Forest Industries and the Environment

Newfoundland and Labrador's forests are a renewable resource, so long as they are harvested in a sustainable way. If loggers cut down more trees than can be replaced through natural growth or tree-planting, then forest resources will decrease and perhaps even disappear. This would result in tremendous economic loss, and in severe ecological damage. Forests provide habitat for wildlife, help remove dangerous greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, reduce soil erosion, and help sustain the environment in other ways. It is important that the forests are used responsibly.

Commercial forest industries in Newfoundland and Labrador must regularly harvest, transport, and process large quantities of wood. Each of these activities has the potential to damage forest ecosystems and the environment in general. In the woods, for example, large machines harvest trees with far greater speed and in greater quantities than loggers could ever do, even when they abandoned bucksaws for chainsaws. Mechanization gives paper companies and other industries greater access to timber, but it also interferes with forest ecosystems on a larger scale than ever before.

Anyone wishing to cut trees in Newfoundland and Labrador must comply with a variety of government regulations. These determine how much wood may be harvested annually, where loggers can work, and what methods they may use. Newsprint mills and other forest-based industries must also meet environmental standards set by the provincial and federal governments. Government-administered silviculture programs work towards maintaining the long-term health of existing forests.

Logging and the Environment

A common method of logging in the province and in Canada is clearcutting – the harvesting and removal of an entire stand of trees. Although efficient, clearcutting poses a variety of environmental problems. It can increase the harmful impact of wind and rain on local ecosystems; destroy the valuable wildlife habitat used by pine martins, caribou, and other animals; and cause soil to become dry and overheated, which may in turn increase the risk of fire or interfere with seedling growth. Logging operations can also alter the chemical and physical makeup of nearby bodies of water and affect the health of fish and other aquatic species.

Professional foresters and loggers argue that clearcutting mimics natural disturbances, such as forest fires and insect infestations, and is a sustainable way to harvest trees when managed properly. The removal of adult trees exposes seedlings to more sunlight and rainfall, which encourages growth. Forestry workers monitor clearcut areas and replant them with more trees if natural regrowth has not reached a satisfactory level within about six years. Regeneration of clearcut land in Newfoundland and Labrador does not appear to be a major problem because the province's cool, moist climate greatly encourages regrowth. The existence of bogs near many forested areas further assists in regeneration.

In 2000 and 2001, protestors objected to Krugers's plan to clearcut forest land surrounding Main River, near Gros Morne National Park. The site included a rare old-growth boreal forest that contained 250-year-old balsam firs and provided habitat for an assortment of wildlife, including the endangered pine martin. Many people believed that logging in the area would cause irreparable harm to the environment and the pine martin population. In response to the protests, the federal government designated Main River a Canadian Heritage River in 2002. Clearcutting was forbidden, but the province nevertheless gave Kruger permission to carry out scaled-down logging operations around the waterway.

In recent years, government regulations have placed limits on clearcutting. Loggers must now preserve no-cut wildlife corridors in clearcut zones, allowing animal species to travel from one forested area to another without having to cross treeless expanses. The 1990 Forestry Act forbids tree cutting inside environmental buffer zones around streams and ponds. Since the act was passed, clearcut areas have decreased in size.

Transporting and Processing Timber

Activities other than the actual harvesting of trees threaten the environment. Roads must be built so that machinery can reach the cutting site, and trucks can transport the timber back to the paper mill or other destinations. The soils converted into roads become compacted and rarely allow for new tree growth once logging operations have ended. In addition, forest roads give people easy access to previously remote areas. The result is increased disruption of forest ecosystems by human activities such as littering, hunting, and the release of vehicle exhaust fumes from ATVs , which themselves cause a significant amount of ecological damage.

Pulp and paper mills discharge waste water (effluent) into waterways which may expose aquatic life to harmful chemicals. Research in 1992 indicated the Corner Brook mill discharged effluent into the Humber Arm which contained wood fibres that smothered organisms living on the bottom. In 1996, Kruger admitted that it released harmful toxins into Humber Arm. The company paid $500,000 in fines and another $125,000 toward various community programs. It also built a secondary treatment plant to reduce solid wastes in its effluent.

Paper mills also emit greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Kruger has built air sampling stations near its Corner Brook mill to detect emissions that exceed provincial standards.

1990 Forestry Act

All users of Newfoundland and Labrador forests – whether they are large multinational corporations, small local companies, or private residents – must adhere to government regulations stipulating how, where, and in what quantities wood many be cut. Central to the province's forest management is the 1990 Forestry Act, which requires that all forest resources must be harvested in a sustainable manner.

The provincial government has divided the province into 24 management districts – 18 on the island and six in Labrador. The Forest Resources Branch issues an annual allowable cut (AAC) for each district, a quota which seeks to establish the maximum number of trees that can be harvested in a given year without depleting the resource. Officials must take into account a variety of factors when calculating AACs, including the age, abundance, and species of existing trees; their expected rates of growth; and the volume of trees that will likely be destroyed by fires, insect infestations, and other natural occurrences. Forest workers survey each district every five years to determine the existing wood supply and revise the AACs.

Newfoundland and Labrador's forests are an abundant and valuable natural resource. They cover 45 per cent of the island and 60 per cent of Labrador; they also contribute to our economy and our standard of living. If managed in a sustainable manner, they will continue to do so indefinitely.

Article by Jenny Higgins. ©2011, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site.

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