HALIFAX, FRIDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2017
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Ben Jessome
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We will be dealing with the Estimates of the Department of Natural Resources.
Resolution E17 – Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $77,178,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Natural Resources, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Natural Resources.
HON. MARGARET MILLER: I am pleased to be before the committee today to discuss Budget Estimates around the Department of Natural Resources.
If I may, I would like to introduce the people at my side today. They are Julie Towers, Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Weldon Myers, DNR’s Director of Financial Services.
Mr. Chairman, I have not been the Minister of Natural Resources for very long but I quickly came to understand that this department’s core commitment emphasizes three key values.
This department is focused strategically and daily on striking the right balance between the economic, social, and environmental values of Nova Scotia’s natural resources. I have learned that our department takes a commitment to be a fair and thoughtful balance very seriously. It is typical in any year for our resource-based industries, particularly mining and forestry, to present us with challenges and opportunities. This past year was no exception. We believe our long-term success will be achieved through striking that balance I mentioned.
Mr. Chairman, our department is one that touches on a variety of key topics of interest to Nova Scotians and I will update you here today on the pertinent ones. I want to introduce those topics with a word about the people of our department. The department I represent has an impressive level of expertise in multiple fields because forestry, hunting and mining are traditional activities.
There may be a mistaken belief that only traditional approaches are used. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact, Mr. Chairman, is that in today’s world of natural resource management, sound data collection and measurements are what all our decisions are based on.
Mr. Chairman, the department uses modern, innovative, science-based management practices and a balanced science and consultative approach to managing the province’s natural resources. To do this DNR employs biologists, geologists, foresters, ecologists, soil scientists, entomologists and many other highly-skilled specialists. At least 185 permanent DNR staff have at least one post-secondary degree and there are numerous Masters and Ph.D. level employees as well. Our government is proud of this level of scientific capacity at DNR.
Mr. Chairman, as you know, the forestry industry has been a staple of the Nova Scotia economy for close to a century, particularly in rural Nova Scotia. The forestry sector in 2015 contributed about $800 million to Nova Scotia’s gross domestic product and contributed $2.1 billion in economic activity to the economy. There are more than 11,500 direct and indirect jobs in Nova Scotia related to forestry. Every ton of wood produces $710 benefit to help our economy. Eighty-five largely family-owned softwood lumber mills are the backbone of the industry in our province. Of the six largest mills which are major producers and exporters, four of these are family-owned businesses creating significant employment in rural areas.
The foundation of good natural resources management is science. Our department bases its forest management decisions on carefully collected data and scientific processes. For example, decisions on harvesting are made, Mr. Chairman, based on sound forestry science and through a standard process that considers the important balance of values I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks.
In managing the forest resources our province has, we make sure that we integrate our decision-making with consideration of all related resources - not just the trees, but also wildlife, biodiversity, protected wilderness areas, recreation, and minerals. We call this Integrated Resource Management, and you’ll hear the acronym today, IRM. It is a structured planning and decision-making process. When a proposed harvest of Crown land is being considered, it must go through this Integrated Resource Management process.
This IRM process brings compatible ideas together and attempts to meet several goals at the same time. It attempts to optimize long-term, sustainable benefits. It is meant to maximize benefits and minimize conflicts between a proposal and IRM values. It seeks to keep resources used balanced and sustainable.
The IRM process looks at many values when considering a proposed activity such as forest harvest. It looks at things like the type of harvest and road construction or upgrading that is proposed. It looks at significant species and habitats in the area, old forests, natural heritage features, biodiversity-rich landscapes, wetlands, watercourses, landscape connectivity, and wildlife research initiatives. It looks at mining permits, licences, old workings, and rare or under-represented geological features. It looks at land boundaries and cultural heritage, Mi’kmaq values and interests, water supply, protected areas, parks and trails, and even recreation. These are just some of the values our integrated resource management teams look at when considering forest harvest proposals around other natural resources.
After gathering much information, our staff review and provide expertise and recommendations to inform a final decision. It’s an impressive and thorough process that brings a rigorous standard to decision-making. When the IRM process calls for mitigation measures, those prescriptions are provided to the contractors working in the woods, for example, to ensure any restriction or mitigations are carried out.
Our department regularly produces materials to promote greater understanding of our natural resources and to guide those harvesting parcels of forest in our province so it is done sustainably. DNR has developed tools such as pre-treatment assessments and forest management guidelines to determine appropriate harvesting methods based on the science of forest ecosystem classification. These tools must be followed by anyone harvesting on Crown land and are recommended for use by private landowners and managers. As well, all forest landowners are required to follow the wildlife habitat and watercourse protection regulations.
In addition, in 2017, the province released A Field Guide to Forest Biodiversity Stewardship to aid landowners and managers to make appropriate decisions while managing their private lands. This is a handbook useful to anyone who needs to better understand, and I have had a copy already, several, in my desk. When other members see them, they tend to try to take them on me. They’re quite popular, even in the House with our own membership.
The variety and interconnections of life in Nova Scotia including all plants, animals, and other organisms, the genes they contain, and the systems and processes that link them are in this book. Nova Scotia’s biodiversity and forest health are tightly connected so this excellent guide produced by DNR scientists is useful, if not essential, to biologists and foresters, including those in the industry.
We are also giving priority to applied research on landscape-level planning and management in order to address cumulative impacts, particularly related to biodiversity, wildlife habitat and species at risk.
Mr. Chairman, I am equally impressed by the level of transparency that DNR has brought to forestry decisions in recent years, specifically in the online forest harvest map viewer. This is a site where Nova Scotians can see proposed forest harvests in our province after the proposals have gone through the IRM process. People viewing online have 40 days to send in comments and that will also be considered in the final decision.
Nova Scotia is a leader in this type of online transparency and harvesting, Mr. Chairman. On this map you can click in to bring in features such as national parks and provincial protected areas to see a location relative to proposed harvest areas.
Mr. Chairman, another important part of the forestry industry in our province is our woodlot owners. I had the honour recently of presenting a Woodland Owner of the Year Award to Peter and Pat Spicer in Cumberland County. They are a fine example of the excellence in woodlot management that we see throughout our province. We have about 30,000 woodland owners in Nova Scotia. Our woodlot owners bring innovation and creativity to the forestry industry. They demonstrate careful stewardship of the resource and they add benefit to our economy.
Our department provides woodlot owners with promotion, education, encouragement and advice to help them advance their woodlot management capacity, besides recognizing the best at public field days, we have produced promotional videos of our woodlot winners, which are viewable online.
The department takes great pride in managing our provincial park properties which are enjoyed by many Nova Scotia residents and visitors annually. We also value the importance of maintaining good rural jobs in these parks. In fact, we strive to ensure that we can maintain all our current camping parks and we work towards sustainable and responsible use of our available resources. This season we extended the camping season this Fall in three additional parks - one in Cape Breton, another in Digby County, and one in Yarmouth County. Our camping parks have had a very successful season with almost 76,000 camping nights booked this year. That’s up about 9,000 camping nights over last year, a 13 per cent increase for our provincial parks.
Our provincial parks and hiking trails are very popular. Cape Split visitorship is trending upward annually. Trail counters showed that 23,000 hikers used that trail this season. Shubenacadie Wildlife Park also continues to be of great interest. Being from Shubenacadie, it was always the place our school always went and we always enjoyed seeing other people go to the park from all over the province. This year from April 1 to October 11, 2017, our wildlife park had about 93,000 visitors, which is up about 1 per cent over last year.
Significant upgrades were made at some of our provincial parks in the past year. We added electrical sites and a new dump station at Caribou Provincial Park, added electrical sites at Five Islands Provincial Park and replaced the waterline at Lawrencetown Beach. We also rehabilitated the day use area at the Mira River Provincial Park. Work is ongoing for the construction of administration buildings at the Battery and Blomidon Parks, additional electrical sites at the Battery and Five Islands and renovation of a building into a comfort station at Boylston and the addition of a comfort station at Valleyview Provincial Park.
Mr. Chairman, like our parks, our Crown land is also a vital asset to our province but we don’t have as much as some may think. I think it’s important to establish that Nova Scotia has the second-smallest percentage of Crown lands in the country after P.E.I. Only 35 per cent of all our land is owned by the province. We have just 3.385 million acres of Crown land in our province. Now that sounds like a lot but we also have protected lands which are not considered Crown and that amounts to 12.39 per cent of our land mass but it is 1.217 million acres of protected land in the form of protected wilderness areas and nature reserves. The rest is owned by private citizens and companies. This, combined with the parks and protected areas plan, means there is less provincially-owned woodland managed by the Crown. It’s important to note that the Department of Natural Resources has limited control over how private landowners may choose to manage and sell their wood.
In 2016, we increased the Crown land base of our province by 3,160 acres through acquisitions, donations, and land exchanges. To do this, we used the TCA allowance of $1.5 million. We also provided for the administration of $1 million worth of OAA land acquisitions - that’s the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. I love the acronyms we keep using, but anyway. About $1 million per year is generated in revenue from Crown land leases to various leaseholders.
DNR has been making good progress at meeting the goals of the Natural Resources Strategy, and we look forward to further guidance from the independent forest practices review under way now. Professor Bill Lahey will be filing a report on his findings by the end of February. We are continuing to move forward on the substantive changes needed to meet the strategy’s overarching goals of collaborative leadership, sustainable resource development, research and knowledge-sharing, and good governance. The department remains committed to ongoing work that helps balance economic, environmental, and social benefits of our natural resources for current and future generations.
Mr. Chairman, the people who work in the role of wildfire suppression in our department are kept very busy each year. This past season, there were 169 wildfires in Nova Scotia consuming 725 hectares of land. Distribution of fires was even across the regions, with 64 in western Nova Scotia, 51 in the central part of the province, and 54 in the eastern end. The cost to manage these wildfires was approximately $686,000. As seasonal averages go, we were below normal for wildfire numbers and areas burned. Last season, in 2016, we had approximately 100 more fires but burned the same area.
As part of our ongoing interjurisdictional commitment, Nova Scotia also sent crews of trained fire suppression personnel to B.C. to help with the province’s vast wildfire problem. We sent a team of 21 firefighters from all regions of the province to B.C. twice. I was happy to meet with the first group that went and found them very keen, very motivated to represent Nova Scotia well. From what I’m hearing, they did an amazing job. There were also two deployments to B.C. of incident management team members who aided in the efforts of various management roles. Also, 1,000 lengths of fire hose and 25 pump kits were exported to B.C.
Our government was pleased to announce this year the purchase of four replacement helicopters for the provincial fleet. The new helicopters have greater capacity to carry crew members to wildfire sites and can also be equipped to carry injured or incapacitated people in search and rescue operations, and that wasn’t the case in the past. In addition, the upgrade also means an increase of water carrying capacity, doubling the amount of water our helicopters can haul when fighting wildfires. We have taken delivery of three of these machines, and the fourth is due to arrive in April of next year. The projected cost for all four is $20.5 million Canadian.
DNR puts efforts into wildfire prevention by focusing on public awareness and risk reduction at home. By consistently promoting the province’s online Burn Safe map and associated fire safety messages, progress is being made. The five-year average for the number of wildfires has decreased by 100 fires. The increase in fire detection and quick fire suppression as well as prevention promotion and science have helped our fire professionals achieve that success.
As we all know, mining has a long history in Nova Scotia, and this sector continues to contribute significantly to our province’s economy. Nova Scotia is currently home to 12 active mines. The mining and quarry sector provides employment for approximately 5,400 Nova Scotians, both from mining directly as well as spin-off jobs. It is estimated that the industry has a total payroll of about $88 million, including wages and benefits. It’s important to remember, Mr. Chairman, that many of these jobs are, again, in rural Nova Scotia. Mining directly contributes approximately $234 million to our provincial GDP. That number rises to $420 million when indirect contributions are factored in. DNR is working to advance Nova Scotia’s competitive position and further support an open-for-business environment for mineral exploration and mining in the province.
I would like to highlight the Atlantic Gold mining operation in Moose River gold mines in the Musquodoboit Valley. The mine had its official opening ceremony on Wednesday of this week. Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, I wasn’t able to go see that first pour of gold, and I had looked forward to that. But sitting in this House sort of took precedence, so I couldn’t be there. I did look at the pictures, and it looked really interesting. The mine is scheduled to produce about 90,000 ounces of gold annually. It will be the first of four gold mines that the company will bring into production over the next 10 to 15 years.
The mine represents a vital restart for the province’s gold industry, and I’m sure that the gold miners who worked and lived on that site 80 years ago could never have imagined this new development. Today, the mine provides employment for more than 200 Nova Scotians, and the mine owners told me when I was at the site visiting that most of those are Nova Scotians who are returning home to work with their families and moving into the area, so this is a good-news story. This mine will help support the families and be a significant new addition to the economy of the Musquodoboit Valley region as well as the province. I’m confident that the success of this project and the development of Atlantic’s other deposits are going to put Nova Scotia back on the global mining map.
Atlantic Gold is a prime example of mining exploration success that was supported by a contribution from the province’s $400,000 Mineral Incentive Program. This program provided support for Atlantic’s work on the site as well as other exploration projects in the province. The Mineral Incentive Program helps advance exploration projects, like the Moose River project, to get closer to the production stage. Next year, the program will be updated, and a new mineral resources development fund will provide $1.5 million to support mineral exploration and development in Nova Scotia. With regard to assisting the mining and mineral exploration industry, I am also happy to highlight this government’s commitment to introducing the motive fuel tax rebate, which will provide a rebate of fuel tax for mine site vehicles.
In addition to a start-up of Atlantic Gold’s Moose River gold mine and the Dufferin gold mine at Port Dufferin near Sheet Harbour, 2017 has also marked the start-up of the Donkin coal mine. In the third quarter of this year, the Donkin mine produced almost 17,700 tons of coal and generated $20,300 in royalties for the province. Donkin mine is good news for Cape Breton and for all Nova Scotia. The potential exists for coal mining to again become a strong industry in Cape Breton. I am proud of the work my department has undertaken around mining in Nova Scotia. I am optimistic about the future of mining in our province.
Nova Scotia has an active hunting community which continues to enjoy the benefits of this traditional pastime. In the 2016-17 season, there were over 128,000 licences issued. This equates to just over $1.6 million in sales. There continues to be a strong interest in the limited-entry hunt draws. The annual antlerless dear draw had over 15,000 applicants, and our annual moose draw had just under 11,000 applicants.
The active hunting community continues to support wildlife and habitat conservation in our province through the purchase of a mandatory wildlife habitat stamp. Mr. Chairman, 43,000 stamps were sold in the 2016-17 year. Since 2000, the wildlife habitat conservation fund has awarded approximately $2.4 million to support wildlife and habitat conservation in our province.
The honourable members probably recall that the Red Chamber has a beautiful Christmas tree each year, a reminder that we are the world’s Christmas tree capital. The Nova Scotia tree growers donate trees each year to four charities in the province, and we hold an annual event where we gratefully accept their donations on behalf of chosen charities.
I would be remiss if I did not reference the annual Boston tree, Nova Scotia’s way of saying thank you to the people of Boston for their support after the Halifax Explosion of 1917. This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, and we will soon be announcing the location of this year’s Boston tree to mark the special anniversary year. The tree is spectacular. I have seen pictures of it. It’s 53 feet high and absolutely perfect for this occasion. We look forward to continuing this time-honoured tradition and remind politicians and business leaders in the Boston area of the economic opportunities that exist a little to their northeast.
In closing, as I have come to appreciate in my time as Minister of Natural Resources, the department has broad responsibilities. It manages, develops, conserves, and protects the province’s biodiversity as well as its forests, minerals, and parks. As we move forward, DNR will continue to manage the risks and opportunities with regard to our forests and minerals. As well, we will administer the province’s Crown land holdings.
We do all of this with help from our many business and conservation partners, Mr. Chairman. These partners are varied. They include but are not limited to the Mi’kmaq, the forestry sector, Forest Nova Scotia, the Ecology Action Centre, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nova Scotia Nature Trust, and other departments of the provincial government and the Government of Canada. Through these relationships we can identify land to be preserved and protected as well as making Crown lands available for economic development.
All the work we do depends on the good advice and expertise that we get from the hundreds of skilled DNR employees around the province at our offices and depots. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each of the DNR employees for all that they do for Nova Scotians from one end of the province to the other.
Mr. Chairman, I am now ready to take questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, minister. Before we get into questions, I would invite the members to introduce themselves, beginning on the government side to my far left.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, everyone. We will now begin with the Progressive Conservative caucus for one hour.
The honourable member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
HON. ALFIE MACLEOD: Thank you, minister, for your introductory remarks. First, I would like to congratulate you on your new role. It’s the first time I have had the opportunity to say so in a public setting, so congratulations, and I look forward to our conversations with you and your staff today.
I also would like to congratulate your deputy because I haven’t seen her for a while. She’s in a completely new role from what I was used to seeing her in the past. I think you have a very capable individual in her, and I congratulate her on that.
You had a lot of great things to say and some other things that created some questions. Over the course of the next hour, I’m going to ask some things that are directly related to the department and some of the things that you said in your opening remarks. I also do have some more locally-based questions.
As you are aware, our regular critic for DNR is not with us today because of circumstances beyond his control. I’m the pinch hitter, so if I’m not right on the mark, that’s not unusual, so don’t get too excited.
The first thing I would like to ask a little bit about is the species at risk. It’s my understanding that the government has committed to reviewing the species at risk status and has recently added some new species to it. I wonder if you could shed some light on what improvements were made and on what the current status is of the species at risk program.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before we get into it, I just want to remind the member to direct his comments through the Chair please.
MS. MILLER: I’ll try to remember that too because it’s pretty easy to just have conversations across a room and forget that we are in an extension of the Chamber.
Anyway, first of all, I wanted to say thank you for your congratulations and also for acknowledgement of the staff and the great job they do.
When I came into Natural Resources, I didn’t know what to expect. I had actually met my deputy before, dealing a little bit with Aboriginal Affairs. I certainly knew how capable she was and have found myself to be extremely lucky. I also have been very impressed by all the staff. They have answered my questions with total honesty and candour. We have been dealing with a few things that have been - most things have been very positive, and so far, I have really enjoyed the time in the department.
I find it unbelievable the knowledge base that we have in the department. I think we have certainly gone past that time when DNR was considered a bunch of guys driving around in trucks. The scientific level and the expertise in the department absolutely impresses me every day.
As to your question about the species at risk, we have been working on a plan to address the AG’s recommendation that we haven’t been moving forward quickly enough. We are doing some now. We have actually added one more biologist to our staffing to deal with that issue. A workshop with all recovery teams will be taking place this fall. I believe the goal is, and I’m sure Julie will elbow me if I’m wrong, to increase our species at risk and to come up with plans quicker, to move faster. I think the time frame was to be able to address mitigation factors and to address challenges with species at risk within a year.
MR. MACLEOD: I wonder if the minister could address which aspects of the changes remain incomplete.
MS. MILLER: A number of the species at risk plans are still undergoing. We are working on them and continue to. We certainly realize that the numbers are growing. My concern is that they’re going to keep growing. When we look at climate change, we see what’s happening. We’re finding that species are moving.
When you’re looking at our mainland moose populations, for instance, and where they’re going, that’s going to continue to be a problem with climate change. They’re moving away from mainland Nova Scotia. You have the populations in Cape Breton that you would be aware of. We have to be able to deal with those. We deal with them through corridors or special forest management practices that allow the moose to have a way to move around the province.
We’re going to be dealing with other species the same way. We have had the issue with the long-nosed bat. I know that there were caves in South Maitland that had huge populations of bats that are almost all gone now. That was all disease-based. We need to make sure that these habitats are protected and that when we know that there are instances of bats in different areas, we can actually do things to address and protect those populations.
Things like the barn swallow - I remember as a kid, and certainly as a farmer and somebody who grew up on farms, barn swallows were the bane of our existence. You had the droppings all over the barns and all over the yard. But now they’re endangered. So we’re encouraging people, and I’ve seen where some people have already been doing that, when they’re building a barn, to build a ledge inside the barn or around the barn so the swallows do have a habitat to be able to flourish.
Those are all things that we’re moving forward on in different instances. Things aren’t just limited to the species of animal or bird, they are also down to things like boreal felt lichen, for instance, so we’re going to be moving to special management practices soon on some of these other areas as well.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, again through you to the minister, I’d just like to move away. In your preamble you talked about where we are in the province when it comes to active mines. We have 12 active mines within the province, I think you said there were 5,400 people who are actually employed directly or indirectly. We have $88 million being spent on wages and benefits and it has a big impact on our GDP, $234-odd million I believe you said.
The question is and I didn’t quite hear it because I have a little bit of an issue myself, I didn’t quite hear just where we are with the mining fuel tax that the industry has been looking for for so long and has been promised for so long. I wonder if you could clarify where we are with that fuel tax and if we’re not where we’re supposed to be, which I don’t think we are, then is there a timeline for implementation of that?
Again, when you look at the amount of dollars, by your own admission, that’s being influxed into our economy from this industry, and this is one of their major asks, I’d just like to get a sense of where the department and government overall is with this, through the chairman. Thank you.
MS. MILLER: I thank the member for the question. That certainly is an important one and one that I’ve been hearing about for years. I’m just trying to think what it is that the big mine in Milford that does - National Gypsum - I should know that because I’ve been there several times driving in the trucks and going on tours, to be able to appreciate the mining industry. I know that all of us, as MLAs, have had that opportunity to be invited to either National Gypsum or to mines in Pugwash or wherever, to be able to actually see what the industry does. One of the things they have always talked about was the rebate on the fuel in the mines.
Certainly I had to agree with their position, coming from a farming family we had the same rebate on fuels that we used on our tractors, the tractors wouldn’t leave the farm, so we had that benefit for farm equipment. It certainly made sense and this government agreed with that, it is in the 2018-19 budget that will be implemented.
MR. MACLEOD: So if I understood the answer correctly, the rebate is not in place now but will be in the next budget, for sure?
MS. MILLER: I have an even better answer actually for this year, instead of being carte blanche they actually can submit receipts for this year’s fuel tax rebate as well.
MR. MACLEOD: I wonder if the minister could elaborate on the process of collecting the rebate now. My understanding is that in the farming industry it’s a fairly automatic thing when it’s removed from the tax. I’d just like to know the process that the industry - mining industry - has to go through in order to claim the fuel tax rebate this current year.
MS. MILLER: To the honourable member’s question, the implementation has certainly been discussed and the procedure right now is that the mining industry would be paying their fuel taxes up front and would make application to have it returned.
The mining industry is in discussions now with the Department of Finance and DNR on the implementation of the regulation.
MR. MACLEOD: I will say I also am having difficulty with this because in my years in the House, it has always been a back-and-forth flow of conversation. The Chair, with due respect, was just there to make sure we kept up (Interruption) That’s why I said due respect. The Chair was there to keep time. But anyway, I respect what you have to say, sir.
They’re in discussions now, but there is a process in place where they can apply. When they apply, is there anything that would impede them from gaining their rebate in this current year?
MS. MILLER: To the honourable member’s question, yes, the intent is now that there will be rebates on all fuel used in mining at this point. They don’t have any forms yet, but the intent is there. There should be an application, but they’re working out the final details of exactly how that will be implemented. As I have said, DNR is working with the mining industry and with the Department of Finance and Treasury Board to find out exactly what the format of that will be. But the intent is there that they will be refunded their fuel tax.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Why don’t we defer to the senior member and do back and forth a little more liberally here - small “l”.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your conservative approach to this. (Laughter)
Madam Minister, just one more question on this rebate: they’re in the process, there’s no forms yet. When will the effective date be? Will it go back to January 1st? Will it go back to the beginning of the fiscal year? What date will the tax rebate be implemented, reviewed to? Or is it not until they make a decision? I guess I’m really trying to find out, is it going to have an impact on the bottom line of our mining industry this year?
MS. MILLER: We don’t have a definite date, but we will certainly get that information and provide it to you very soon.
MR. MACLEOD: I’ll leave you with this thought - we’re almost at the end of this year, and for it to have an impact, it should probably be from the beginning of the fiscal year for this industry that gives so much back to our economy.
I’m going to move on now, and I’m sure you’re okay with that. I do just want to know if the department has finally come up with a definite definition of clear-cutting.
MS. MILLER: A clear definition is certainly one that has been discussed often. Not everybody agrees with it. It’s broad-based. It’s based on science. It talks about the amount of cover and the percentage of what is taken from that. To give you the exact percentage of what it would be - we have had partial cuts that have been at 40 per cent or 30 per cent. We can probably get you that definite percentage. That’s what I was just asking the deputy for, and she doesn’t have it right here, but certainly we’ll come up with it.
MR. MACLEOD: I guess what we’re looking for, minister, is a simple, precise definition that could be shared with people around the province who have a concern about clear-cutting and one that doesn’t have a lot of, for lack of a better term, gobbledygook in it, something that people can actually understand is what we’re looking for. I would ask if it’s possible to get that and share it with both Opposition caucuses.
MS. MILLER: I have a document here and I can’t table it because it’s on the phone - he might want his phone back - in Nova Scotia a clear-cut is now defined as a forest harvest where less than 60 per cent of the area is sufficiently occupied with trees larger than 1.3 metres.
MR. MACLEOD: That was the definition of clear-cutting or gobbledygook?
MS. MILLER: Yes.
MR. MACLEOD: Just on the clear-cutting again, I just wonder, minister, if after the February review is complete, does a commitment to a 50 per cent reduction still stand, in cutting?
MS. MILLER: Certainly one of the first things I did coming into this department was to look at the strategy that was done in 2011 and agreed with a lot of the premise that was there. Certainly the goal is to lower - we’re using scientific methods, right? We’re using the IRM process which I clearly outlined in my opening remarks and basing strategy on science, moving forward, the IRM process takes all that.
We would like to say that we’re moving towards 50 per cent. I can’t say exactly 50 per cent. If we’re going to limit to a certain percentage then you are taking away the science because it’s also based on the trees, the ecological value, on the land, the Mi'kmaq interest. There are many factors in that IRM process, even right down to the biodiversity, that tells exactly how trees are harvested.
Certainly we do know that in 2016, 37 per cent of the harvest in Crown land was by non clear-cut methods and 63 per cent by clear-cut - that’s right across the whole province. In the western Crown 47 per cent was by non clear-cut methods with the clear-cut being at 53 per cent. Central Nova Scotia, too, also had higher numbers but the west was lower.
Like I said, this is all based on science, it’s based on looking at all of those measures. When you are putting in just one number and saying you have to achieve that number and this is where you need to go, then you are using that number as being more important than the science that makes that decision of how each area is cut and how it’s treated. There are many different kinds of treatments - selective treatments, certainly the over-burden, the seed trees. There are many things that are all taken into consideration when determining how different woodlots are handled in their forest management practices.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you very much, minister. To change gears again - the Biodiversity Council that was talked about, I wonder what the mandate of the proposed council will be and when will it be created?
MS. MILLER: We are actually working on a Biodiversity Act as we speak and discussions about that council will also be moving forward. As we know, in Nova Scotia there are 70,000 different species in Nova Scotia. Most of them - it’s not just animals, it’s animals and birds and trees, it’s everything that’s around us and 70,000 is a lot to manage.
When you’re looking at the Biodiversity Council and who is going to be on that council, you’re never going to find people who have expertise in all of those. We’re going to be looking for experts in all different fields and the council will be changing. It will be fluid, there will be people in and there will be people out, based on their levels of expertise.
Certainly with a Biodiversity Council we’re going to have different specialists in different fields who are going to be able to offer us different information and we’re going to have to work within that.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you very much for that, minister. I’m just wondering, do you have a timeline as to when you may be introducing an Act? Will it be this session? Next session? Mid term?
MS. MILLER: As I said, we are already working on that. It’s very important to us because it addresses those gaps that we don’t have now. We have the Wildlife Act now, we have the Environment Act but we don’t have Acts to be able to address a lot of these situations, so this is a very good question and an important question. It’s something that our department has identified for a long time, that there has been a need for a Biodiversity Act.
When you’re looking at things now like the spruce budworm that we know is coming back, it’s working its way back to Nova Scotia, we don’t really have anything in any of our Acts that allows us to move on that very quickly. Things like the brown nose bat, we really didn’t have anything that would address all these. This biodiversity legislation is going to be able to address all these different gaps that we have in the existing legislation and leaves us so that we don’t have to amend many other legislations to be able to handle different situations.
What we’re looking at right now is we’re working on the legislation as we speak. I’m hoping to have it ready for next Spring’s sitting.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you again for that. I have a question about the legislation itself, will you give consideration to the fact that when you are bringing in the legislation that there should be a mandatory five-year review? I’m using five years but it could be different. One of the things I find that happens when we make legislation in this province and it doesn’t matter which Party it is that makes it, we don’t review it to see if it’s actually doing what we expected it to do or what we needed it to do or what we wanted it to do.
I’m a strong believer that any legislation we bring in should have a mandatory review clause in it and I’m wondering if you’d consider doing that in this because again, as your description of what we need to do and how we need to do it, it is very diversified and if we just put a bill in place that’s not going to be reviewed and looked at and revamped, then indeed it may not serve the purposes. It may be good for today but it may not be good for tomorrow.
I’m wondering if I could ask the minister to give some consideration to some kind of a sunset clause to review legislation to make sure that it’s actually doing what needs to be done to make it as good as possible.
MS. MILLER: Thank you to the member for that comment. Actually I think that’s a very good idea. For example, when I think about the Natural Resources Strategy, that was almost a 10-year strategy and yet we’re partway into that and although a lot of things have been done, a lot of things in the province have changed. That’s why it was so necessary to have the new forestry review. The forestry review was so important to be able to look at all that again.
It makes sense to me that there would be a mandatory refresh, looking at the information, seeing if some things need to be changed to go with existing legislation that is already there, especially when you’re looking at things like climate change and what that is actually doing to our biodiversity in the province. We’re going to have different things come forward that we’re going to need to address and I think a re-evaluation of the legislation would probably be a good thing.
MR. MACLEOD: I’m going to move on to another area, it is k-class roads and I know that your department doesn’t directly have an effect on how the roads are classified but by the same token, we have heard many complaints from large Christmas tree producers and even pulp producers and other people in the forestry sector talking about K-class roads. I wonder if there has been any discussion between you and your colleague the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal about a possibility of reclassifying these roads so that they meet the needs of people who are in forest production type industries.
MS. MILLER: To the member’s question, I have never had that conversation. It has never come up. I have never had an inquiry cross my desk about a K-class road that I can remember. Even in conversation at the MLA level, I have never heard anybody question about the K-class roads and the use of the roads.
MR. MACLEOD: Well, I have through our area, and I have also seen some notification from major Christmas tree producers and such. What I would leave you with is maybe it would be possible for you to get some information from other officials in your department. It may not have reached your level, but I think it is a subject of discussion that is in there for Christmas tree producers at least and others. Again, sometimes it’s the smallest things that will help make a difference on the bottom line for somebody like a Christmas tree producer or something. I see you may have gotten some more information there, so I’ll turn it back to you.
MS. MILLER: K-class road issues are dealt with on a one-to-one basis, so on a one-at-a-time basis. As we get inquiries about K-class roads, they are handled by the department and no doubt in conjunction with TIR. Port Hawkesbury Paper and TIR’s pilot project is under way about the weight restrictions. I do remember having the conversation about that because it’s certainly a potential saving for the haulers and the mills to be able to increase the weight on their trucks and allow them a little more profit and not have so many trucks on the road at the same time.
MR. MACLEOD: There has been a lot of discussion lately, and I know that you have even recently visited down the South Shore area, on the policy of no more long-term leases for mills. I know there have been several questions asked on the floor of the House. I’m wondering if you could bring us up to date on where things are currently, as you understand them, and the effect that it has on our interest of forestry and how people are operating in forestry.
MS. MILLER: To the member’s question, WestFor dialogue is still ongoing. I think it will be ongoing until after the forestry review. Certainly we have been hearing from a lot of people in western Nova Scotia concerned about over-harvesting in the area and concerned about the harvesting practices in the area. With that in mind, the Premier did make a campaign promise that there would be no more long-term leases until after the forestry review was done. At that time, the thought was that the review could be done by the end of September. But finding the person that you wanted to be able to do that, who was a credible reviewer, who you knew that industry and the public would respect and respect their opinion took a little longer than we had hoped it would.
We were very happy and very fortunate that Professor Lahey has agreed to do the report. But he does have other commitments as the head of King’s College. He has his commitments to his school and whatever. He did lay out what his time frame would be and how it would work for him. He is in that process now but won’t have a full report until the end of February.
In discussions with the Premier, we were all in favour of deciding that he was worth waiting for. It was worth having that right person doing the review work, making sure the review was done right. But that certainly put us in a little bit of a bind with the promise about the long-term leases.
We have 13 mills that are part of the WestFor group. Really, it’s more a bargaining group or a management group than anything else. We could have been dealing with each of these 13 companies separately, but it’s certainly easier to deal with them under WestFor as one group that has that ability to manage many of those Crown lots. Anyway, we brought forward to them - they were certainly given another contract in the interim. What we did was reduce some of their allocations to reflect just a little bit of concern, a little bit of caution going forward, instead of leaving it exactly the same, we put some terms and conditions in place that we were comfortable with and they have agreed to that.
MR. MACLEOD: I would suggest to you, Madam Minister, this decision has an impact on 11,000 Nova Scotians who live in rural Nova Scotia. You said that it was worth waiting until February to make sure that the right report was given, that the individual had the time to do the report. Why then would you not follow through and wait until the report was made before you start confusing 11,000 Nova Scotians by changing the rules of the game midstream?
MS. MILLER: That’s a valid concern. If you really believe - I shouldn’t say really believe - in most of these cases most of these mills still get 80-plus per cent of their fibre coming from the private sector. I’m just using for instance, they might be getting only 20 per cent. So the larger mills had a 25 per cent reduction in their fibre allocation. So if you’re taking away 25 per cent of their allocation, which actually gives only their fibre coming from Crown land, it’s not coming from private land, they are taking everything from private land that they can use. They can buy all the wood they want from private land, they’re getting a little less from Crown land but they can also make that up by buying more private fibre.
MR. MACLEOD: We also know that private fibre, there’s no guarantee when it’s going to be available, when a private landowner is going to want to sell it because they are looking at the markets, they are trying to make sure they get the best return on their investment, yet a reduction of 25 per cent to a mill means that the workforce they currently have in place is probably more than they need if they’re going to see a 25 per cent reduction so we are actually seeing rural Nova Scotians lose jobs because of the impact of a decision that has been made with incomplete information, by your own admission, because you said you needed to have the whole report done and put in place and you wanted to wait until February because it was worth waiting for because the individual who was doing it was the right person to give you the right information but yet we make an arbitrary decision to reduce the fibre which, in turn, means that people are going to lose their jobs.
I don’t think that is a prudent way to go forward and I would like to hear your explanation to those rural Nova Scotians who aren’t going to be working tomorrow because of this decision.
MS. MILLER: It certainly was all taken into consideration. I think the member has to also recognize that we were hearing about over-harvesting in the western areas. We were hearing about private woodlot owners who couldn’t sell their wood. We’re hearing from all different sides so this was about finding the balance.
The decision was not made lightly, it was not just putting a check mark on this box and saying here, we’re going to do it just because. There was a lot of thought and effort put into this and it’s not 25 per cent for everybody. All these small mills that were out there, like Lewis Mouldings, a lot of these specialized mills that had under a certain amount of fibre are only going to have a 10 per cent reduction and that’s only 10 per cent of their Crown land, they are still going to be able to buy from the private woodlot owners who have been telling us that they are not able to sell their fibre.
Is there a possibility that there could be some jobs lost temporarily? This is not a permanent thing. It’s only to the end of February, which isn’t that far away. There may be some short-term job losses, I don’t know that. I think that the mills will be able to work around this and make it work and we will be discussing with mills if they have particular hardship problems and we will have those discussions with them.
MR. MACLEOD: Probably you won’t be surprised if we disagree a little bit on what you’ve just said. I guess, again, just going back to what you said, we wanted the right person, we wanted to make sure we got the report right. Why would you not wait until the report was completed before you start making decisions that are going to have an impact on the industry and, in turn, on people?
I’m going to move on to a couple of other subjects. I heard you mention our provincial parks with great pride, and rightfully so, because we have some beautiful provincial parks around the Province of Nova Scotia. I also heard you talk about Shubenacadie Wildlife Park. There is another wildlife park in the Province of Nova Scotia and it’s located on the Mira River, it’s the Two Rivers Wildlife Park. It has been functioning through agreements with the Province of Nova Scotia since the late 1990s, since it was taken over by a community group.
One of the last asks that the community group put forward was to talk about the land and the lease issues they have. I’m wondering what the status is because I’m not sure if you are aware but I know the former minister was approached about diversifying the property and doing a few other things with that group, I’m just wondering if that’s still on your radar screen or where you are with that and if there’s anything you can share with us today.
MS. MILLER: To the member’s question, this certainly has been something that we have discussed. I think we’re moving forward with exactly the same plan that was under the previous minister. What we’re requiring now from that group is to demonstrate the ability for the site to be self-sustaining prior to deciding ownership of the animals. The idea is to give the ownership of the animals that are now owned by DNR to this group and then selling them the Crown land.
The first full year of seasonal camping has provided a significant increase in revenue that will help offset some of the costs of the park, so that at least they do have a little bit of the different income to be able to help that. The hope is to make them self-sustaining, that they will acquire the animals, that they will have their camping park, they will acquire that land, somewhat the same thing as the one down in the Valley, the same principle has been used there very successfully. They’ve moved forward and become great entrepreneurs and done a really good job - Upper Clements, yes.
MR. MACLEOD: I thank you for that answer, minister. One of the reasons why the group is interested in acquiring the land is because under the current lease agreements there are restrictions as to what they can do with the use of the land, which again sort of helps restrict them from becoming more self-sufficient, or at least in the plans that they’ve put together.
The necessity of getting the land has been driven by the necessity to be self-sufficient, which they want to do. You are quite correct when you say the camping has made that a much more viable operation for them. That was made possible by the co-operation of the department to allow them to develop the park in that way. That was a very positive move on the part of the department and the staff and I certainly have no problems publicly saying thank you for allowing that to happen because I think it has shown the resiliency of the park and the people who are operating it.
Just for your own information, minister, the people who work at that park, it’s their park. They have a real commitment there, they come in on their days off to volunteer their time and the volunteer board there is extremely dedicated to making that happen. It’s a real icon of the community and anything your department can do, especially in this land issue, I know would be greatly appreciated. I hear from the president of the board of directors on a regular basis. I believe he has me on speed dial. So anything you can do to push that request forward so that maybe it would be done by the end of this fiscal year so that they could start the new one off in a positive light would be very helpful.
MS. MILLER: Mira is such a beautiful area, and I’m a camper myself, so I really appreciate camping parks. When I think about incorporating in zoos and animals along with Mira River, it’s a beautiful scenario, and you can see the possibilities for Cape Breton and rural Nova Scotia to have those jobs.
When you say pushing it forward, moving it forward quickly, we do have commitments. We have to work with the group. We have to put this proposal to them. Then of course, we also need to have Mi’kmaq consultation. There’s a process. We have to follow the process. But that is the intent of where we want to go, what we would like to see happen. If everything goes the way I hope it will, we will be able to provide them with some good news in the future.
MR. MACLEOD: That particular park has a lot of meaning for myself as well. I used to be on the board of directors there back in the mid-1990s, and for a while. The biggest highlight for me was that my oldest daughter actually got married at the wildlife park, on top of the hill overlooking the river. We had a cage there to keep her husband in just in case he changed his mind. It all worked out very well for us.
Moving on, Cabot Landing, a small park North of Smokey is a provincial park. It’s closed, but just recently, last weekend, there were six or eight cars from out of province, U.S., who had been in the communities there for Celtic Colours. They couldn’t get access to that park. They actually had to park on the road because the gates were locked because of the time of the year.
I’m sure you don’t have the answer for that at the tip of your fingers, and I appreciate that. The point of this discussion is that parks like that, during Celtic Colours, which is a major boost to the economy of Cape Breton Island but also to the province - I was wondering if the minister and the department could give some consideration to allowing those seasons to be a little longer.
I know that we have increased some seasons, and you mentioned that in your opening remarks, in some of the other parks. There’s some discussion that needs to be held around that. But little parks like that, when people are going around the Cabot Trail and visiting and doing their thing - I’m just wondering if you could review that situation and get back to the respective caucuses as to what may or may not be able to happen there.
MS. MILLER: It’s a little bit of a quandary here. Much of our seasonal staff is going back to school. They’re students. They’re part-time staff. Staffing does become an issue.
To the member’s question and comments, I agree with you completely. We have extended the season for three of our parks this year in three different areas. We’re looking at our beautiful Falls that we have and the opportunity there to be able to leave our camping parks open a little longer and some of our other parks open a little longer. Certainly if it’s possible, I think it’s a consideration that I do want to follow up on, especially with Celtic Colours, to look into that to make sure that we maximize that tourist experience for all people who want to come into this province. When they’re seeing locked gates and closed doors at a time of the year when we’ve got weather like we have today and like we’ve had the last week, it does seem a shame that we’re cutting it off too soon. Maybe it needs to be a little more direction when we’re hiring, to be able to see people who can stay a little bit longer. But I mean there’s going to be budgetary concerns there as well but it’s certainly something I’m willing to look at, discuss with the staff and see if we can expand that season.
MR. MACLEOD: Again, I appreciate your answer because I think you see the value of what is going on, which brings me to one of the parks where we have extended the hours and that would be the Mira River Park. A lot of people in the area were very happy about that, one of the arguments of course was that people who were travelling for Celtic Colours didn’t have access to some camping areas with their trailers and whatnot.
There has been some disappointment at the same time, disappointment that the number of staff has been cut back, that the conservation officer who is supposed to patrol the park is covering such a big area that sometimes they haven’t seen him. As a matter of fact there was a weekend not too long ago that they never saw the conservation officer at all. In the past there has been someone in the office 24/7, so that meant there was some more security. Now the park is wide open, people can come in and out without any registration of what’s going on or what’s happening.
There’s a kiosk instead of a human being to deal with. Kiosks really can’t tell you all the highlights of the community and what’s going on. But besides that, it takes about 15 minutes, according to the people who are full-time campers at the park, I guess is the proper terminology, they claim it takes about 15 minutes to register through a kiosk. So if you have eight or 10 travel trailers land back-to-back, then you could be a couple of hours before you could actually register and get in the park.
These are concerns that they have for employees run off their feet. Prior to this the employees used to go around and look after the garbage collection, take it to the local landfill. Now there’s a contractor in. So we’ve extended the season but we’ve lessened the amount of service, it appears from information that has been given to me.
I’m just wondering if anybody has done a review of the impact of changing the services that are being offered by the staff. A lot of the staff there have been there for 20 and 25 years and had been lobbying for an extension, only to find out that indeed we’ve got the extension but we’re laying you off. Of course now the worry is that the kiosk is going to replace them on a permanent basis.
MS. MILLER: I thank the member opposite for the question. I think in my preamble I talked about the increased numbers in our parks. I have been hearing, because as I said, I am a camper as well, so when you are in campgrounds and you’re talking to different people who have been accessing our provincial parks, I always make a point of not telling them what I do for a job - which could be a good idea - but to ask them specifically what are our parks like? Are you having problems with it? Do you like it?
What I’m hearing most from people is that they prefer our provincial parks to private campgrounds, in a lot of cases. They might not always have the same facilities, they might not always have as many people around but we have campground hosts who are in most of our camping parks. I believe I identified 17 out of 20 parks that have campground hosts, although they don’t make up for having somebody always at the gate all the time, they’re able to go around, see to the needs of campers, and make sure that they’re comfortable, that they know where to get things, and that they know what’s in the area - make sure they get parked all right. It’s a social integration between the campers and the campgrounds themselves. Once in a while I’m hearing about things like maybe garbage didn’t get picked up or whatever. The conservation officers do try to get around to every campground. It’s my understanding that there is usually a conservation officer who will go to several. There will be a loop, and they will check out several.
The decision to go to a kiosk model, a self-registration model, was also not made lightly. What was happening at the 20 parks is, you would get a few that have maximum capacity, and they’re filled all the time, and they’re really busy. Then you get the majority that are not, although I hope that they’re going to get busier as well. You have staff members who are sitting there at a kiosk, at a desk, reading a book all day, which doesn’t really work for people. It doesn’t really work for the province.
We would rather take that money and invest it in our resource in the campgrounds and make sure that the services that we provide are covered in those costs. It’s a balancing act. It’s trying to find out what works.
But certainly if there are deficiencies in any of the parks, anything that you’re hearing from your constituents, I would be interested in hearing specifics about that so that we can address them on a one-on-one basis. If you find them at Mira Park, if things aren’t being done, if the garbage isn’t being picked up, if people are really having hardships, or if there are long lines or whatever, those are things that I think the department needs to know.
I think generally things have been going quite smoothly this year. When I’m asking people out in the community, out in campgrounds around Nova Scotia, they’re telling me about how the provincial parks are so great and how much they love them but that they just can’t get in them because they’re full. I love hearing that. They’re not complaining.
Obviously, there’s always going to be shortfalls. Nobody is going to be able to cover everything, so certainly we do want to hear if there are any issues.
MR. MACLEOD: There is no question in my mind that the provincial parks that we have are great. The people who work in them are great.
One of the reasons, at least I believe, why these three parks extended their hours was indeed because of the number of people who were coming to camp. It was based on a sound judgment of that. Yet when we come to the Mira Park, we have one loop that has 30 service sites that are closed even though the season has been extended, and the people have been cut back. So there are people who are being turned away there, and there are people wondering why that has happened. I believe from what I’m told by individuals who use the park on a very regular basis, the numbers would justify those 30 sites being open.
What I would like to do is maybe bring to you a list of the concerns that have been identified, and between you and your deputy, maybe you can have a look at them and respond and give us an idea rather than us doing a lot of back and forth. I think we’re both on the same page. You just might be at the top of it, and I might be at the bottom of it, but we’re on the same page about the quality that’s there.
I am concerned, and have been for a while, about the loss of jobs in rural Nova Scotia. Minister, coming from Shubenacadie, you would understand this - jobs that are in a provincial park, related to government, are not easy to come by in a rural area, and they do provide sustainability and security to individuals. To see the season extended, and then the jobs not, has created a lot of concern for a lot of people. Now they’re wondering where they are going to be down the road. Are they just going to be put out of work as the thing moves on? I know it’s nothing that you and I are going to solve at this table, but I also know it’s something that if you’re not aware of, it’s hard for you to deal with. That’s another reason for bringing it forward here today.
I have only a few minutes left. I did hear you talk a lot about the gold mine and its effect and you did talk about the Donkin mine. I just want to say that the company that has come in, Kameron Collieries - and there’s all kinds of discussion about whether we should be burning coal or we shouldn’t be burning coal, but in the Province of Nova Scotia, from the Energy Department, Nova Scotia Power, we’re going to be burning coal for the next 20 years, regardless of what we think about it, so it is much better to be burning a Cape Breton product, a Nova Scotia product, than bringing it in from overseas. We are providing more stability.
People who don’t understand a lot about the industry would know that when you are buying coal on the open market, you are buying it in U.S. dollars. When you are buying coal for Nova Scotia Power and you are buying it from a Cape Breton or a Nova Scotia company, you are buying it in Canadian dollars, so you are actually helping Nova Scotia Power to meet its targets when it comes to purchasing fuel, but you are also infusing more money back into our own economy and you are creating jobs that are good-paying jobs.
We, too, have seen an influx of people coming back from Alberta who had to go away to get work. So the dollars that have been spent by Kameron Collieries are significant. They have invested in a wash plant to make sure that the coal is pure quality. They are investing in a second one and they are looking at potentially a third one.
When we talk about the advantages of coal and the work that your department has done for them, I understand there are people worried about carbon emissions and worried about cap and trade and what effect it is going to have, but at the end of the day if we have to burn coal to provide electricity, the cheapest form of electricity you can get in this province, then it should be coal that we get out of Nova Scotia, not out of another country that is usually not very nice to their employees.
I guess I’m probably at the end of my time, Mr. Chairman, and I thank you very much for that. I thank you minister, and your staff, for the answers that have been provided and I’m more than happy to turn it over to my colleague and let her have a go at you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Excellent, thank you. I just wanted to ask the minister if she’d like a brief recess before we switch gears.
MS. MILLER: No, but I would like to comment on his comments.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We may not have time to do that but I’m sure you can comment the next time that Progressive Conservatives have the floor. The time for the Progressive Conservatives has lapsed.
The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
MS. LISA ROBERTS. Thank you very much. It’s nice to have an opportunity to ask more questions without having to watch a 45-second clock.
I would love to hear first sort of just your overarching statements. I’ve actually been looking through the various documents that I have which include your mandate letter and some other documents from briefing notes. I’m not actually finding a simple statement of what the goal is of the department’s scientific approach to deciding on harvest methods, what the value is that the department is seeking to maximize as the decisions are made about whether to go with a clear-cut or a selection harvest and what size and so forth. I can see that your deputy is writing furiously so if that question wasn’t very well worded, my apologies, but I think she has made some sense of it.
MS. MILLER: I thank the honourable member for the question. I know she wasn’t here for my initial introduction where I went into about managing a forest, how scientific the process is. I think even before I came to the department and even in my past, my husband and I actually had a forestry-based company. I didn’t realize how much science was based on Crown lands.
In the private sector it’s totally different. In the private sector a lot of land would become available, a contractor would bid on it, and then you would have investment in that land. Normally for a private woodlot owner, you need to maximize the value. You need to get your money back out of that piece of land. So we would sell it to a broker who would then ship it off to a mill. Normally that was the process with the vast majority of private woodlot owners, unless it’s something like the Spicer family with 1,600 or 1,700 acres that have been in the family for seven generations. They have the ability to do a more selective harvest and use a more sound forestry process. But most private woodlot owners will look at and evaluate a piece of land usually before they buy it and, in many cases, decide to harvest that land.
When you’re looking at Crown lands, it’s totally different. I came into the department with a little bit of a view of “how is this going to be?” thinking that our guys were going in the woods, they were assessing what needed to be harvested, and the principle would basically be the same as it is for a lot of private woodlots. But it’s not. They have such a broad expanse, such a scientific base. We have an integrated resource management process. Our foresters go in the woods, and they evaluate a piece of land. It goes through a whole council that deals with the biodiversity, the wildlife, whether there needs to be wildlife management zones during that, what kind of trees they are, what the soil is like. Many different factors are taken. There’s a group that actually meets. They meet on different lots to determine.
You could have one piece of land that may have five treatments on it. Maybe part of it could be an over-storey removal, which would be the higher trees that would be removed. Other ones would have seed trees there that would have to be left because that would be regenerating the next forest. If it was a mainland moose area, there might be a corridor that would have to be left for that. There might be four or five different treatments on a particular lot. That’s the way Crown land is done now.
The process is not just go cut down, send off to the mill, and that’s it. That doesn’t happen. The decision process is based on science. It’s based on the information. It’s based on the land and not the consideration of the financial impacts of whoever is cutting that. It’s a different kind of process than I saw in the private sector, in the private industry. I have really been impressed by what I have seen. I think that the province is using very sound science-based and fact-based decisions.
I have really been quite impressed and also, at the regeneration and replanting, the silviculture programs that we have for reforestation and that we’re putting money behind these programs to make sure that our Crown lands are sustainable, what is Crown land now and what is cut. We were talking about a section of land near Liscomb that has been forested for 60 or 70 years I think. That was land that may have been cut 50 years ago and now is up for possible cutting again or, using sound forestry practice, looking at again to see which wood is marketable, where it stands, and what needs to be done to that.
These are managed forests now. They aren’t just cutting and leaving. You don’t have those desolate areas where nothing is being done. It’s always a continual harvest, partial harvest. The treatments are there, and then the forest regrows.
MS. ROBERTS: I know the minister has invited me to come into the department, and I will, when we’re done this session, take advantage of that to see if I can’t understand it better.
I guess if I thought about it like a mathematical equation, you could be seeking to maximize the ecological value or you could be seeking to maximize the financial value. I understand, from what you’re saying, that the financial value is not the one that’s driving it. But even ecological value, you could be seeking to maximize carbon sequestration in that forest, which I don’t see any reflection of in the documents that I have from DNR. My understanding, and I’m certainly not a forester, is that a 50-year-old tree has only just started to sequester carbon and it’s actually the more mixed, including old growth Acadian forest where you actually get some of those values.
In some parts of the world, I know in California with I think it’s their cap-and-trade system, they are actually paying money to foresters to not cut down trees because you can calculate the amount of carbon that is captured through older trees. But if a forest is cut after 60 years, well the forest has maybe performed only 10 years of that carbon sequestration function, whereas if some of the trees were being allowed to grow longer, that value would go up and up.
I will come in to ask for more detailed questions but I’ll see what’s on those sticky notes.
MS. MILLER: Thank you to the member opposite for the question. One of the things is that we do have a forest carbon model and we’re already working with our federal counterparts on that and I’ve also met with private woodlot owners, too, who are interested in some kind of a carbon credit system. Certainly that’s not in our cap-and-trade program at this point but that doesn’t mean to say that it isn’t going to be at some point. It’s certainly something to take into consideration.
Actually we do have posted right now a new position, a carbon modeller, and he will be working out of the Truro office. I shouldn’t say “he” specifically, right. Anyway, they will be working out of the Truro office very soon and that will be a first for our department, to actually have a specialist in that field who is going to be working on the subject.
MS. ROBERTS: On June 29th the deputy minister was on CBC Information Morning talking about forestry policy. I was struck by one of the comments and I’m wondering if you can help me better understand that. In the interview the deputy minister commented that while we could be cutting up to 7 million cubic metres annually, last year we cut about 3.6 million cubic metres, which she said was fairly typical of recent years. I believe that was a reference to cutting on Crown land.
I’d like to understand how does the department arrive at this 7 million cubic metres that we could be cutting?
MS. MILLER: The number, the 7 million, was a provincial number, not a Crown land number. I don’t know if that would relate specifically to - 35 per cent of our land base is Crown. I don’t know if it goes directly to that or not. Actually it’s a publication that you can probably get online, I would expect, it’s The State of the Forest in Nova Scotia, one of the first pieces of reading material that I had. There is a lot of those first pieces. When you walk in the department they present you with a stack of binders and books like this - here you go, start with your base knowledge.
I was really surprised, even having lived in Nova Scotia all my life, that 80 per cent of our land base in Nova Scotia is forested land. As a farmer, we farmed for 25 years, I thought that more of it was going to be farm lands. In certain areas there is a lot of farm land. In the central area where we were from there’s a lot of dairy farms, in the Valley you certainly have different farms but that’s only 4.9 per cent of the land base.
You think that our forests are being decimated and whatever but factually 1 per cent of our forest every year is harvested, so we actually have more forested land now than there was 100 years ago, yet that’s not the public perception of where we are. I think it really speaks for it, it’s a great publication. I got so much information from that, it really did help me a lot to really understand where we were in the sector in Nova Scotia.
MS. ROBERTS: Can you comment on that 7 million cubic metres figure? What is the assumption behind that number, in terms of how long you would allow a forest to regrow after a cut, before you would cut again? Would that be based on an assumption that you could take 7 million cubic metres, assuming that you harvest the land every 60 years or every 50 years?
MS. MILLER: That would depend on a lot of things - the detailed forest inventory, that would depend on your species. Some trees are going to be fast-growing, some are slow growing. Black spruce takes forever to grow but the density of the wood makes it more desirable. It would depend on the age of the wood, the species of the wood. It would depend on the land and the soil, different areas.
If you are in central Nova Scotia and you see how the forests are growing in central Nova Scotia, how they are growing in Cumberland County and you go to Sheet Harbour and see how they’re growing, it’s totally different, based on the species of wood, and even just the proximity to the ocean and the salt water and everything. It would all be based on all that scientific process that I talked about before, through the IRM process, to be able to go and have all these factors detailed before that decision is made.
MS. ROBERTS: I also hear a lot of those concerns from the public, in fact there is a forest funeral being planned for next week. The concerns that our current harvesting is not sustainable is, I would say, fairly widespread across the province and not by any means exclusively from people who don’t know the forests really quite intimately.
I’m wondering how you understand that perspective, where people are quite horrified to think oh my goodness, the department would be okay with us cutting twice as much as we actually are cutting each year, how do you understand those concerns? I don’t believe that it is simply that they don’t know about the science that is practised by the department, I think in some cases it’s actually that they quite wholeheartedly disagree with the science that is happening inside the department.
MS. MILLER: I think it’s the public perception, you tell that story and you keep telling the story and it becomes the truth and it is not necessarily the truth. I think people really have to see and appreciate it. Certainly I know you can go onto things like Google Earth or whatever and you can actually get pictures that are only forested areas.
The reality is that 80 per cent of our land base in Nova Scotia is forested, that is the truth. I mean forested in one way or another - maybe at different periods, they may be at different stages, maybe part of it is regrowing, part isn’t, part needs to be harvested, some may never be harvested. We’re dealing with the percentage of lands in our province, a 12.39 per cent protected area. That’s a large part of what our Crown base is - I believe it’s 31 per cent - of our Crown land that will be protected and once we’re up to 13 per cent it will be even more.
As a government we have control over our Crown lands and what happens to our Crown lands. We have control over what happens to our protected areas and we know not much is going to happen to our protected areas. You are not allowed to do almost anything in protected areas, even interfering with the biodiversity of the protected areas or the nature reserves at all.
On private lands the government doesn’t have much of a role to play. I’m wondering about this forest review. We’ve given Professor Lahey a broad mandate, literally we said the slate is clean, come tell us what you think. That’s what it needed to be, that’s where we needed to be going because it’s no sense asking for a forest review and saying that you can talk about this and this. His last words to me were, I’ll see you at the end of February. I don’t plan on having a conversation with him until he has something to report and let him do his work. It’s going to be interesting to see if he comes back with recommendations, based on our private lands.
We know that over two-thirds of our land base in Nova Scotia is private. How do you tell private woodlot owners how they should be managing their forest? We can make recommendations. We can tell them best forest practices. In a lot of cases some of the practices are being used or most of them are being used now even in areas that are scheduled to be clear-cut - when it does happen, there has to be a percentage of trees that are left there for animal habitat, for regeneration, or whatever.
We know that the majority of woodlots in Nova Scotia, because of our rich soils, will regenerate on their own, but there are still thousands and thousands of trees planted every year in areas to fill in where there is no regeneration. As a province, we take our role very seriously on our Crown lands. I think we’re doing a really good job, and I hope that that is reflected in the review.
But on private lands, I think that there’s more that can be done. I’m going to be very interested in hearing Professor Lahey’s recommendations.
MS. ROBERTS: Just to clarify that fact, the 80 per cent of our land that is forested can include land that has been clear-cut this year or last year? It includes lands where there is not agricultural or residential or other activity. What does that tell us about what portion of our land is forested in a kind of healthy, ecologically meaningful way?
MS. MILLER: When I say 80 per cent is forested, it may be land that has been partially or wholly or whatever cleared in the years. But we know that there’s regeneration. It comes back very quickly.
I can give you an example of a piece of land that my husband and I bought a few years ago. It was down in the Noel area. I think it was about 100 acres of land that we had bought. It was all very mature and needed to be cut. You’re very careful in making sure that any regeneration or any trees - that you’re trying to avoid those areas. You use sound practices on that. Going back there three years later, it was amazing how much is coming up.
Just because it’s not five feet high doesn’t mean that it’s not forest land. It’s still growing. It’s still coming back. It’s still that forest resource product.
MS. ROBERTS: Can you share with me the current department practice on whole-tree harvesting?
MS. MILLER: There is no whole-tree harvesting on Crown land. If there is any done, it’s usually done for blueberry harvesting on private land.
MS. ROBERTS: There is on private land.
MS. MILLER: In that case, it’s usually done on land that’s going to be used for blueberry production.
MS. ROBERTS: As you know, the other week, during Forestry Week, I gave a shout-out to various initiatives around the province that have been mentioned to me as innovative or hopeful in various ways. One of those is the Medway Community Forest, which was created to offer a new way of managing Crown lands. The three-year pilot project began in 2015. Can you provide an update on how the project is going?
MS. MILLER: I was happy to hear that question and actually did some more research and found out how big the area really is - the Medway area, the Tobeatic, and Kejimkujik - and how much of a land base that is. It’s a beautiful area of the province.
With the Medway project they were given $275,000, the funding for a couple of years of the pilot. We’re going to be re-evaluating that and reassessing. We’re going to be re-evaluating the whole project by the end of December and we’re going to be extending the project and are in negotiations with them.
MS. ROBERTS: I looked on their website and you can see the different perspectives that are really kind of embodied in the project. They have people who, again, have a lot of experience doing forestry within their structure. Can you comment on how much latitude they have to make their own decisions regarding how they forest the land? Another way to explain that is, does the department influence how that land is managed?
MS. MILLER: Any forestry activity on Crown land still has to go through the IRM process, including the Medway group. We expect them to use good forestry processes moving forward, the same as any organization would.
MS. ROBERTS: So they still have to use the IRM process. As I said, and this is based on many conversations with people in different parts of the province, I think there are various ways of doing the science to come up with what would be an appropriate treatment for a piece of land. I’m wondering if the department sees value in a pilot project that might do things differently.
MS. MILLER: Yes, I was just going to add to my comments later on. We do actually work with the Medway group but if they do have other ideas and things that they want to try out they discuss it with the department and we actually do have some research trials now with them, with the group.
MS. ROBERTS: In the Natural Resources Strategy, which I believe is still a guiding document for the department, there was talk of adding other community forests. Can you update me on any initiatives to add other community forests?
MS. MILLER: There is another one they call Otter Ponds. Actually it’s on the Eastern Shore. I met with them probably within my first couple of weeks as a minister. They are doing some valuable work there as well. A lot of their focus is on education and also on sound forestry practices.
With Medway we’re going to be waiting until this pilot project is done, do the evaluation and move forward from there.
MS. ROBERTS: I think you said that the project would continue after the three-year mark. I know that one concern I’ve heard again fairly widely from people looking at that pilot to see is it worth kind of trying to organize to do something in a community forest model elsewhere in the province, a lot of them were concerned at a three-year time frame when you might want to manage a forest to really regenerate, particularly if it’s an area that has been harvested in the past, or particularly if you are aiming for Acadian forest, which some trees’ natural lifespans would be 200 years, that it’s hard to really even aim for success in three years. I guess I’d like to hear, to be clear, that this project is going to continue but is there any thought of giving them both latitude to try different things and also a longer time frame to try them in?
MS. MILLER: Certainly I can’t make any promises. We need to evaluate what they’ve been doing already, look at that but the intention is right now that if we’re happy with what has been happening that we will extend that program. It has been very popular and they’ve been doing a lot of really great things. That said, at this point they are not self-sufficient, they still need government funding to be able to do the work that they are doing. The intent is to proceed with that program but certainly we need to do the evaluation first before we make that final decision.
MS. ROBERTS: A group of foresters from Nova Scotia travelled to Finland last Fall to look at how that country has had success managing their forests, I guess similarly a country where a lot of land is held by woodlot owners. Upon their return they spoke about the organization and the strength of small, private woodlot owners there.
I understand that the group prepared a report that was presented to the department, can you comment on whether you think the finished model is one that could work here and whether empowering small, private woodlot owners is a goal of the department.
MS. MILLER: The Finland report is something that I’ve heard about. We’re still reading the report, analyzing it. I haven’t had a final presentation on the report itself. What I did get from that was that Finland believes in intensive forestry practices. I don’t know that it’s something that Nova Scotia is ready for yet.
They look at different harvesting methods, they do silviculture, they do selective cutting. They treat their forests, from what I’m understanding, more like a crop. They are looking at their forest as a resource, it’s a resource to be used. They do the replanting, they do the thinning when it needs to be done. They do partial harvests, they may do another partial harvest, then they might do an over-story and do a complete harvest. They don’t call it clear-cutting. I kind of like the partial harvest and full harvest, but anyway.
It’s a different way, from what I understand, of addressing their forestry resource than what we have here in Nova Scotia. The report doesn’t fit our species. We have a broad range of species. They don’t have an Acadian forest, they have primarily one kind of forest.
We also provide money to woodlot owner groups for reforestation and for silviculture. Actually it’s impressive how much we do provide.
Back to the Finland group, it has one woodlot owner group that oversees all local groups, which is a little more controlled than what we have here.
MS. ROBERTS: You mentioned private woodlot owners and I understand there is more than one organization of woodlot owners currently in Nova Scotia. How do you communicate the goals of your department with private woodlot owners and what sort of feedback are you getting at the moment?
MS. MILLER: Our forestry division works very hard to communicate with all woodlot owner groups. There are several, there’s an Athol group that works out of Cumberland area. There’s large forestry private owners’ groups. I’m thinking Debbie Reeves and her group in particular, they do a lot of forest management. They are very conscientious and there are other groups as well. We do outreach on a regular basis and have regular contact with all groups.
MS. ROBERTS: I am now on the Resources Committee, I wasn’t last Fall but I heard about a presentation to the Resources Committee by Taylor Lumber last Spring, shortly before the election, and I have read the Hansard record of that, which was quite interesting.
That is a sawmill that also owns a certain amount of land. The strong message I got from the comments in Hansard was, here is this economically integrated operation maximizing the value of wood that is cut in Nova Scotia. That feels like the department is not doing enough to make sure that we’re getting the best economic value for the wood that we cut. In particular, again just from the Hansard record, Robert Taylor commented that they are continuing to participate in the forest certification council program, spending, as a private enterprise, $20,000 a year to maintain themselves with an FSC certification in the hopes that the province will see the value in that at some point and that the province will go that way.
I know that there was an initiative of some private woodlot owners organized together to seek FSC certification more in the Pictou-Antigonish area years ago. What’s your view on FSC?
MS. MILLER: Certainly any third party audit mechanism is very useful to us instead of depending on mills’ own resources. I have heard that the auditors go into the mills on a regular basis, that they’re always checking to see that the standard of all products is being kept.
To your comments earlier about the lack of wood or that the department should be doing more to make sure that better use is made of all the wood that has been cut, it is difficult. We had Bowater close down a few years ago. I can’t speak to exactly what year (Interruption) August 29, 2012 - she knew the date. That very much impacted Nova Scotia and the mills and woodlot owners in western Nova Scotia. It was one of the biggest mills that would take the majority of their product, of their fibre. It closed off that market. It was detrimental.
I know we as operators saw our prices for the fibre that we were cutting drop by 30 per cent almost overnight, which is not something that you can usually absorb. It was detrimental, and it moved right across this province and affected everything.
That is part of what the problem is right now in the west. We’re getting reports from residents that some private operators are cutting their lots, and wood is being left in the woods. It’s not going anywhere because there’s no market. You could say in theory that you should be able to ship that to central Nova Scotia or eastern Nova Scotia, but the reality is that you can’t. You can ship it, but is the woodlot owner going to pay somebody to take the wood? There’s no monetary value in sending that out at all.
The department does work very hard trying to find alternate resources for that wood. We’re looking at things like biofuels, and there are a couple of projects going on now on the South Shore for a biofuel system to use some of that product. We’re looking at whether there’s a possibility of taking some of that wood, chipping it, and using it to heat buildings, government buildings, hospitals, schools. We’re looking for other opportunities to use that market.
Is it up to government always to do that? This is private business. If we had been another government, we could have given them a lot of money to stay open. Probably they did give them a lot of money to stay open for a while. But it still doesn’t work. It has to be economically viable, and with the change in our world markets and the change in the products that are desired in the world, it changed the need for that product and western Nova Scotia woodlot owners and mills bore the brunt of that closure and the change economically in the world.
MS. ROBERTS: I recognize this file is super-complex, I really do recognize that but yet you see that there’s a contradiction between the comments you just made and then Annapolis County Council asking for a moratorium on clear-cutting. They are not saying that the problem is that you can’t sell the wood, they are saying there is too much wood being clear-cut.
I actually met with a council member and with the Warden of Annapolis County on a trip that I did this summer. One of the very clear messages I heard was that when clear-cuts are happening, the work is not being done locally, that there are crews coming in from Quebec or New Brunswick to do those clear-cuts. So on a social level, on a socio-economic level, they see clear-cuts, they see very little economic spinoff locally. That’s an almost completely different or opposite concern to the one that you just talked to. I don’t know if you can help me to understand it better.
MS. MILLER: I am trying get direction here, which way to go with that conversation. Certainly the concerns from Annapolis, we have heard the concerns about the clear-cuts and I’ve heard that they’ve asked for a moratorium but you have to remember that all forestry practices on Crown land go through that same IRM process. So if there are areas where there are perceived to be more clear-cuts, it’s because of the age of the trees and what needs to happen on a scientific basis.
To say that we need to change that format, then you are basing it on - I don’t want to say public opinion but you’re not basing it on the science, you are basing it more on impressions instead of the real science behind it. Those cuts that were done in that area, for however they were done or whether they are visible, sometimes it’s the cuts that are done near highways, that are done near urban areas where people are living. They had to have been older trees or ones that had to be marketed and that needed the treatments that were prescribed for that land. There wouldn’t have just been the ability just to move forward and just clear-cut because that was the easiest thing to do. That doesn’t happen on Crown land. That does happen, however, in many cases on private lands which statistically have only about 30 per cent, just over 30 per cent - private land does do more management and more of that private land is clear-cut.
To speak about the crews coming from New Brunswick, we’ve had more than 70 crews in Nova Scotia and two have come from New Brunswick or Quebec, so I can’t speak to which ones were hired and why they were hired. Certainly it is a challenge. Certainly with Bowater we’ve had a change in crews and if there’s a lot of work to be done, then possibly it could be that they’ve had to bring some in from out of the province.
MS. ROBERTS: Going back to that IRM process, is that still based on science that I know came out from the department in around 2008, based on the idea of natural disturbance regimes?
MS. MILLER: Would you repeat your last bit? I didn’t quite hear that.
MS. ROBERTS: There’s a concept, I guess a scientific concept called natural disturbance regimes and it was discussed in a department document back in 2008. I’m wondering if that’s still the scientific basis of IRM.
MS. MILLER: So that is not used in the pre-treatment assessment and the guides. What I can tell you a little bit, since I know the member wasn’t here for my remarks - and if you don’t mind, I’ll go over a little bit of my previous comments that talked about the IRM process and the different things that are brought because I think it’s really important. We still have lots of time, don’t we, Mr. Chairman? We do.
The IRM process, in managing the forest resource our province has, we make sure that we integrate our decision-making with consideration of all related resources, so not just the trees but wildlife, biodiversity, protected wilderness areas, recreation, and minerals. That’s the IRM process. But it also looks at things like harvest and road construction, upgrading that’s needed, significant species and habitats, old forest, natural heritage, biodiversity, rich landscapes, wetlands, watercourses, landscape connectivity, wildlife research initiatives, mining permits, licences, old workings, rare and under-represented geological features, land boundaries, cultural heritage, Mi’kmaq values and interest, water supply, protected areas, parks, trails, and recreation. This is so broad. There are so many considerations taken.
I can get you a copy of these notes if you would like, for your own reference. It might be valuable for you in the future to be able to see exactly where things are coming from in the department.
Crown land management - it sounds a little different to say, but it’s almost like an art. You’re taking all these pieces and all these things together, and you’re working out the best resources. When you have a group of specialists and scientists sitting around a room, and they’re looking at different prospective cutting areas or woodlots, looking for the best management of those woodlots, it is pretty good.
MS. ROBERTS: I’m going to talk quickly about silviculture. In the November 2015 Auditor General Report, there was a chapter on forestry. In it, the AG raised concerns that operators were being paid for silviculture work without verification that the work had been done. Can you comment on that situation and whether it has been rectified?
MS. MILLER: Yes, that is something that we were aware of with the Auditor General. We certainly take the Auditor General very seriously and have been working to make sure that those audits are done. We’re moving forward to make sure that all these verifications are done. The silviculture work that is being done around this province, I can’t speak to the dollar value (Interruption) There’s $10 million a year in silviculture work around this province, which is extraordinary.
It’s a real opportunity for landowners to be able to access that. Actually, we use it as an incentive. When we talk about the private woodlot owners, it’s most beneficial financially just to be able to clear-cut and replant. The silviculture funding gives them that opportunity to look at their woodlots a little bit differently, to say, okay if I have the silviculture money, that may offset, and I can actually do a better job. Then I can do selective harvesting. Then I can leave these seed trees and then come back maybe in 40 years and cut them then. It gives them an opportunity to really do a better job for all the forests in Nova Scotia.
MS. ROBERTS: In the June report, the Auditor General had a chapter focused on species at risk, so I want to ask a few questions about how the department is working on species at risk. The Auditor General concluded that DNR is not fully managing conservation and recovery of species at risk and that the department is not carrying out planning and completing species recovery activities satisfactorily. Can you respond to those conclusions and what the department is doing as a result?
MS. MILLER: This is our second time for this question, so we already have all the notes here. It’s certainly something that we take very seriously, species at risk. Unfortunately, the list is growing. We have more species at risk all the time. It’s not just animals. It’s not just birds. It can even be things like lichen. I actually just made a decision the other day on the boreal felt lichen and expanding the area of conservation around each boreal felt lichen site so those are very important to the department. It’s something certainly that we need to work a little bit harder on, that we need to do more plans but it’s something that we are working on.
If you are looking at the brown nose bat, in South Maitland there are huge caves there that had a huge bat population which now are almost all gone. Now when there are bat sightings we set out a plan to be able to protect those, to keep the public away from them and to make sure that those are protected areas.
There are other things we are working on as well, like the barn swallows, making sure that we increase the opportunity for habitat, we’re getting people who are engaged with this who are actually building ledges on their barns - like they are hobby farmers or whatever and when they are building a barn they actually put up a ledge for the swallows. We’re actually asking the public as well, if they have bat sightings to let us know so we can have a better sense of where the bats are in the province.
There are many species we are dealing with. Unfortunately the realities of climate change will probably mean there will be more but we will be diligent in working and moving forward and working to protect them. We’re working now with the mainland moose population. It continues to decline, no matter all the efforts. Part of our treatment in the forest engaging which lots to harvest and the treatments of it allows for moose movement zones in some of those areas, just to make sure that the moose always have the ability to move around. We don’t know, with climate change, how much this is going to continue to be effective.
I just came back from a national ministers’ conference and they were talking about the caribou becoming endangered in the North. Now who would have thought that? Even 20 years ago we were hearing about vast caribou herds in the North and it’s a real problem. Unfortunately Nova Scotia hasn’t had any caribou for the last 100 years but they used to be here as well. With climate change and the changing conditions of our lands and our temperature, we will continue to have more endangered species and we’re going to have to learn to have adaptive measures and to do what we can to support those species.
MS. ROBERTS: I’ve heard in relation to climate change that as Nova Scotia warms, it will become less appropriate to have even-aged management of our forests. Are you aware of that analysis that some of the practices and the assumptions within the department - are they up for review as climate change proceeds?
MS. MILLER: The DNR is, like I said, we have scientists, we have biologists, these specializations in the fields of so many of the people in the department. We’re going to be moving towards adaptive forestry measures. We’re going to be looking at what happens and how we can adapt to them. It’s an ongoing thing that we’re looking at all the time.
We’re seeing the changes that are there now, we’re seeing more than 30 new tree species that we didn’t have before. We’re seeing 30 years of genetic work well-positioned for climate change.
We’re in a good spot, we’re going to continue to observe to see, be very aware of what’s going on and what we need to be able to do to adapt to climate change.
MS. ROBERTS: As you know, many Nova Scotians are concerned about herbicide spraying, for a number of different reasons. I think from a forestry perspective there’s concern that one goal of herbicide spraying is to kill off hardwoods in favour of pulpwood. Do you have concerns about that use?
MS. MILLER: I can tell the member opposite that there is no spraying done, there’s no herbicide spraying on Crown land. That’s a practice on Crown land simply because we don’t expect taxpayers to pay for spraying. If woodlot owners do make application to the Department of Environment to be able to spray herbicides, terms and conditions are attached to those approvals, if there are approvals, that would dictate if they are done or not.
If you are asking for my personal comments, I like Julie’s terminology here, but anyway, all you have to do really is go around and see some of these, and you probably do see them at the side of the road where you see where an area has been sprayed, if new trees are planted or even if it is regenerating, pretty soon the hardwoods and the other woods grow up so quickly, that a lot of these new seedlings are dying.
Anyway, the spray doesn’t - the product is glyphosate, it’s a Roundup product actually. We used it on the farm. I was actually certified in being able to work with different sprays so I really had more of an in-depth knowledge of the sprays of that time - not specifically what they are now - and how they work. All this does is just knock them back. It doesn’t kill them outright, it just stunts the growth of that new growth hardwood and then you’ll see within a short time that it will start coming back up.
MS. ROBERTS: I believe I have just a couple of minutes left so I’m going to completely change gears and ask a question related to provincial parks just really quickly. I’m wondering what the alcohol policy is in provincial parks and if you’ve had any concerns around alcohol practice policy in provincial parks.
MS. MILLER: Thank you for the question. It was actually good when I wasn’t aware of what it was because I haven’t really camped in provincial parks before but I’ve heard a few things.
Anyway, on long weekends, like the May long weekend certainly, which has that name “two four” weekend, there is no alcohol allowed in provincial parks totally. The rest of the year there is alcohol allowed but it has to be kept on the site. That’s pretty much the same thing that it is in even private campgrounds. Private campgrounds have the same kind of rulings and not on the long weekend, they don’t specify, certainly they don’t have that designation. In most campgrounds or most public areas people really don’t walk around with their alcohol. Their site is considered their home and they can have alcohol use on their site.
MS. ROBERTS: Do I understand correctly that there aren’t staff on site in those provincial parks?
MS. MILLER: Yes, there is staff on site. They might not be there all the time, they may be working within a couple of parks but they are being monitored.
MS. ROBERTS: I’ll say that the last time I went to a provincial park I was with young children and there was indeed a lot of alcohol walking around between sites, including open containers in the riverbed, where people were swimming and so forth, that I actually found it was a bit off-putting and hard to explain to children. I actually haven’t been back camping in a provincial park since, but maybe that was an isolated experience.
MS. MILLER: I would encourage you to please report that whenever you do see it because I think we need to know. We have the conservation officers actually who are through the Department of Environment now. It’s something conservation officers do need to know and to hear from campers when there are some issues. Maybe that’s a problem we have and I’m not saying it’s a real problem but maybe that’s some place that we can do a little bit better, to follow up with campers when they’ve gone through a reservation system, maybe to do a little bit of feedback and see if that has been a problem. If it’s an ongoing problem, I certainly want to know about it, and I want to make sure that our conservation officers have the opportunity to address the problem as well so that camping experiences in Nova Scotia are good for all Nova Scotians and all tourists.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You still have three minutes remaining, Ms. Roberts, if you want to take them. Do you want to pass it along?
MS. ROBERTS: Thank you for the answers. I think I’ll pass it along.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, wonderful.
MS. MILLER: Mr. Chairman, could we take a five minute break?
MR. CHAIRMAN: That sounds good. We’ll take a brief recess.
[1:31 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[1:39 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Welcome everyone. We will now resume with Natural Resources. I believe we are now sending it over to the PC caucus. Ms. MacFarlane, when you’re ready. It’s 1:39 p.m.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I appreciate it. I apologize in advance. I wasn’t here for your opening remarks. I know how frustrating it can be having to repeat yourself on questions, so I apologize in advance.
I did want to start off with regard to herbicides. I realize that we no longer spray our Crown lands, but I am confused. I understand Nova Scotia Power was spraying this past summer alongside telephone poles to make sure that trees and bushes weren’t interfering with wires. Is that Crown land? I know they have to go through the Department of Environment to get their permit. How does your department feel about that? If we’re endorsing not spraying on Crown land, how do we give the okay to spray there?
MS. MILLER: Usually, if there is a powerline, there would be a right-of-way for Nova Scotia Power through that. The Crown does not pay. Taxpayers do not pay for any spraying on any Crown lands in Nova Scotia or anything like that. Say it was a powerline, Nova Scotia Power would have their right-of-way through that or would claim ownership of that land. Then they would make application to the Department of Environment for any spray permits. A lot of those spray permits, I remember from my Environment days, were long-term permits on rail beds or powerlines. Usually, it was a 10-year application, and then they would have terms and conditions attached to it to be able to do the spraying.
MS. MACFARLANE: The Department of Natural Resources is in agreement and passed legislation that there would be no spraying of Crown land because of scientific reasons. Why does this government endorse spraying on private land or endorse that it can continue elsewhere in the province?
MS. MILLER: I can’t say that that decision was made based on science at all. I believe it was made for a political reason and for a legislative reason. If you were basing it on science practices or whatever, we know that Health Canada says that the sprays are safe to use. Privately, sprays are still available to use, and terms and conditions are put in place for the safe use of the sprays, herbicides.
MS. MACFARLANE: We know that the Province of Nova Scotia had accepted and that HRM has banned spraying. We know that there is an opportunity to put that onus back on the responsibility of municipalities to make the decision. Would that be something that Natural Resources would promote or increase, for municipalities to take that responsibility on a municipal level?
MS. MILLER: At least HRM has decided not to allow spraying, I think most of them have, on private land, I don’t know if that was based on science or if it was based on popular opinion, just what was popular at the time.
I do know that on federal lands in Nova Scotia, spraying is still permitted. Even things as minor as lawn companies have the ability to go on First Nations property and do spraying. There are no restrictions there.
MS. MACFARLANE: There are provinces that have banned it in certain areas. Monsanto has been sued let’s just say hundreds of times - I don’t know the number. It has definitely been an issue that has been escalating and is on people’s minds globally.
The World Health Organization has totally been promoting the fact that it is a carcinogen. They’re relating it to autism. They’re relating it to a lot of different health issues.
Is your department taking any steps, any initiative, to investigate further to help Nova Scotians understand at the end of the day what the science is behind it and if we should be endorsing it or not?
MS. MILLER: There is no herbicide spraying on Crown lands in Nova Scotia, as you are aware. Those calls about any kind of herbicide spraying is done by the Department of Environment so it would be up to that department to determine whether it is safe or not.
MS. MACFARLANE: So just to clarify, your department is not interested and has not been working towards finding out more information about spraying?
MS. MILLER: Not that I am aware of, no.
MS. MACFARLANE: We get a lot of calls, and there seems to be this debate between whose responsibility it is and I can never get a clear answer. It’s just a simple question, who is responsible for roadkill? Sometimes I’m told it’s TIR and then other times I’m told it’s Natural Resources and it seems to be a bit of a conflict within my own area. I just want to clarify and have it on record who is responsible.
MS. MILLER: Thank you for that question. If it’s a public roadway, so if it’s in the TIR right of way, TIR is responsible for doing the cleanup of any roadkill. Outside of that, on Crown lands, it is the Department of Natural Resources on all lands. If there’s any public safety concerns then TIR would be responsible for it, just to make sure there’s no impact with motorists.
MS. MACFARLANE: So I believe TIR, and I’m not sure of the number but I think they own 30 feet or something from the yellow line, so I’m clear on that. So on my highways and on any provincial roads within my constituency I would call TIR and remind them that they are responsible.
If I have a constituent who calls and says there’s dead deer or a bear or whatever, racoons in their yard, would they call Natural Resources? Would I suggest to them to call Natural Resources?
MS. MILLER: If it’s a public safety issue then DNR will remove it, but if it’s on your private land and say there’s a racoon in your backyard that is dead or whatever, that becomes your own responsibility.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you for that clarification, I appreciate that.
I want to go to our provincial parks. Pictou West is a constituency of about 15,000 people and we are blessed to have five provincial parks that are all used relatively a lot, especially during of course the tourism season so we’re very proud of those parks. I enjoyed all five of those parks when I was growing up in Pictou West and I have to say that I have this image and visual of these pristine, beautiful parks that we spent a lot of time in as children growing up, but now when I go they are unsightly - not all of them but some are. At different times we call and maybe something will get fixed.
I’m just wondering why isn’t there more of an investment through Natural Resources to take more pride in these real gems of our province?
MS. MILLER: Thank you to the member for that question. Our provincial parks are absolutely a great resource and I’m really happy to say that we actually are going to be putting a lot more money into the infrastructure in parks. Historically we’ve been spending about $1 million a year on adding to those parks and infrastructure-wise, whether it’s in the camping parks, adding electricity or doing whatever, that’s going to be moving to $2 million.
As for the upkeep of the parks, a lot of the times these are - we have 200 provincial parks in the province, only about 20 of them are camping parks. Our conservation officers try to get out as much as possible, they have a rotation where they are going around visiting all the parks, seeing what needs to be done and seeing if things need to be cleaned up or what needs to happen. Certainly we would like public input on that to let us know when there are issues.
I haven’t heard about a lot of issues yet but certainly it is something we can look into more.
MS. MACFARLANE: I can appreciate the fact that we do have 200 and we should be very proud of those. What I find though, and it’s definitely not a statement against the employees in my area, I know they have five to look after and many other responsibilities and that but perhaps there needs to be more manpower. One particular park, Caribou, Waterside Beach, myself and other individuals have gone down and cleaned it up and filled garbage bags ourselves, so there’s not a consistency of going, I don’t think, on a daily basis to clean it up. In particular I would say in July and August, you know it’s open from May - really the Caribou Beach is open all year but I don’t think anyone is down there really much throughout the year between October to April/May again.
I was worried about doing this, to be honest, but we even repaired boards and went and bought wood ourselves to hammer in so no one would trip on the boardwalk. I was a little nervous because I thought okay, is that a liability on us? It’s quite a long boardwalk, we didn’t want children running ahead of their parents or anything and then falling down where the boards were missing.
Again, I want to put emphasis on the fact that I know that the employees in that area do the best they can with what they have and I’m happy to hear that it’s going from $1 million to $2 million. I guess I want the minister to just reassure me and some friends that we won’t have to go back next summer and do the same thing.
MS. MILLER: I’m actually really sorry to hear that you’ve had to do that. I would think that that shouldn’t be happening. I certainly agree with that but I think it’s important for us to know that. Certainly that’s something you can call the department at any time, you can call me and let me know.
We had a couple of other complaints last summer, I think, about Lawrencetown Park, something about the boardwalk there as well. Staff went right out and they did the repairs necessary. It’s one of these things that if you don’t know you’ve got a problem, you can’t fix a problem that you don’t know about.
The funding, that was actually just the TCA funding. We actually do have, to run our parks, a $4 million a year project. The investment from $1 million on improvements to go to $2 million adds even more to that.
Our conservation officers work very hard and we want to make sure that they get out as much as possible but there are some challenges. Certainly this year during the fire season we had a lot of the DNR offices that actually went to work on the fires out West. That left their own departments a little bit short-staffed so there were less people to make up for it. You can’t foresee these things and hire extra people just in case there’s a fire that you are sending people out. We had two teams that went with rotations very quickly after each other so that also left shortfalls.
But not to make any excuses, there’s never any excuse for a park to be in a mess. We do want to know when it does happen so we can rectify the situation.
MS. MACFARLANE: I totally agree, the one person you can’t argue with or predict is Mother Nature so there’s a lot of unpredictabilities certainly with Natural Resources. I’m happy to hear though that you are increasing the budget to $2 million. Just to confirm, so it’s going from $1 million to $2 million in this budget and I’m wondering if you could perhaps give me a breakdown of where that increase of $1 million, that new addition, how is that being divided amongst the parks, or really more directly, what’s Pictou West with its five parks getting out of that number?
MS. MILLER: The $4 million is operational spending, that gets done every year, that’s just to operate. We always had an extra $1 million to add things like electrical sites, a dumping station, whether it’s a service building or whatever. That has been up to another $1 million. We can get you specifics of exactly what parks are getting what and let you know. We can get that to you.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you. I would really appreciate that, and I will look for that follow-up.
I just want to go quickly here to the business plan details that were promoting investment opportunities at the conferences in China. I’m just wondering, what was the planned outcome for that? What does the future see in those investments?
MS. MILLER: Mr. Don James, who is the head of our mining division, he has been in China at some conferences advertising mining in Nova Scotia, and we have seen direct results. We have renewed mining interest in Nova Scotia with our gold mines which were amazing, the impact that they are having.
We have the one gold mine that I spoke about in my opening comments. We know that they just opened up last week. The investment that they have is considerable. Let me see if I can find that in my notes here. We have potential future gold mining developments of up to $140 million. This is an investment in our mining sector.
I hate to use the term “big players” because it seems a little trite. But these are where the investors are. These are mining expos, and Nova Scotia is a presenter there. They have booths set up. They’re engaging other potential investors. They’re part of a Canadian delegation. They have meetings with investors. We have a meeting coming up with a Japanese company. These are all investments in Nova Scotia. We’re trying to develop the mining industry in Nova Scotia more all the time.
It is a good-news story. We have what is happening here with the gold mining company that just opened up. Mining directly contributes $234 million to our provincial GDP, and that goes up to $420 million with indirect contributions. The Moose River gold mine is an amazing good-news story. That’s a mine that 80 years ago would have been mined by small-time prospectors. Yet now they’re going to be operating over the next 10 to 15 years, and I believe they’re going to be doing 77,000 ounces, I believe. That’s what I understood they were going to be producing.
When you start looking at the impact of that kind of mining - it’s funny about the exploration of the gold mine. You would have thought that the company would have been able to come in and that they would have to actually go to the site and start looking, but they didn’t. I was really pleased this year to go to the core library, I believe it’s in Stellarton, with all the core samples from around the province. Any core samples that have been taken in 70 or 80 years are all stored there. If you know an area, you can go pinpoint that, find that core sample, and actually still check out that sample to see what the potential is. You don’t actually have to go to that site for the initial one. That’s what happened with this gold mine that is starting. We have young prospectors all over the province who are going to the core library and doing exploration actually at the library, which is pretty incredible, before they actually go to the site and look.
MS. MACFARLANE: I just want to say I’m definitely pleased that we are networking and trying to promote our natural resources. I believe that we have lots of them here in Nova Scotia that can be safely tapped into.
I want to ask a question that may seem kind of bizarre, but I promised a constituent I would ask. With regard to private homeowners having sink holes happen on their property, is there any assistance through Natural Resources so they could help in filling those sink holes, especially if it was confirmed that the sink holes were happening because of old mines or shafts? I don’t know a lot about it. This request came in just a few moments ago. I’m just wondering if there’s anything through Natural Resources to help or direct or help them navigate what to do.
MS. MILLER: I think we saw something here in Hants County just a little while ago about a sink hole at a home. Sometimes they can be naturally occurring, and it just happens. It’s just unfortunate. In that case, the homeowner’s insurance, we hope, would cover that. If a sink hole is associated with a mine, and we know that it’s a mine in the area, we do have the potential to go after the mine owners for that.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thanks for the answer. I was told by the individual constituent who was requesting this information that their insurance company said that they wouldn’t cover anything that would appear to be just an act of nature. I will take your information and let them know, but perhaps each insurance company is different or something. Unfortunately in this case, they’re not able to put it through their insurance company.
I’m going to ask, are you finalized on the Mi’kmaq forestry initiative that was proposed?
MS. MILLER: Every year, for those in the room who aren’t aware, there is a Mi’kmaq forestry initiative where a large tract of land is given to the Mi’kmaq communities to use for their forestry practices or as a resource. It provides employment for the Mi’kmaq to sustain their families and their communities. This is something that we are working on actively. We’re working on this right now. There’s a Crown forest licence under negotiation, so we’re very close to that.
MS. MACFARLANE: Anticipated date for finalization would be within 2017?
MS. MILLER: In reality, this is a negotiation. It depends on the Mi’kmaq how soon this will be done.
MS. MACFARLANE: With the negotiations in process, is there an element of that that you have to consult with the federal government on?
MS. MILLER: No. This is between the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq and the Nova Scotia Government.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you for your clarification. Moving along, the department has been quoted as being a supporter of TIR in the replacement of the effluent treatment when Boat Harbour closes. Could the minister provide more details and any associated timelines with regard to that?
MS. MILLER: Boat Harbour, I’ll never forget sitting in this very room during Law Amendments Committee and hearing Andrea Paul talk about Boat Harbour and what it has done. I was there. I actually went to the site - anyway.
Unfortunately, DNR doesn’t really have a role there. Our association with Northern Pulp is about the fibre. As for the building of the site, it is strictly a TIR file but we do have a working group and DNR is working in that group as well.
MS. MACFARLANE: This is probably a good segue to go into my next question which is, in the last four years or so what has the Department of Natural Resources guaranteed to Northern Pulp in Crown land, what percentage have they received?
MS. MILLER: This was not actually even with this government, it was a previous government that made that arrangement with Northern Pulp. They don’t acquire any land, what they do acquire is 225,000 green metric tonnes of fibre every year.
MS. MACFARLANE: So we have a situation where there is going to be a large investment to close Boat Harbour. The government, through TIR I believe, has cost shared 50-50 the cost of having a Montreal firm develop a new engineering plan for the new treatment facility. It’s obviously going to be a huge investment and I know that discussions will be happening. There’s nothing to really comment yet because they haven’t decided what percentage the mill has to pay, what percentage is going to be on the backs of taxpayers of Nova Scotia.
One of the things I think we need to be thinking about and perhaps we already have and will be my question, is the assurance that there will be fibre there. If all this large investment of taxpayers’ money is going in to correct something and build a new treatment facility, will there be assurance and guarantee that there’s going to be enough fibre for that mill to operate, which employs 340 people, I think, directly. We know that indirectly it’s thousands of job.
I’m just curious, from your department, confirmation in ensuring the amount of fibre that they will receive in the future.
MS. MILLER: What I can tell them, Ms. MacFarlane, is that the mill gets 20 per cent of their fibre from the Crown, so they are still purchasing 80 per cent of the fibre from that area. I don’t think there’s going to be a real shortage of fibre. Personally I just can’t see it, there seems to be lots of private woodlot owners who do have fibre available, only 20 per cent of the mill’s fibre does come from the Crown.
MS. MACFARLANE: I think the concern usually for those who are in the pulp and paper industry is that it’s more efficient financially to receive fibre from Crown than it is to have to go purchase from private woodlot owners.
I know there’s going to be some concerns around that and I guess I really just want to make that aware because it has been brought to my attention and we have to do everything we can to protect our forests but we also have to do it in a very safe and economical way.
I’m wondering if there will be any future discussions before this year ends, with increasing the amount of fibre that Northern Pulp can receive?
MS. MILLER: I just want to address another comment that Ms. MacFarlane made a little while ago about the perception that Crown land is cheaper, it’s more economical. I think there’s a misconception, stumpage rates are based on what the rate is for private woodlot owners and it’s over a time frame and an average is taken to determine what the Crown lands stumpage will be. I don’t know exactly how many years, how long it is between times. It depends on the market, how often they change those rates. As to whether Northern Pulp is going to acquire any more Crown fibre, they won’t. They have a set contract for a certain amount, and that’s what they’ll be receiving from Crown land.
MS. MACFARLANE: I’m going to move on to a couple of budget questions. There was an increase in the budgeted amount for occupational health and safety. I’m wondering if the minister can explain what changed in that department to see that increase.
MS. MILLER: This is just a reallocation of some different costs in the cost centre.
MS. MACFARLANE: There was no reflection, and I see that your FTEs also decrease. I’m wondering if you can explain going from 11 to 9 in FTEs.
MS. MILLER: We had a few changes in the department. An ADM and a secretary moved to a different department, and they weren’t replaced.
MS. MACFARLANE: Looking under landscape planning, I see quite a difference in that too. We went from $541,000, then there was nothing, and we’re now at $284,000. Can you explain these changes, please?
MS. MILLER: This is about two positions that were not filled. We had two retirements. Unfortunately, we have the oldest department in government, I have been told, with more retirees coming up. One of our employees told me that when he was first introduced around the department, half the people said, I’m done soon, hi, but I’m going. We have a lot of retirees. This change in numbers was two retirees who haven’t been replaced yet. They will be filled in 2018-19.
MS. MACFARLANE: Over on a couple of pages that I’m looking at in the Budget Book here, we’re looking at the fleet and forest production. With regard to the spending, it was significantly higher than anticipated. I’m wondering if you can explain why.
MS. MILLER: Absolutely - very easy explanation on that. We have an agreement with all the fire services from all the provinces across Canada where we supply our firefighters to them like we did this year in Alberta. Last year, we had the fires, and we had people coming here. It’s up to the host province, or the province that’s getting help, to cover those costs. Last year there was a just over $3 million increase in our fire services because of the fire in the Keji area.
MS. MACFARLANE: This was actually asked by a university student who wanted to work a summer job at one of the parks but found it was very difficult to find out where to apply. I’m wondering if you can give me a brief description if we have any summer students who want to apply to work at the parks - what would be the easiest route for them to take to apply?
MS. MILLER: All the job openings are posted on Career Nova Scotia, or people can call the department directly and be directed to where they can apply. We have 485 seasonal employees every year so a lot of people are getting through.
We know these are highly sought-after jobs, young people love working outdoors in the summer, especially in our parks and everything. Certainly we’d be interested in hearing from any of your constituents who want to work in your local park.
MS. MACFARLANE: You may have to get back to me with this question but I’m wondering how many students were hired within the five parks in Pictou West?
MS. MILLER: Yes, we will get back to you with that number.
MS. MACFARLANE: Great. I see there was an extra $0.25 million brought forward in the forestry innovation part of the budget. I’m just wondering if you can tell me a little bit about the innovation budget.
MS. MILLER: Actually, the Innovation Hub, I had a really great briefing on this and I was really happy that we were able to increase funding on this project because it’s so important, especially to western Nova Scotia. When I talk about the biofuels sector and the bio-economy it presents a real opportunity for woodlot owners in the area who are now not able to get rid of some of that wood that would have gone to the Bowater plant, that they can work with that.
The Hub is a group that works together and they are fostering collaboration among stakeholders, implementing strategies to establish a compelling, value-based proposition to attract and support an industry cluster of bio-based processing and manufacturing industries, including liquid biofuel. That has great opportunity.
They’ve done a lot of things in their first year, the Hub has been working very hard. They’ve done a study of ways to make transporting of harvested trees more efficient and cost effective. It included a review of regulations and comparison with other jurisdictions. They’re working with government to make technology available to forestry companies, to install new harvesting machines to help the operator monitor performance and improve efficiency. They are sponsoring 10 Nova Scotians in a machine-operating training program to provide world-class instruction on efficiency, equipment operation and where workers are matched with forestry companies that want to upgrade their competitiveness and agree to hire them upon successful completion of their training.
The Hub have a lot of ideas and they haven’t been in operation for a long time. They’re going to be moving forward and looking at opportunities that are going to be available, primarily I believe in western Nova Scotia, or in all of Nova Scotia, to be able to help the industry in those areas where innovative thinking is needed.
MS. MACFARLANE: Madam Chairman, can I ask how much time I have left?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You started at 1:39 p.m. and it is 2:19 p.m., so exactly 20 minutes.
MS. MACFARLANE: I’m going to ask just one or two more questions and then I’m going to pass it over to my colleague to make sure he has time.
Just a quick response, I see that the Grants and Contributions have increased by $47,000. Where does some of this money go and what for?
MS. MILLER: Can you tell me what section you’re looking at, which grants in particular? Or is it just overall?
MS. MACFARLANE: It’s not out of this book. I don’t know if you have the other one there. That’s okay. We can follow up on that. We can follow up. I don’t want to waste time.
MS. MILLER: Yes, there’s about 20 pages of grants here, so it would be different grants and different projects around the province. We can provide that information to Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. MACFARLANE: You may want to reference Page 19.2.
MS. MILLER: You spoke about the $0.5 million increase. The Innovation Fund would also be included in that one. We give out over $11 million in different grants throughout the province for different work. That includes some silviculture work as well. It’s very extensive, and we can certainly send you the list if you want to see exactly where all that is.
MS. MACFARLANE: I would appreciate that and some of the other information that you have to get back to me.
My last question is, I’m just wondering what is the total amount of money that comes out of the Department of Natural Resources for the celebration we participate in, taking the tree to Boston?
MS. MILLER: The Boston tree initiative is priceless, just the goodwill that it brings and what it brings. I can’t get you that number in particular, but I think we all agree that it’s something you really can’t - unfortunately as taxpayers, we do put a price on it. I can’t give you that detailed number, but we can get you that, exactly what the expenditure was last year.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you very much, I’m going to turn it over to my colleague John Lohr, the member for Kings North.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Lohr.
MR. JOHN LOHR: It’s a pleasure to be here and ask a couple of questions. Madam Minister, the first question I wanted to get to is something I did raise in Question Period. Over the last number of years, there have been several pieces of land purchased by the department adjoining Blomidon Provincial Park, and I’m just wondering if you can tell me what the plan or purpose of those land purchases is and what the department has in mind.
MS. MILLER: Thank you for that question. We’re going to be looking into the details on that. I know that there have been some acquisitions of land around Blomiden to expand that park. We have had acquisitions in other parks that may be the same pieces that we’re talking about. We’re certainly going to look into that, and we’ll get the details to you.
MR. LOHR: Is it the intent to connect it up with the lands of Cape Split?
MS. MILLER: Right now between those two park areas, there is quite a bit of private land, so we’re not looking at acquiring all the lands between those and incorporating them all into the parks. There have been some donations of land. There are some acquisitions of land, but there’s no broad-based decision to join the two at this point.
MR. LOHR: Is there a plan to make a road from Blomidon park down into Scots Bay?
MS. MILLER: Not at this time.
MR. LOHR: Many people erroneously believe that Cape Split is actually a provincial park, and if it were a provincial park, I would suggest it would be your most visited provincial park by raw numbers of people. Is there any plan to make Cape Split a provincial park?
MS. MILLER: You’re absolutely correct. In my opening statement, I actually mentioned how many visitors there had been to Cape Split. We had the meter on - of course now I’m not going to be able to find that one right away. I know it was really remarkable. I think it was 65,000 people or something like that who were counted going to Cape Split. Right now, it’s still designated as a park area. We still have to go through that Mi’kmaq consultation phase before it becomes a designated park.
MR. LOHR: I know that the extended park season was very, very well received for Blomidon. I believe Blomidon was open till October 5th or October 9th. There were three parks that you had on the extended park season, and it seems like the Fall is becoming more significant for tourism than it has been in the past. Are you planning to continue the extended park season for Blomidon?
MS. MILLER: It is my understanding that we will and even look at the option of expanding that if necessary. We know that our Springs have become cooler and longer, and our Falls have become longer and nicer. It only makes sense to balance that with our parks’ opening seasons.
MR. LOHR: There’s lots more I could ask, but I know my colleague for Cumberland North wants to ask a few questions, so I’ll pass it over to her.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Smith McCrossin.
MS. ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: In the past, I did have the fortune to meet with some of the minister’s staff, so some of my questions have been answered, but I do have a couple of questions today. These questions came from a couple of meetings I had with some private woodlot owners from Cumberland North.
One of their concerns was that, in the past, there used to be a forestry tech advisory committee that used to meet with the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources about three times a year. They said this stopped when the government switched from NDP to Liberal. They feel there’s no communication link directly with the government. Can you speak to whether this would be something you’re looking at having reinstituted or restarted?
MS. MILLER: We don’t have a formal meeting process set up with them, but I met with the Athol group just a little while ago and heard their concerns. So they’re still being informed by DNR staff all the time. They have discussions. The doors are always open. The phone lines are always busy. There has certainly been no lack of information exchanged on the part of both sides.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: This was just one of the concerns they had brought forth to me. They liked having that link so that they knew there was always the ability for communication.
One of the concerns that I have already spoken about with one of your staff who’s here was regarding the price of Crown land. I heard the conversation with my fellow member for Pictou about the price of Crown land. In my discussion with staff, it was shared with me that there’s a survey done every five years, and then it’s indexed yearly. One of my questions was, would that information be made public?
The reason I ask that question in so far as the indexing prices is that the private woodlot owners don’t feel that it’s being done fairly. They said that the price of the Crown land wood is supposed to be based on market price, and they don’t feel that the pricing is being kept up with market price. They feel that the price of Crown land wood is too low, and therefore, their price is being depressed. My question to the minister is, would your department consider making that indexing price yearly made available to the private woodlot owners?
MS. MILLER: Part of the problem with this is that the stumpage surveys that come from mills are proprietary. What they pay is their business, and it’s not up to government to disclose their business. They overall provide what their stumpage rates are and what they have been paying to DNR. That is the basis of the stumpage rates.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I understand that. Philosophically, I think the private woodlot owners have a problem with that. What they would love to see, theoretically, is that the mills buy from them first, and once their supply is no longer available, then the mills would be purchasing the Crown land wood so that we’re making sure government isn’t unfairly competing with our private woodlot owners. That’s the philosophy behind the question. I don’t know if you want to respond to that or not.
MS. MILLER: The reality is that most mills only get a small portion of their wood fibre from Crown. It goes I think between 16 per cent and 20 per cent or 21 per cent in the mills across the province. That still leaves the vast majority of that coming from private woodlots. If 80 per cent or more is coming from private, is that really a fair statement to make? I don’t mean based on your saying it. But is it a fair statement?
What I’m hearing from the mills is that they are buying from private woodlot owners just as much as possible, but they like the fact that they have a supply in Crown land that they can access when they have shortfalls. It’s a supply that they know they always have as backup, that 15 per cent or 16 per cent or 20 per cent that they can access from Crown land at times when private woodlot owners don’t have wood available.
The reality is we have many small woodlot owners - like the Spicers. I was there just a couple of weeks ago on Spencer’s Island, on their woodlot. He has 1,700 acres that he does very sustainable forestry practices on, but he says he markets four loads a year. Four loads a year isn’t a whole lot of wood. The mills need to know that they have a continuous stream of fibre coming in. That can be supported by the Crown land but if you have 40 people like the Spicers who all have those four loads available at the same time because that’s when they’re cutting, whether it’s through the winter, the Spring or the Fall - maybe in the summertime nobody is cutting because it’s not comfortable to be working in the woods. It’s hot, and the private woodlot owners don’t necessarily want to be out there cutting at that point. Then they have access to the Crown lands. I don’t really know that that’s a fair analogy.
One of the other considerations as well is the harvest costs on the Crown land because there are more requirements on Crown land lots. They have more considerations. It’s not as easy to cut on Crown land. There may be treatments that are prescribed for a cut that may be very costly, whether it’s selective cutting, whether it’s leaving seed trees, whether it’s leaving habitat, it’s all through that IRM process to determine. Even though the fibre is there on Crown, it’s not as easy as just going in and being able to cut.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I do feel that my role as MLA is to make sure that I’m sharing the concerns of my constituents and businesses, so I just want to make sure that I share that.
One of the other comments from the private woodlot owners - and I know that you can’t change this, but I do feel it’s imperative to share - is that there are no mills in Cumberland County so all of the wood that they’re harvesting needs to travel. They have higher transportation costs than some other woodlot owners across the province. Of course, we have the cost of the tolls, which really add to the expenses of running a forestry company in Cumberland County.
One of the questions that they wanted me to ask was, how can the Department of Natural Resources find ways to motivate other private woodlot owners to do silviculture?
MS. MILLER: We do have a large silviculture fund that we make available to all private woodlot owners. If they’re using sustainable harvest practices, determinations can be made. They can do silviculture, they can do selective cutting, and there are actually fees based on the work that they do that they can be compensated for. It allows them sometimes, instead of having to clear-cut or having to do more drastic cutting, to be more selective and still have the financial gains.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: It’s a growing industry, and silviculture is very important. I actually have a brother who is a forestry manager in New Brunswick. I have accessed him a lot in the last three or four months to learn from him. He has been a great resource.
One of the other reasons that the private woodlot owners had met with me over the last couple of months is that they’re really looking at trying to grow a business to produce heat with biomass. I’m not sure if you had a chance to meet with them privately about this as well, but they’re really looking at other models that are being used, particularly in P.E.I., our sister province, where government buildings are being heated with wood energy.
When I looked at it, it certainly seemed to make a lot of sense because as long as the price of oil is $50 or higher per barrel, it’s more cost effective to use wood, and we’re looking at purchasing a resource that is from Nova Scotia or Atlantic Canada, and the profits are staying in our local economy. I’m wondering if DNR would consider supporting these private woodlot owners in developing a business plan and even working with your own government or our government in looking at potential government buildings to use for pilot projects.
MS. MILLER: I’m really happy to report that we did actually meet with the same group and talked about heating buildings. It really seems to be a good solution to some of the questions that we had. We know this would be lower quality wood that may not be marketable, especially when you’re looking at our western areas that have a problem with moving that wood. It is a good alternative to sell those chips and use them to heat buildings. I think it’s going to be the way of the future for Nova Scotia.
We talked to the gentleman who is actually selling heat. He is actually going and guaranteeing buildings - he looks after their whole heating system, that there’s the boiler in place, that it takes a stock of chips, and that it’s good for so long. It’s economical heat as well.
It’s a good way to use that resource, wood that otherwise would not be marketable and may not be sold, to be able to have that as chips and actually still let landowners earn some money from that wood and add to our economic base.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Time has expired for the PC caucus. We will now return to the NDP caucus. Ms. Roberts.
MS. LISA ROBERTS: Maybe I’ll just build briefly on some of the comments and concerns of Ms. Smith-McCrossin. It’s an interesting thing to think about the value of wood because of course, in Nova Scotia, it’s not like any other commodity. As the minister pointed out earlier, transportation costs can effectively mean that there is no market even if it has value because the cost of transporting the wood to a particular destination can basically wipe out the value. A concern that I have heard from private woodlot owners is that the pulp and paper companies, in contrast to the small woodlot owners, are large enough and have enough resources at their disposal that they can, for example, bring a barge full of wood from somewhere out of the jurisdiction, in order to depreciate the costs that they would then have to pay for pulpwood from Nova Scotia. I don’t know if that is complete. I don’t substantially know how often they might do that but if that’s something you have any perspective on I’d be interested to hear.
MS. MILLER: That’s a scenario I haven’t heard anything about, any barges of fibre coming in from outside the provinces. As far as I am aware, a few of the lumber mills have been working with New Brunswick in bringing in some. It’s not so much fibre but it’s sawlogs or whatever, from I think one of the Irving plants and maybe Ledwidge Lumber had been. I’m not sure if they’re still doing that now, because of the export deals, I think people are being much more cautious until we have an agreement on our export with the U.S.
I’m not aware of any fibre being brought in, in lieu of taking wood from private woodlot owners. Like I said to Ms. MacFarlane as well, only a small percentage of Crown wood actually goes for fibre, most of it comes from private woodlot owners. The mills tell me that they buy from private woodlot owners first and they use the Crown as a resource to make sure that when there is a shortfall of private wood available that they can access the Crown at that time to make sure their wood fibre flow stays consistent through the year.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Minister, just a question for you, how many minutes do you need to conclude, to make sure I save enough time for you?
MS. MILLER: One.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have one resolution?
MS. MILLER: Yes, that’s it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay, perfect. Ms. Roberts.
MS. ROBERTS: Obviously the way it works is that DNR charges stumpage fees that reflect the cost of wood on private woodlots. Where can I find the amount that DNR received last year in stumpage fees? Can I see that in this budget? I see that there’s one line there that is called Ordinary Recoveries and I don’t actually know what that means at all.
MS. MILLER: We found this on Page 2.5, I assume we’re in the same book - Timber and Fuelwood Licenses where the actual is $9,757,000 and that would be all the stumpage fees.
MS. ROBERTS: Which book are you looking in?
MS. MILLER: Page 2.5 of the Estimates and Supplementary Detail under General Revenue Fund. It has Department and Service, Natural Resources and it’s in the middle row.
MS. ROBERTS: How, on a practical, step-by-step level, does that amount of money get arrived at on a cut-by-cut basis on Crown land?
MS. MILLER: The stumpage rates are based on how much wood comes off the lot. On a site-by-site, every one will be different. It’s all based on the prescription that was available for that lot. If you had a lot - and this is going to be hard for Hansard because it’s going to drive them crazy, I’m trying to show you something - if this was the lot and this might be a moose zone here, you might have a partial cut over in this area or selective cut over there, which might be only a fraction of the amount of wood that’s on that site. There might be another part that is a wetland or some kind of habitat that you can’t touch, there might be another section that has maybe 40 per cent or 50 per cent of the wood that’s available on that lot, or even a little bit more. It would be based on exactly how much comes off that. It would be measured and that’s what they would pay the stumpage on, so every lot would be different, but they would have the same stumpage rate that they would pay the province.
MS. ROBERTS: I guess the question that I still have is, who would measure, and exactly what would they measure? I’m picturing a woods truck with logs on the back. Are you measuring the diameters of the wood? Are you measuring the lengths of the wood? Are you measuring the weight of the truck versus when the truck was empty? Who is doing that measurement?
MS. MILLER: These trucks are all weighed. It’s all scaled. It’s by green metric tonnes. There is a little bit of variability in the stumpage rates because their grade is for saw logs and veneer. There would be specialty logs that would have a higher stumpage rate than just ones that would be for fibre or saw logs.
MS. ROBERTS: Is the department or some public servant involved in doing that measurement? Or is the harvester and/or the sawmill self-reporting?
MS. MILLER: No, absolutely, when they go into the mills, the mills do report it. They do the weighs. They’re all scaled at the mills. They all have massive scale systems, the same type of thing you would see at truck stops or wherever, where the trucks have to go over the scales. Then they report it to the department, and the department monitors the deliveries.
MS. ROBERTS: Does the department conduct random audits or do any other checking? Basically, it’s almost like an honour system. That’s what it sounds like.
MS. MILLER: No, these are audited. These are professional scalers. They have to have a scaler’s licence to be able to do this. They take it very seriously. DNR does monitor them to make sure that they’re accurate. They have a good sense on each of these lots. Each of these lots is also cruised beforehand so that DNR has a pretty good idea of exactly what’s on them and how much fibre should be coming off them. It’s broad-based.
Maybe there’s a little bit of an honour system. You expect them. But I don’t think you’re ever going to find mills that are going to short-change DNR and risk losing their Crown licences. They’re too valuable to have.
MS. ROBERTS: Thank you very much. It’s good to understand how things work. I wanted to ask you about the harvest plan viewer. I believe that that was put online following the Natural Resources Strategy in an effort to be transparent. How would you judge how successful that is in terms of addressing public concerns around cuts?
MS. MILLER: I think for the Opposition members, it has been very successful. This is fairly new. Our government brought this into place just a little over a year ago or something like that. It is a work in progress, but it allows the public to see exactly which sites are under consideration for harvest. It has already gone through a whole process before it gets there. It goes through more after. Every site that we look at as a potential harvest site actually takes direction from all the comments from the public. This is transparency like nobody in Nova Scotia has ever seen before. I’m not sure that it’s done anywhere. Is it? (Interruption) No, we’re the first jurisdiction that has done this at all. It’s completely transparent. Everybody gets to see everything. You get to make comments on it, and then judgments are made based on what the science is and what the comments are.
MS. ROBERTS: I know that the minister has attempted to explain this to me before, but I still feel like I’m a little bit uncertain about what it means when a harvest is up there on the map and comments are closed. Does that mean that that cut is going ahead? How do you know when the cut is approved?
MS. MILLER: Before it goes up on the viewer, it would have gone through the whole IRM process, where it’s evaluated based on its ecological value, the wildlife sites, what’s around it, all the values that we have that I spoke about earlier.
Then it goes up on the harvest map viewer and then there’s 40 days for comments. Just because it comes down doesn’t mean that a decision has been made or that it’s automatically going to be harvested. A decision still has to be made, based on the comments, based on all the science, and again, looking at it to see whether we move forward with that. We’re looking at it as a possibility to harvest at that point, based on the feedback and based on what the science says.
That said, the harvest viewer map is a work in progress. We’re looking at do we need to change the process? Do we put it up sooner and then do the IRM? Do we do the IRM, and then should we make a decision and then put it up? It would be a lot less controversial but then it wouldn’t give the public a chance to have that input.
We’re looking at it all, based on public feedback and what we’re hearing about it, what people are saying, how it’s working in the department, how it’s working for the public. It’s a work in progress and we’ll continue to make improvements until we get that exact, right fit.
All comments do get a response and just because there has been an approval doesn’t mean it has been an approval without conditions. The same as we talk about in Environment, there are terms and conditions associated with every approval. These lots might be the same thing and those conditions might be too much. You might have somebody who, whether it’s WestFor, whether it’s anybody else, that look at a lot and say well no, under those conditions I can’t do that, that’s not the way I want to proceed, in which case it wouldn’t proceed.
MS. ROBERTS: One of the sites which certainly has been up there in the past year is Twin Lakes on the Eastern Shore. I understand that is a site that has a significant amount of the boreal felt lichen. Can you tell me, is that cut going ahead? I don’t know if that’s too specific.
MS. MILLER: Thanks for the question. The boreal felt lichen is something that I heard about right away in the department and then heard about again and then heard about again and then finally made a decision just a few days ago on what we need to do about it. We know it’s endangered, we know that it only grows in the easterly parts of the province and some in Newfoundland and Labrador so it is quite rare.
There is a buffer zone already in place but the lichen was still dying. It wasn’t enough so we’ve actually doubled that buffer zone and also established conditions outside of that, about harvesting practices around it, so it’s even going a little further through all areas that have boreal felt lichen. The new guidelines will make a difference in that as well.
MS. ROBERTS: I’m wondering about this cut that was discussed. It was actually discussed in the media earlier this year, did that cut go ahead with the 100-metre buffer zone or are those forest blocks going to be affected by that 200-metre cut? I’m looking here because I’m looking at some reporting that happened about this and it looks like these particular cuts were open for comment until March 20th. I don’t know what has happened since.
MS. MILLER: No, that cut is actually being held, pending the decision made on the lichen. If my memory serves me right, now that is going to 200 metres and a very selective harvest around that, depending on many factors. We want to make sure we’re protecting the boreal felt lichen, that it has that opportunity to thrive again in that environment so it will be a very limited harvesting with a lot of conditions around it.
MS. ROBERTS: How did you arrive at a 200-metre buffer? I understand there was a recommendation by a recovery team for a 500-metre buffer around the boreal felt lichen sites.
MS. MILLER: The 200-metre buffer is basically no activity within 200 metres. Then the next 300 metres, which would take it to 500 metres, would be very restricted. That still allows 500 metres, but only 300 metres are going to be restricted, with 200 metres. It’s easier to move it forward slowly, increase that buffer slowly.
If we take it from 100 metres to 500 metres, you’re potentially locking up an awful lot of land. But we also want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for the boreal felt lichen as well, to make sure of that.
We’re going to be gauging that. We’re going to be following it and seeing if that works. If it still looks like that’s not enough conservation anymore, then we’ll be able to look at it again. The recovery team did make a recommendation of 100-plus metres with no cuts plus a partial cut between 100 metres and 500 metres. We’re giving it that 200 metres with nothing and then limitations within the next 300 metres.
MS. ROBERTS: Thanks for that clarification. There were cuts that were being held up pending that decision, and now those cuts will be given the go-ahead with those new conditions?
MS. MILLER: Those cuts will be able to proceed but with those new guidelines in place. If anything else is in the same category, it will be able to proceed, too, with the new guidelines.
MS. ROBERTS: I want to talk briefly about protected areas. I am a little bit unclear about the process when it comes to a new protected area, what your department’s role is. If you could explain that to me.
MS. MILLER: Could you specify on that? What do you mean, our department’s role in a protected area? We know that there are different kinds of protected areas. There are the wilderness areas and the wildlife reserves. Each of them has different designations and what goes on in them. There are no forestry practices in either of those. Even off-road access - there’s actually nothing in a nature reserve. There’s no motorized access.
The parks are most restrictive, and then of course the nature reserve, where basically it’s only walking, hiking, boating, that type of thing - just man and nature. Mostly the wilderness area does give you a little bit more access, not so much with vehicles - a little bit. You have the off-road industry, certainly, but there are designated trails or places where people can travel and where people can’t travel.
Our role is in helping find that designation and determining it, but the Department of Environment and conservation officers would do the policing.
MS. ROBERTS: My question is particularly at the moment of designating new protected areas. I understand that while the government has gotten to 12-point-something, either there is an international commitment, or there’s a provincial commitment to meet an international standard of 17 per cent, and that that will mean protecting some additional areas of Crown land. I’m wondering, does your department get to vet proposals for new protected areas? On what basis would you veto protected areas?
MS. MILLER: For something to become protected, a wilderness area, or a park, there’s a lot behind it - the ecological sensitivity. What are we trying to protect in that area? We look at the recreational considerations, environmental considerations, and mineral considerations. There are many things before it goes forward. This is all gauged by the Department of Environment as well as DNR. All those considerations are taken into play, and then it still takes a little while.
We also acquire lands from the Nature Conservancy, the Nature Trust, there are different groups that are protecting areas around the province and donate them to the province for protection and those are usually designated on the plan.
At this time we’re not going to be moving to the 17 per cent that is national because in reality we have the smallest amount of Crown land, next to P.E.I., in the country. If we’re protecting 13 per cent of our area, it’s a good portion of our Crown land, almost one-third of it is at 13 per cent, which is more of our percentage of our Crown land than any other province, outside of P.E.I. So 17 per cent would be extraordinary for Nova Scotia, it would impact Nova Scotia, the forestry resource, the forestry industry, it would impact them. It would impact a lot of things around this province.
Right now we are looking at 13 per cent, that is my mandate to go to 13 per cent and it’s NSE’s mandate to go to 13 per cent. I’m not saying that it will never go past 13 per cent, it may, but that’s a consideration that may come in the future with other governments. Our government’s commitment at this time is to go to 13 per cent protected area. I believe there’s going to be more properties coming up in the next few months that will be under protection as well. Meanwhile, we have many that are prospects, potential protected areas that are being held right now in anticipation of possibly becoming protected. Even that amount is much more than 13 per cent so some of those areas will be released from the protected areas plan.
MS. ROBERTS: I want to make sure I understand what I just heard. So there are certain areas that have been held as in held, there can be no proposals to cut because they’ve been considered as possible protected areas but you will be releasing those ones? Is that what I understood?
MS. MILLER: Yes, at some point when the decision is made, I think it was just last year when I was in Environment, that we did release some properties that did not have the ecological values that we needed. There was no sense holding them so nothing could be done on those lands, they couldn’t be used at all.
Remember, too, it isn’t just that I was going on about as if it was just Crown land to be protected, a lot of times private landowners will donate their land, ecologically sensitive areas for protection as well, so that can be added to the base as well.
MS. ROBERTS: I know there has been a community effort to get protected area designation for the Ingram River Wilderness Area, is that a project where I think some private individuals should give up hope on that one, in terms of the province designating it as a protected area?
MS. MILLER: Did you just say in addition to the Ingram?
MS. ROBERTS: I guess I’m asking specifically if DNR has a position on designating the Ingram River Wilderness Area.
MS. MILLER: The fact that it is already called a wilderness area, it’s already protected. (Interruption) No, it’s a proposal, sorry.
So that one has not been in the Parks and Protected Areas plan so it depends on ecosystem - after almost four hours I can’t even pronounce the word. Anyway, it’s not in that plan.
MS. ROBERTS: My original question was, because I know that there are people advocating for that area to be designated, has the department made a decision that no, this will not be protected and it will be released for other uses or should they expect to see it on the harvest plan viewer? Is there a decision?
MS. MILLER: No, there’s no decision that has been made on that land yet.
MS. ROBERTS: I would like to understand a little bit the role of, and I’m hoping I’m getting the right terminology, is it service areas? I know that woodlots are grouped into different - is it service districts, service areas - and what role they play in how the department supports it.
MS. MILLER: We have just the three regions; the western, central and eastern region but it’s not hard and fast.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: What was that? We didn’t get that.
MS. MILLER: There’s no defined boundary on the different zones.
MS. ROBERTS: My question is, what is their function? Does the department fund organizations? Does it fund outreach and education, based on those areas? How does it function with the woodlot owners in those areas?
MS. MILLER: We do fund different projects actually and I think we have funds of different things, $11 million in different grants and applications here. That includes silviculture funding and whatever, for better coordination of woodlot owner groups, we added $1 million to outreach across Nova Scotia for different groups.
MS. ROBERTS: I think I’ll have to do a little bit more research on that myself because I’m not entirely clear if we’re talking about regional breakdown of DNR activity or if it’s DNR funding those, funding external agencies to play some of those roles.
MS. MILLER: Certainly, Ms. Roberts, we can meet with you and explain the differences in the different areas and what’s available. There’s a whole list there of different funding projects and what has been going on around the province and we could certainly sit down and explain that all to you.
MS. ROBERTS: I think I have reached the end of my questions. There was a Tory member in the House but there isn’t any more so I think I’ll be turning it over to the Liberal MLAs here to run the clock.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You can certainly make concluding remarks, you’ve got less than six minutes left - unless someone from the Liberal caucus has any questions? There’s now five minutes left. Mr. Irving.
MR. KEITH IRVING: I was part of an announcement for more capital projects money going into Blomidon Provincial Park and I was wondering if you could fill us in on the extent of the renovations on the park and the status of them.
MS. MILLER: I hear that we have a detailed list but it’s at the office. I can tell you though, that we have increased the funding for our provincial parks. We have $1 million in investment funding that we have been using every year to improve the parks. That is being increased to $2 million.
This year the park use numbers are way up. I don’t have the numbers right offhand, they are in here somewhere. We’ve seen really great success in our parks and hopefully that continues over the next few years. We know that supporting tourism numbers across the province is important but also we have 200 different park locations around our province and it’s a challenge to keep all those parks in good condition, keep them all active, looking beautiful. Certainly the department works very hard to make that happen but we need to engage the public as well and have them let us know when things aren’t as good as they should be, so we can address those situations as they occur.
MR. IRVING: I think you spoke earlier about the success of the extension of the seasons. I believe it was three camping parks that were extended. Is that anticipated next year, that you would do the same three? Or would you be adding any other parks to the extended season?
MS. MILLER: I don’t think any decision has been made yet. We’re going to be looking at the numbers, looking at the flow of traffic in the different parks, and seeing where the demand is and what we’re hearing from the public. I would certainly be open to extending those seasons and extending the staffing to some additional parks. As I have said before, with our changing weather patterns, when we have beautiful falls that last a lot longer, people are out camping, and they’re enjoying the parks a lot more. These are the three now - the Mira River, the Ellenwood, and Blomidon. Those are all the parks that have had extended seasons. I have no problem actually looking at whether we should be extended that and perhaps doubling that again for next year if there’s the demand for it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have about a minute and a half, so if there’s anything you would like to say in conclusion.
MS. MILLER: I want to thank everybody for coming out today, the staff members who joined us today and took their time to help us. I’m relatively new in the role, and yet it’s amazing how big and broad this department is, how many different facets there are of it. There’s just so much to learn, and sometimes I think that I should be much younger, but we won’t go there.
I also want to thank Julie for her patience and her support. I bother John an awful lot getting him to explain to me all the different things, whether it’s about how the harvesting is done, the different treatment methods that have been going on in the department, and everything else.
It has certainly been a pleasure to work with the staff. I continue to be impressed almost every day, and I’m very grateful. I think that we’re in a really good spot.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E18 stand?
The resolution stands.
Thank you very much. That concludes today’s proceedings.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 3:12 p.m.]