder up through sawmill suppliers and also on private woodlots,” Clarke noted. “A few years ago, we used to only get about five per cent of our mill requirements from saw mill residuals; a lot of that used to go to Northern. With the Northern closure right now, our shipped supply that we get has gone from five per cent of what we need up to 50 per cent of what we take in.”

Clarke said the company is constantly planning for the long-term, an example of which is forestry certification.

“It’s certainly about short term supply needs but long term sustainability,” he said.

The director of business development said the company will be reviewing the agreements in another 10 years.

“We’ve refreshed these agreements to continue working with Port Hawkesbury Paper as an important employer, as part of the forestry sector and as a corporate taxpayer,” said Tory Rushton, Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables.

Through capital investment, employment, taxes, and other benefits, Clarke said PHP has contributed over $2 billion in economic activity since the first agreement was signed in 2012.

“Having a renewed and extended agreement in place continues to provide the predictability required by our company,” Clarke wrote in an email to The Reporter. “We’re committed to maintaining our role as the economic engine for rural communities throughout the seven eastern counties of Nova Scotia.”

The province said PHP still has to go through the Integrated Resource Management process for approvals to harvest on Crown land, and to focus more on ecological forestry and account for inflation, payment for services the company provides is increasing to $5 million per year from $3.8 million.

“Our company, its employees, contractors and suppliers, including sawmills, have long focused on supporting sustainable forestry,” Port Hawkesbury Paper President Ron Stern said. “With the renewal of these agreements, we will continue to work with government and private woodlot owners to ensure that sound ecological forestry practices are used. This strong partnership means that we are able to maintain hundreds of family-sustaining jobs in rural Nova Scotia, as the facility has done for the last 65 years.”