A core group of dedicated individuals have invested countless hours in cultivating the opportunity for community forestry in Nova Scotia. Although the focus tends to be on the path forward, it is important to turn around and look back on what it took to get to where we are today.
Starting in the fall of 2010, a working group interested in establishing a demonstration forest in North Queens began meeting and developing a proposal for a block of Crown land adjacent to the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute. Originally the concept for an area of about 800 ha that could be used for research and education goals.
In the midsts of that discussion Nova Scotia experienced major disruption in the forestry sector. In late 2011, NewPage Port Hawkesbury filed for bankruptcy protection and put their pulp mill up for sale. Then in the early summer 2012, the old Bowater Mersey pulp mill was closed indefinitely. In a matter of months two of the three pulp mills in Nova Scotia were closed, and an industry built around them was teetering.
For most of the past sixty years Nova Scotia’s forestry industry was driven by pulp and paper. Supply chains were largely controlled by the significant wood flows needed by these mills and forest management practices were geared toward short rotation even aged forests suited to pulpwood production. With the closure of these two mills it became clear that this old forestry paradigm in this province was suddenly over and no one knew what the future might look like.
These large scale disruptions have created a lot of instability for much of rural Nova Scotia. It was also apparent that the history of forestry practices in Nova Scotia had raised significant environmental concerns and many felt that forest areas in the province had been badly degraded. The natural Acadian Forest composition had been substantially altered and its ecological diversity that could support a value added industry or invite new product development had been diminished. There were simultaneous challenges of needing to restore the forest and of finding new economic opportunities for our forest dependant communities. This created a strong call for alternative approaches to managing forest resources that could better support innovative new products industries, create direct community benefits, and be environmentally sustainable.
In this context, a large group of stakeholders and the general public joined what became known as the “Buy Back the Mersey” initiative. The “Buy Back the Mersey” campaign, ignited by a community meeting in Hubley, called on the government of Nova Scotia to purchase the 555,000 ha of Bowater freehold land, so that this area might be used to support a new future of ecological conservation and value added forest industry for the region. In partnership with many other organizations, staff from the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute and Milford House engaged their membership and the public through community meetings in August 2012 at the Caledonia Fire Hall and Milford Community Hall and at information booths at farmers’ markets in Bear River, Annapolis Royal, and Middleton. Hundreds of letters from the public supporting the acquisition of the lands and the concept of community forestry were sent to the Premier as part of this effort.
At the same time, a small group of individuals were working somewhat behind the scenes to make the case that community forestry represented a viable model for an alternative approach to forest management. Based on the core principles of direct community governance, management for multiple values, economic benefits staying in the local community, and strong environmental stewardship, the concept for Nova Scotia’s first community forest took shape.
In December 2012, the province announced the purchase of the old Bowater land and in so doing made a clear commitment to establish a community forest pilot. Following this announcement a Medway Community Forest Co-op proposal was developed and included community input from an opinion survey that was circulated to 3000 households in North Queens and South Annapolis, and another public community meeting held in January at the Caledonia Masonic Lodge.
In January, through the collaboration of the core team working on the Medway Community Forest Co-op and through input gathered in multiple public meetings, stakeholder meetings, mass media, and social media, an expression of interest was submitted (see the original here). By the summer of 2013, the Department of Natural Resources reviewed our more detailed proposal through a Request for Proposals process (see the RFP submission here).
In October of 2013, the Medway Community Forest Co-op was selected to be Nova Scotia’s first community forestry pilot with an allocation of 15,000 ha of Crown land. After years of dedication, we took a deep breath and began the real work in making community forestry a reality for our community.
Over the past year an interim Board of Directors has been formed and the Co-op has become a legally registered entity. A Crown land license agreement has been negotiated, our business plans refined, operational plans developed, governance structures built, all along with continued community engagement. The interim board has been working under a MOU (see it here) throughout this time, contributing incredible volunteer effort to get each of the needed pieces moving.
The existing MOU was extended by 4 months to accommodate delays in finalizing our Crown land agreement but after all these years of work it looks like we are actually there. Important to recognize all of the individuals who made this story possible to date, and we hope you will be part of the story from here forward.