Establishing Rules for Whole-Tree Harvesting in Nova Scotia — Discussion Paper

July 2013

Forestry Division, Department of Natural Resources

Introduction

Nova Scotia’s Natural Resources Strategy (The Path We Share) was released in August 2011. An action item from the Strategy states: “Establish the rules for whole-tree harvesting, and incorporate this into the Code of Forest Practice” (page 41). This initiative stems from public consultation carried out as part of Strategy development, as well as pre-Strategy policy stating: “Prohibit the removal of whole trees from the forest site in order to maintain woody debris at these sites, with the exception of Christmas tree harvesting” (NSDNR December 2010).

The 2010 policy statement and 2011 Strategy action reflect concerns over the loss of woody debris as part of forest harvest operations, which is related to maintenance of long-term productivity and wildlife habitat (biodiversity).

Final rules established for whole-tree harvesting will be incorporated into the Province’s Wildlife Habitat and Watercourses Protection Regulations. Consequently, as stated in Nova Scotia’s Forests Act (Section 40A),

  1. The Minister shall conduct a public review in each county of the Province of
    1. any new regulations; or
    2. any substantive amendments to the regulations, before they become law.
  2. The Minister shall cause a public report to be prepared containing recommendations with respect to the proposed regulations. (1998, c. 29, s. 9)

This Discussion Paper contains proposed recommendations and discussion with respect to whole-tree harvesting rules in Nova Scotia.

Current Whole-Tree Harvesting Activities and Assessment

The current extent of whole-tree harvesting in Nova Scotia is low, with 2012 volumes less than 4% of the total provincial harvest. Activities mainly involve four (4) harvesting contractors, two (2) trucking contractors, and 33 pieces of equipment.

Through the provincial forest ecosystem classification (FEC) system, and the nutrient budget model for Nova Scotia, the Department of Natural Resources now has the means to classify sites based on ecological conditions and to assess site-specific nutrient status based on scientific principles and best available information (including impacts of acid deposition).

Review Summary

No province in Canada has an outright ban on whole-tree harvesting; however, all provinces have management policies, standards, guidelines, and/or rules which would limit the potential scale and intensity of whole-tree harvesting activity. Four provinces (Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) have more explicit guidelines and/or restrictions with respect to whole-tree harvesting (or biomass harvesting) than other provinces.

Note: Through implementation of the province’s Natural Resources Strategy and related Code of Forest Practice, Nova Scotia would also have de facto limits on the potential scale and intensity of whole-tree harvesting, in addition to any specific whole-tree harvesting rules.

Research suggests whole-tree harvesting is detrimental to short- and/or long-term productivity on many (but not all) forest sites. However, removal of whole trees in a commercial thinning or partial cut scenario can have minimal impact if the treatment is not repeated continuously.

Proposed Action

Recommendations below make use of the following definitions:
Whole-tree harvesting - a forest harvesting operation that removes the entire tree, including stem, branches, stump and roots, out to a landing or roadside.

Full-tree harvesting - a forest harvesting operation that removes the entire tree, including stem and branches, but excluding the stump and roots, out to a landing or roadside.

Based on a review of other Provincial policies and current literature, preliminary nutrient budget model analyses, and compatibility with other Natural Resources Strategy initiatives, the following regulatory amendments are proposed:
• No forestry operator is permitted to engage in whole-tree harvesting for any harvest in Nova Scotia.
• No forestry operator is permitted to engage in full-tree harvesting for any harvest in Nova Scotia.

Appendix A.

Whole-Tree Harvesting Policies Across Canada

Below is a summary of whole-tree harvesting policies in other Canadian provinces.

British Columbia: There are no blanket restrictions on whole-tree harvesting in British Columbia and whole-tree harvesting is a common harvest method in the BC interior (Waito and Johnson, 2010). There are; however, residual stand structure, soil conservation, and coarse woody debris regulations contained in the Forest Planning and Practices Regulations (Forest and Range Practices Act) that must be adhered to (British Columbia, 2004). These regulations directly impact the potential scale and intensity of whole-tree harvesting activities in the province.

Alberta: There are no blanket restrictions on whole-tree harvesting in Alberta. There are; however, slash management, residual stand structure, understory protection, and soil disturbance ground rules (regulations) contained in the Alberta Timber Harvest Planning and Operating Ground Rules Framework for Renewal (AESRD, 2012) that must be adhered to. These regulations, along with company-specific VOITs (Values, Objectives, Indicators, and Targets) directly impact the potential scale and intensity of whole-tree harvesting activities in the province.

Saskatchewan: There are no blanket restrictions on whole-tree harvesting in Saskatchewan. There are; however, sustainable forest management objectives and standards outlined in the Province’s Forest Management Planning Document (Sask Env, 2007) that companies/managers must adhere to when developing area-specific forest management plans. Standards related to slash management, residual stand structure, understory protection, soil conservation, and emulation of natural disturbance regime directly impact the potential scale and intensity of whole-tree harvesting activities in the province.

Manitoba: There is no absolute restriction on whole-tree harvesting in Manitoba, but detailed guidelines on slash management contained in the Province’s Brush Disposal Guidebook (MCWS, 2012) come close to an effective ban. Processing at the stump is the legislated norm and companies wanting to deviate from this to meet other silvicultural objectives must get approval to do so. This requirement severely limits the potential scale and intensity of whole-tree harvesting activities in the province.

Ontario: There are no blanket restrictions on whole-tree harvesting in Ontario. There are; however, sustainable forest management objectives and standards outlined in the Province’s Crown Forest Sustainability Act (Ontario, 1994), Forest Management Planning Manual (OMNR, 2009), and related silviculture guides that companies/managers must adhere to when developing area-specific forest management plans. Standards related to biodiversity management, residual stand structure, soil conservation, and emulation of natural disturbance regime directly impact the potential scale and intensity of whole-tree harvesting activities in the province.

Quebec: There are no blanket restrictions on whole-tree harvesting in Quebec. There are; however, sustainable forest management objectives and standards outlined in the Province’s Forest Resource Protection and Development Objectives (QMRNFP, 2005) that directly impact the potential scale and intensity of whole-tree harvesting activity. In addition, where biomass harvesting (i.e., whole-tree harvesting) is permitted, there must be 30%-50% biomass left on site for productivity maintenance (QMRNF, 2009).

New Brunswick: As with other provinces, New Brunswick has sustainable forest management objectives and standards outlined in provincial policies and legislation (e.g., Forest Management Manual for New Brunswick Crown Land [NBDNR, 2004]; Objectives and Standards for the New Brunswick Crown Forest [NBDNR, 2005]; Biodiversity Strategy [NBDNR, 2009]). However, New Brunswick also has a specific biomass (i.e., whole-tree harvesting) harvesting policy which identifies crown land areas approved for biomass harvesting (Forest Biomass Harvesting [NBDNR, 2008]). This policy is based, in part, on use of a decision support tool developed by Dr. Paul Arp at UNB. whole-tree harvesting is not allowed on sites which have not been assessed using the decision support tool and/or which do not pass assessment criteria.

Prince Edward Island: There is a partial ban on whole-tree harvesting in PEI as outlined in the Province’s Ecosystem Based Forest Management Standards Manual (PEIEEF, 2009-2010). Only bole removal is allowed with clearcut harvesting, with slash to be distributed across the site. However, for commercial thinning and non-clearcut harvests, whole-tree harvesting is permitted (not including stumps). This applies to all crown land as well as private land receiving public funds (i.e., management subsidies).

Newfoundland/Labrador: There are no blanket restrictions on whole-tree harvesting in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are; however, sustainable forest management goals, indicators, and actions outlined in the Province’s Sustainable Forest Management Strategy (NLDFRA, 2003) that directly impact the potential scale and intensity of whole-tree harvesting activity. This document includes the specific indicator: “Proportion of area harvested using full-tree logging technology” under the goal: “Maintain long-term pools of soil nutrients.”

Current Literature

Below is a summary of potential whole-tree harvesting impacts based on recent papers from Canada, the northeast US, and Sweden/Finland. Many of these papers offer reviews of current knowledge and/or management practices related to whole-tree harvesting. Papers were selected with direct applicability to Nova Scotia.

• The potential impacts of whole-tree harvesting on site productivity are variable and site-specific (McLaughlin and Phillips, 2006; Evans and Perschel, 2009; Thiffault et al., 2010; Thiffault et al., 2011; Brandtberg and Olsson, 2012).

• Based on several field research and modelling studies, whole-tree harvesting is considered detrimental to short- and/or long-term productivity on many (but not all) forest sites (McLaughlin and Phillips, 2006; Akselsson et al., 2007; Thiffault et al., 2010; Thiffault et al., 2011).

• The impact of whole-tree harvesting as part of thinning or non-clearcut harvesting regimes is generally less than that of whole-tree harvesting with clearcutting, and may be minimal in some cases (Rosenberg and Jacobson, 2004; Wall, 2012).

• Acid deposition has a significant impact on forest nutrition in eastern North America, especially with respect to calcium (Huntington, 2005; Fenn et al., 2006; Carou et al., 2008; Farve and Napper, 2009).

• Negative soil impacts from whole-tree harvesting can also be related to ground disturbance not mitigated by the use of slash mats (Han et al., 2009; LaBelle and Jaeger, 2012).

• Compensation fertilization is recognized as a necessary requirement where whole-tree harvesting is part of long-term management (Akselsson et al., 2007; Levin and Eriksson, 2010).

• The potential impacts of whole-tree harvesting on biodiversity are related to, but also separate from, impacts related to nutrient sustainability (Berch et al., 2011).