A bird in the hand
New Brunswick Green Party leader David Coon’s bill, “An Act to Return to the Crown Certain Rights Relating to Wood Supply and Forest Management,” went down in flames at its second reading in early June. The Tory opposition and the governing Liberals closed ranks to defeat this private member’s bill introduced by the lone Green MLA. In debate on the bill, Minister of Natural Resources Denis Landry said the 2014 Forestry Plan, announced in late winter last year by the prior PC government, was a big job creator, and Coon’s plan to scrap the 25-year forestry agreement would lead to many job losses.
However, just a couple weeks earlier, when asked at the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners annual meeting on May 14, the minister was not able to say exactly how many jobs had been created by the plan. “Schedule A” of the Memorandum of Agreement between J.D. Irving, Limited (JDI) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sets out in detail the amount of investment to be made by JDI and the estimated number of jobs to be created as a result. Although media reports and government press releases have referred to 500 permanent jobs and 1,200 construction jobs, that may have included other non-JDI projects such as the added shift at the Twin Rivers sawmill in Plaster Rock. The numbers in the agreement are somewhat less on the permanent side: 326 FTE (full-time equivalent) jobs, of which 178 would be direct and 148 indirect.
But what if there were no new jobs, other than during construction or due to another shift being added? When a sawmill or a pulp and paper mill is upgraded and modernized, there are usually fewer jobs as a result, not more. Capital investments in manufacturing or processing operations are intended to increase production, improve efficiency, and reduce labor costs by eliminating jobs. It would be no surprise to hear, after all the money is spent and some time has passed, that there are fewer jobs than before the plan went into effect. Of course, by that time it will be too late to change the agreement. There will be no going back.
According to Enterprise Saint John, all the activity taking place at the pulp and paper mill created 300 jobs in 2014, accounting for 18 percent of Greater Saint John’s employment growth that year. According to Statistics Canada, the province as a whole lost 2,800 jobs in May compared to April, but Saint John’s unemployment rate ticked down from 8.1 percent in April to 7.4 percent in May. After hearing these figures, Trevor Holder, PC MLA for Saint John Portland, said, “Thank God for the Forest Strategy.” Both Holder and Landry should stifle their urge to celebrate until all the numbers are in. It may not turn out to be the job bonanza they were hoping for.
IN THE IRVING WOODS
If you go for a walk in the spring woods with naturalist Jim Goltz, you won’t need your own wildflower or songbird guide. Not only does Jim have an encyclopedic knowledge of the trees, shrubs, and plants of the Maritimes (he knows the Latin name and all the common names of any plant encountered), he can also identify any songbird by sound, including all 23 of the warbler species that pass through or stay and raise a family in New Brunswick.
Goltz recently led a group of 30 on a woods walk through an Acadian forest area on the north side of the 933-meter Ayers Lake lookout. Ayers Lake is a beautiful body of water nestled in 800 hectares of old-growth forest about 10 minutes’ drive north of Millville. It is privately owned by J.D. Irving, Limited – one of more than 1,000 old-growth sites maintained within the company’s working forest.
Within minutes of entering the woods, the walkers heard an ovenbird, soon followed by four other warbler species. “That’s a Black-throated green warbler,” said one lady who seemed to know her birds. “Not so,” Jim gently corrected. “That was a Black-throated blue, but I do hear the ‘green’ over there.”
A Black-and-white warbler sounding added to the three already heard, and then the prize of the day, a Blackburnian warbler, flitted down from a Yellow birch in response to somebody’s bird call. The little orange-and-black bird retreated to the high canopy quickly once he realized the deception.
One of the young fellows who took part in the walk was Jesse Clark, the son of Hollis Clark, a former logger and writer from Springfield, N.B., who once wrote an ode to a big Yellow birch before he cut it. It was more like a lament and an apology to the tree. This spring’s four-cord firewood delivery to my house was unusual in that it was pure Yellow birch. That got me thinking about where the wood came from, so I went back up the road to ask the supplier about it. (For $280/cord, I figured he wouldn’t mind telling me.)
“That’s Crown wood off the AV Nackawic license,” he said. “Now that they’re making dissolving pulp instead of hardwood kraft pulp, they can’t use the birch, so they are happy to sell it to me.”
My supplier said most of his clients like Yellow birch, and at 27 million BTU/cord, I’m happy to get it, too. Besides, it seems to dry faster than maple or beech. The only niggling thought that eats at me about the firewood is whether it was harvested from one of those Acadian forest stands that are no longer being protected under the New Brunswick Forest Plan. If so, some of those little warblers singing in the Irving woods that May day will have one less wild stand to come home to.
My worries can be laid to rest, however. It turns out most of the wood in the pile came from a mixed-birch thinning done decades ago when birch’s short strands of fiber were coveted by the mill’s former owners, the Landeggers, for the fine finish they rendered to photographic paper.