Wednesday, 8 February 2012

UNB professor discusses government's poor forestry management



FREDERICTON - Professor Tom Beckley of UNB addressed concerns about the future direction of the province's forest policy yesterday, as part of the Occupy Speaker series at STU.

The discussion was timely, given the Alward government's release earlier in the day of the Task Force Report on Private Woodlots.  Beckley's talk was part of a community discussion and debate about the future of the province's forest policy.

“Increasingly,  risks of forest management are being assumed by the public, while the benefits are being privatized,” Beckley said.  While 100 jobs were recently created by the re-opening of the old Weyerhaeuser mill in Miramichi, the federal and provincial governments pitched in $17 million in loans, loan guarantees and capital contributions.

In the past, government subsidies, tax incentives and public expenditures for key infrastructure helped the forest sector become the primary economic engine of the province. The long, historic trend of companies substituting machines and technology for human labour has meant that while production and profits have remained relatively constant, the number of workers those firms employ has steadily dwindled.

The old social contract saw the government grant access to fiber and favourable rates in order to attract industry investment. Industry employed large numbers of people and paid royalties that contributed to government coffers as firms assessed and assumed risk. For a time, it was a win, win, win but in recent years, industry has demanded increasing government subsidies and guarantees while providing fewer and fewer jobs, Beckley said.

“Because of the budget crisis and the government’s desperate need to generate revenue, the forestry debate has remained squarely on trying to fix industry’s fiber supply issues, and government continues to offer industry indirect subsidies such as preferential power deals in order to lower their costs,” Beckley said.

Issues of greater concern to the public, such as biodiversity maintenance and water quality have taken a back seat to short term profits and budgetary concerns that appear to be driving industry and government agendas.

Beckley is a professor in UNB's Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management.  He has been active in the past, advocating for new directions in forestry management.  He is co-author of a 2008 survey that showed New Brunswickers would prioritize ecological values, such as water protection and biodiversity in forestry management.