In the Summer 2009 issue of Silviculture Magazine, the AGFOR Report outlined how the problem of the massive and sudden cut to the private land silviculture program was resolved on the eve of the launch of the 2008 silviculture program. A result of two months of intense lobbying and negotiation, this solution was the best under the circumstances: the budget was increased from the initial $4 million to $6 million, and the landowner contribution was set at 30%, down from the 50% contribution proposed by the province.
The Year After the Big Cut - Private Land Silviculture in New Brunswick
In the Summer 2009 issue of Silviculture Magazine, the AGFOR Report outlined how the problem of the massive and sudden cut to the private land silviculture program was resolved on the eve of the launch of the 2008 silviculture program. A result of two months of intense lobbying and negotiation, this solution was the best under the circumstances: the budget was increased from the initial $4 million to $6 million, and the landowner contribution was set at 30%, down from the 50% contribution proposed by the province. The eligibility criteria for the landowner contribution component took another two more months to develop - providing a functional program at the end of June 2008.
The private woodlots represent about 30% of the provincial forest, which is for the most part accessible. According to the most recent data from the Forest Products Commission, the harvest levels are even lower than previously reported. Furthermore, some prices are so low that wood is simply not moving. This fact alone is ominous, as the traditional harvesting capacity on private lands is disappearing and the existence of several woodlot owner organizations is threatened.
As the 2009 season was winding down, AGFOR met with Troy Lifford, the assistant manager of the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners (NBFWO) to consider the following issues: The economic forces that stimulated forest management on private lands are falling short. Are we losing the forest management culture? How did the program unfold with a minimum landowner participation rate? Why would private landowners invest in silviculture?
Here is the summary of the discussions between AGFOR and Lifford:
The immediate fallout from the initial shock was swift: contractors, faced with such uncertainty, simply quit and many have left the sector or the province. Landowners, who were facing severely reduced markets, also put their plans on hold. Much of this occurred before the revised program was finalized.
Negotiations resulted in a $ million provincial private land silviculture program for 2008, and a 30% landowner contribution. Needless to say, that uptake suffered due to the uncertainty, the late start, and the generally poor state of the forest sector. The funds left unspent in 2008 were $1,369,301 or 18% of the program budget, so a sizeable amount of cash was left on the table.
2009 saw an additional $1.75 million of new money come from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), a federal government agency. The ACOA funding is actually a two-year $3.5 million program (2009-2010) with the possibility of a carry-over, which is particularly useful.
The 2009 program saw the introduction of an indexed/escalating landowner participation/contribution based on the sales volume of private wood (see the Summer 2009 AGFOR Report for more detail). With private land market volumes at all-time lows, the 2009 landowner contribution was set at its lowest level of 10 %, which should stimulate uptake.
As of mid-November 2009, the private land silviculture program had used 73% of the provincial budget and 7% of the ACOA budget. There may be money left on the table as the 2009 season comes to an end.
As usual, the trend was heavier towards pre-commercial thinning (PCT). The 2008 planting activity was stymied because the provincial site preparation rates were only slightly indexed to the cost of diesel fuel, compared to other tenures. The offset came in 2009 through the ACOA funding part of the program, which better reflected site- preparation and planting costs and improved the planting uptake.
From a forestry perspective, there is a need to expand the style and range of treatments to include the first commercial thinning. This is a logical next step given the long-standing emphasis on PCT in New Brunswick.
Part of the overall lack of uptake in 2009 is due to the shortage of contractors - several forest products marketing boards now have waiting lists with no one to do the work. It is ironic given the prolonged slow-down in the forest sector and the government's cry of "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!".
AGFOR profiled the province's silviculture contractor sector in 1995. The typical contractor then was in the early 30s with a post- secondary education and a desire to diversify, exactly the type of young entrepreneurs the Liberal government of the day was striving to develop. Today, there is no new blood in the sector - where have they gone?
Until there is a renewed interest in the private lands wood supply and the sector is given priority, the rationale for investment in forest management on private lands will continue to weaken for all but the diehards. The time that change takes to occur will be at the expense of the private landowner forest management culture.
Gaston Damecour is a registered professional forester in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. He is the senior consultant and principal of AGFOR Inc., based in New Brunswick and serves clients from Manitoba to Newfoundland and Labrador, and France. AGFOR has been instrumental in bringing about significant changes to the forest sector by representing governments and industries on such issues as industrial relations, wood allocations and procurement, and forest management policy.