CHAPTER VII.--PROSPECTS FOR THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE.

Timber. (continued)

3. OTHER FOREST LANDS IN THE INTERIOR OF THE ISLAND.

  424. It will be seen that of the total area of forest lands in Newfoundland, about 25,000 square miles, some 15,000 square miles or nearly two-fifths of the whole area of the Island, are either owned or leased by the two large Companies mentioned above. Of the remainder, some 4,700 square miles are owned in fee simple, and some 3,000 square miles are held under licence or lease from the Crown, by Companies other than Paper Companies and by private individuals. Included in these figures are some 4,500 square miles held by Reid interests, mostly in the Gander Valley; about one-third of this area is held in fee simple, the remainder being held under lease from the Crown. The export of unmanufactured timber from Newfoundland is prohibited and the resources of the country have to this extent been safeguarded; at the same time no adequate steps have been taken to promote their development. It has been the practice of Newfoundland Governments for many years to allot available timber lands to applicants under licences which stipulate for an annual rental of $2.00 a square mile and for the erection of saw mills on each plot of land so licensed. Early in the present century nearly all the lands available were disposed of on these terms to applicants attracted by prospects of development. The holding of Crown lands at such a low rental became a popular form of speculation. Successive Governments, for reasons best known to themselves, adopted a policy of encouraging such speculation, with the result that, so long as the rentals were paid, the Department concerned did not insist on the fulfilment of the other conditions of the licences including those for the erection of saw mills. A few such mills were erected by certain licensees, but it is safe to say that in the great majority of cases licensees had no other object in view but to hold their lands in the hope of being able to dispose of them at an enhanced value. This remains the position at the present day. We have already observed that the continuance of such a state of affairs is not in the best interest of the country. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1932, ruled, in a similar case which originated in Labrador, that the Government, by continuing to accept rentals notwithstanding the non-observance of the condition to erect a mill within the stipulated time, had in law estopped themselves from now insisting on the fulfilment of the condition, or from cancelling the licence because of its non-fulfilment. As a statement of the law, such a conclusion cannot be questioned, but it is manifestly in the national interest that lands held on licence from the Crown should either be worked in accordance with the original intention of the parties, or surrendered.

  425. The Government is put to considerable expense in policing and patrolling these woods and forests against fire, and the funds at its disposal are insufficient for effective control. These lands, so held unused, yield nothing by way of local rates or taxes. While past Governments have erred, as the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council shows, in allowing an undesirable degree of latitude to individual licensees, we do not feel that the present Government is under any obligation, legal or moral, to adopt the same course. We recommend, therefore, that all unworked lands, however held, should bear an annual tax of so much per acre, and that, in the event of the tax being in arrear and unpaid for six months, the licence or lease should be cancelled or, in cases where land is held in fee simple, that the land should revert to the Crown. This proposal includes lands situated in Newfoundland and Labrador.

  425. The Government is put to considerable expense in policing and patrolling these woods and forests against fire, and the funds at its disposal are insufficient for effective control. These lands, so held unused, yield nothing by way of local rates or taxes. While past Governments have erred, as the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council shows, in allowing an undesirable degree of latitude to individual licensees, we do not feel that the present Government is under any obligation, legal or moral, to adopt the same course. We recommend, therefore, that all unworked lands, however held, should bear an annual tax of so much per acre, and that, in the event of the tax being in arrear and unpaid for six months, the licence or lease should be cancelled or, in cases where land is held in fee simple, that the land should revert to the Crown. This proposal includes lands situated in Newfoundland and Labrador.

  426. Lands now held by the two Paper Companies for the purpose of their undertaking would be exempt from such a tax, as such lands would be deemed to be operated.

  427. A substantial part of the proceeds of such a tax should be devoted to the improvement and amplification of the existing fire control service, towards which individual holders of forest lands make at present no contribution, to the supervision of the cutting of timber in forest lands and wood lands, and to the replanting of waste lands.

  428. With regard to future prospects, it may be expected that taxation of this kind will encourage the erection of sawmills in some cases, and the surrender of lands to the Crown in others. In either event, the country should benefit, for the erection of mills should promote employment and should provide an added incentive for seeking new markets for wood products. On the other hand, the surrender of lands to the Crown will enable the Government to receive the full value of them when world conditions have sufficiently improved to make their development possible; under existing arrangements the benefit of their enhanced value would be derived by the speculator and not by the State.

  429. As regards the possibilities of securing new markets for wood products, we have good reason to believe that a demand exists in the United Kingdom for boxes and packing cases of various types and dimensions, which could be supplied on advantageous terms by Newfoundland. Experiments have already been tried in this direction but have broken down, not, we are given to understand, because of any unsuitability in the quality or price of the Newfoundland products but because of the failure of Newfoundland exporters to observe a strict accuracy of measurement. This deficiency is due, in part, to carelessness and, in part, to the lack of adequate machinery; but it can be overcome without serious difficulty and there seems good reason to expect that, once the need for strict measurement is appreciated, Newfoundland would be able to capture a portion of the trade with the United Kingdom which is at present diverted elsewhere.

  430. It will be seen that, apart from the coastal fringe which is reserved for the use of the people, the forest areas in the Island, remaining at the disposal of the Newfoundland Government, are negligible. If all the forest areas of the Island, inclusive of the coastal fringe but exclusive of the areas owned or leased by the two Paper Companies, be added together, the total amounts to about 10,000 square miles, of which nearly 8,000 square miles are in private hands--yielding a trifling revenue to the State.

4. THE COASTAL FRINGE.

  431. As has already been explained, all land within three miles of the coast is reserved for the use of the people. In most localities, the coastal fringe is well timbered, and the average fisherman is thus able to obtain in the neighbourhood of his home ample supplies of wood for use as fuel and for the building of houses, boats, fences, and fishing stages. In some cases, however, the combined effects of intensive and reckless cutting and of forest fires have depleted the timber supply, and in these localities fishermen are forced to seek their fuel at a considerable distance from their homes. This, in turn, has led to a practice whereby each fisherman keeps at least one dog to assist him in hauling his wood during the winter months; and the prevalence of dogs makes it impossible to keep sheep. In the places where sheep are still kept, the inhabitants spin the wool and make their own woollen garments: in some cases, therefore, the neglect of the forests has not only made it more difficult for individual fishermen to obtain their supplies of wood but has added to the cost of living by compelling them to buy clothing which otherwise would have been made in their own homes.

Logy Bay Logy Bay (5 miles from St. John's), n.d. Photo by Holloway. From the album of photographs furnished to the Newfoundland Royal Commission, August 1933. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Coll-207), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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  432. The cutting of wood without supervision leads to much waste and extravagance. Careless felling spoils the growth of other trees; "slash" (i.e., lopped branches, etc.) is not removed but is left to lie on the ground, and this in turn prevents the growth of young trees and is a great aid to forest fires. Another cause of the depletion of the fisherman's timber supply is the practice which has grown up of permitting the erection of sawmills on the three-mile limit under licence from the Government. These mills, while providing employment and assisting to meet the requirements of the local fishermen, derive their profits from the sale of wood to St. John's and other centres. The revenue obtained by the Government from the operation of the mills is very small, as the fees stipulated in the licence frequently remain unpaid; the supervision exercised by the Government has been allowed, as a result of political considerations, to become perfunctory and ineffective; and the inheritance of the people is being steadily impaired and wasted.

  433. In some cases too, the fishermen have been allowed during the last two years to cut pulp-wood on the three-mile limit for sale to the International Power and Paper Company of Newfoundland Limited at Corner Brook. Such permits have been granted by the Government in the hope of reducing expenditure on public relief. It may be that in these particular cases the action of the Government was fully justified; but, in view of the danger of depleting the timber supply of future generations, the principle is one that clearly cannot be commended for general adoption.

  434. A further development which has taken place of late years is the cutting of pit props for the mines in Wales in exchange, on a barter basis, for supplies of coal from Wales. Arrangements of this kind have been negotiated both by the Government direct with Welsh interests, and for private individuals with Government approval. If conducted on an economic basis, they are doubtless to be commended in that they provide much needed winter employment for men who would otherwise be idle and enable the country to obtain supplies of fuel which it could not otherwise afford to import. But it may be doubted whether under present conditions such schemes have served the best interests of the country. Cutting usually takes place on the three-mile limit, and the areas must, therefore, be carefully chosen if the resources of the fishermen are not to be impaired. This is not always done; there is no adequate supervision of the operations; waste and extravagance are commonly in evidence and the past mismanagement of such schemes is so notorious that the results of those now in operation can only be awaited with apprehension. We do not consider that any further schemes of this nature should be undertaken without expert advice as to the effect which they are likely to exercise on the resources of the country. It must be remembered that in Newfoundland the forests are complimentary to the fishery; without a cheap and constant supply of timber the fishery, the mainstay of the Island, cannot flourish. That the forest resources of the country, particularly those which are available to the fishermen, should be conserved, under a far-sighted and scientific policy is, therefore, essential to the future welfare of the Island. In order that such a policy may be elaborated we recommend that the Newfoundland Government should obtain the assistance of an experienced Forestry Officer, who might first conduct a survey of those areas, including the three-mile limit, which are not under the control of the two Paper Companies, and advise as to best methods of conserving the timber supply in those areas, of reorganising the fire control service and generally of recasting the administration of the forests on modern lines. It would later be desirable that such an officer should be given an opportunity of inspecting the forest areas under the control of the two Paper Companies and of assuring himself that conditions in such areas fulfil the requirements of modern forestry practice.

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