Antoni's Wire Service

Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 22:00:09 -0300 (ADT)
From: Antoni Wysocki <>
To: Antoni's Wire Service
Subject: Halifax Clearcutting Forum

Under the banner of 'Focus on Clearcutting', a public examination of Nova Scotian forestry practices took place in Halifax on Wednesday, May 10, 2000. The full-day forum consisted of four sessions - 'Clearcut economics', 'Clearcutting exposed: a visual tour', 'Beyond clearcutting: revaluing our forests', and 'Is it time to stop clearcutting in Nova Scotia?' - for a total of two dozen presentations. Regrettably, I was only able to attend the fourth session (though fortunately this final segment acted as something of a round-up for the day).

Each of the six 'Time to stop clearcutting?' panellists were alloted 12 minutes to sketch their views on the topic. No provision was made for direct discussion between the presenters but a susbsequent question period gave moderate scope for this, at the same time affording some degree of audience participation. Before any of this could happen, however, a member of the organizing committee delivered fairly extensive prefatory remarks.

Much of this opening speech (from Kermit deGooyer of the Ecology Action Centre) was in the way of expressing appreciation to those who made the event possible - presenters, sponsors, volunteers, etc. Given special note in the list was Canada Trust, for provided funding. DeGooyer saluted CanTrust for associating itself with a somewhat controversial undertaking, rather than playing it safe and supporting unobjectionable but unispired activities such as anti-littering campaigns.

Coupled with a PowerPoint display which prominently showcased the Microsoft logo on the wall behind the panellists, this encomium left me very ill at ease. How, I wondered, do we plan to move against clearcutting if we render ourselves dependent on the selfsame corporate order that is stripping the planet? Alternatively, I mused, did the larger part of the organizing committee hold the naive belief that - in the absence of structural retrenchment sharply circumscribing the power of commercial enterprises - personal choice on the part of "consumers" could bring about lasting and effective environmental change?

In the course of his introduction, deGooyer stressed that the "one-sided" appearance of the conference line-up was not by design on the part of the organizers. Indeed, deGooyer attested, extensive efforts were made to involve both industry and government - but these entreaties were rebuffed (with one exception: the staff person for the Health Canada/Environment Canada Community Animation Program made a presentation during the third session of the day). DeGooyer noted, with a very matter of fact air, that the large forestry enterprises had indicated that they were in principle interested in talking about clearcutting, but not where they would be exposed to the expression of concerns from environmentalists.

Following Kermit deGooyer's speech there was little delay in getting to Ron Colman, the first panellist. Colman - for 20 years a professor of political science, and for five a researcher and speechwriter at the United Nations - is best known locally as the director of GPI Atlantic. This project is an attempt to create a "Genuine Progress Index" - a measure of economic wellbeing which incorporates a wide range of valuable social and environmental considerations ignored in the calculation of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), our standard yardstick at present.

Colman began his address by noting that he had already made a presentation earlier in the day in which (as those familiar with his work would expect) he had condemned clearcutting. Therefore, he continued tongue-in-cheek, he had concluded that his task for the evening was to present the case _for_ clearcutting.

Accordingly, Colman proceeded to argue that, given the way Nova Scotia currently keeps its accounts, clearcutting makes perfect sense. If, as at present, increases in the GDP are considered the bellwether of a healthy economy, whatever makes the most money go round is what's best for Nova Scotia. Clearcutting does an admirable job of this. It is the most efficient means yet designed for harvesting trees - and the more trees that can be cut down, the more can be sold.

Where reliance on GDP as a lodestone is complete, there are theoretically no limits to how much forest is levelled in the pursuit of profit; even to the point of eradicating trees altogether. GDP takes no account of the essential services provided by a standing forest (such as production of the oxygen we breathe) because no transfer of money - the only sign that GDP can interpret - is involved. Yet, as Colman pointed out, to record as gain the destruction of the basis of one's industry - in this case, trees - is similar to a factory owner recording as pure profit the proceeds from the sale of his manufacturing equipment.

Apologists for GDP answer these criticisms by arguing that there are different kinds of capital, which they claim are by and large fungible. For instance, trees or "natural" capital, in being harvested and sold, are converted into money ("financial" capital), a portion of which, if need be, can be invested in technology ("technological" capital) designed to replace the original natural capital (perhaps by outfitting us all with SCUBA gear).

Unlike the right-wing fanatics at the Fraser Institute (who have advanced propositions frightfully close to that given above), the Nova Scotia government is not quite so far gone as to be completely sanguine about the prospect of progressively wiping out the province's forests. To guard against such an eventuality, civil service ledgers carefully record two types of data: how many trees are lost in a given year (through logging, fire, etc.), and how many are gained (through natural regeneration and silviculture). As long as the second item at least keeps pace with the first, Colman explained, our harvesting activity is deemed sustainable under the present regime.

As it turns out, column no.2 is said to be running ahead of no.1 at this time. In fact, Colman reported, so many new trees are judged to be springing up in Nova Scotia that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) thinks that we can comfortably _increase_ our harvesting rate.

Having outlined the standard rationale for clearcutting Colman became himself again and moved on to show that an essential premise of the argument is false. Central to the pro-clearcutting position is the idea that "a tree is a tree is a tree", so that we need only ensure that new growth is equal to or greater than the volume of wood cut down in order to guarantee an endless supply. However, as Colman demonstrated, this view fails to take account of the qualitative changes which clearcutting brings about.

To begin with, clearcutting tends to beget youthful forests. In Nova Scotia, during the period in which clearcutting went from playing a supporting role to taking over the show (in the '50s less than half of our timber harvest was clearcut; today, 99% is), older trees were virtually eliminated from the province. In 1958, Colman related, about one quarter of Nova Scotia's trees were at least 80 years old; by 1998, their numbers had dropped below 2%. Yet, younger trees do not necessarily offer benefits of the same kind or degree that older ones do; pine, e.g., must attain a certain age before it is suitable for use in furniture construction (in which capacity it commands a significantly higher price than does pulp).

Additionally, clearcutting unevenly promotes the growth of certain species (varieties which require shade, e.g., are obviously at a great disadvantage in the wake of clearcutting). Amongst other effects this has led to a pronounced increase in the softwood component of our forests. Yet, Colman reported, studies in New Brunswick have shown that a mixture of deciduous and coniferous species should be preferred. Where hardwoods and conifers grew in close proximity, defoliation rates from the spruce budworm averaged less than 15%; where stands consisted of evergreens only, defoliation rates were consistently above 70%.

Next after Ron Colman was Kevin Deveaux, a lawyer and a Member of the Legislative Assembly. Deveaux is currently running for the leadership of Nova Scotia's New Democrats.

Kermit deGooyer had earlier explained that the other parties in the Legislature, the Liberals and the NDP, had been invited to participate in lieu of the absent government representatives. While I thought it entirely in order that the forum's organizers should extend the opportunity to all politicians, as public servants, to come and educate themselves about the issues, I found questionable the decision to extend them space for presentations.

The government, in both its legislative and executive arms, ought indeed to be held to account for its actions with regard to forestry or aught else. However, the Opposition can neither answer for the government nor give verifiable indications of what their own parties would do once in power. Accordingly, granting the Liberals and the NDP the chance to speak under these circumstances does little but provide them with an opportunity to make free political hay. To boot, the procedure was discriminatory as groups without seats in the Legislative Assembly were not given the same privilege.

To his credit, Deveaux seemed somewhat sensible of the peculiarity of his role. He began by explaining that, by his reading, the organizers had invited him to shed some light, as an insider (in the Legislature, if not the government), on the political dimensions of clearcutting in Nova Scotia.

Deveaux posited that succesive Grit and Tory administrations have been reluctant to come to grips with concerns about forestry practices because of the unusual composition of land ownership in Nova Scotia. Atypically for Canada, most land in the province (and this holds true for woodlots as well) is privately owned, the greater part of which is divided into small parcels held by individuals.

Many of these smallholders, Deveaux explained, view their woodlots as a kind of nest egg, or hedge against financial hardship. Often, in the regular course of life, these people (many of them absentee landowners) take little active interest in their holdings. Should a contractor come along and offer to clearcut the land - leaving the owners in possession of their plot while paying them well for their wood and without the owners themselves having to lift a finger - it cannot be surprising that many assent to the arrangement. Hence, if the government moves to legislate limits to clearcutting a sizeable number of voters would be directly affected, and might not like it very much.

In support of this contention Deveaux quoted from two DNR personnel - one being the Minister for Natural Resources himself, Ernie Fage. In a letter to the NDP caucus, Fage indicated that DNR had chosen not to participate in the conference for two reasons. First, staff were too busy discharging other duties (possibly true in light of the crippling spending cuts made by Fage`s boss, Premier John Hamm). Second, though, Fage noted that the majority of Nova Scotia's woods were held privately and stated that it was the Department's view that choice of cutting method on these holdings ought to be at the discretion of the owners.

Deveaux also read from the industry journal Atlantic Forestry Review. In the May, 2000 issue DNR's Executive Director for Forest Practices was cited as saying that his Department: "...will not tolerate any landowner being forced to do anything that he did not wish to have done on his property."

Given, on the one hand, the obvious political sensitivity of the situation (which has made the status quo attractive to government), and on the other, the environmental imperatives which make it clear that the present forestry regime is unsustainable, Deveaux proposed a two-pronged approach to the situation, combining what he termed "honey" and "vinegar". The honey would come in the form of tax incentives which would favor selective harvesting over clearcutting; the vinegar would be prohibitions on the export of raw lumber, which Deveaux identified as a principal impetus for the high rate of cut in Nova Scotia.

Minga O'Brien was the next speaker. O'Brien is a biologist and a forest ecologist. She has worked for SmartWood as a certifier of Forest Stewardship Council protocols and is presently with the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, a non-profit organization which attempts to conserve private lands in the province.

In her talk O'Brien expanded upon Ron Colman's idea that clearcutting can produce important qualitative changes in a forest, so that attending only to quantitative aspects (i.e. the number of trees) is insufficient. To exemplify this O'Brien reported on a study conducted at Hubbards Brook, New Hampshire, the results of which were published in 1979.

Hubbards Brook was a bosky and virtually pristine area at the commencement of the study. After some years of scientific examination the environs were clearcut, then replanted and sprayed with herbicides (as is customary in industrial logging operations). The researchers continued to monitor the area for some time thereafter.

O'Brien had prefaced her discussion by labelling ecology "the science of the obvious", meaning that rigorous investigation only tends to confirm what our intuition tells us about these matters. Hubbards Brook bears this out. As was to be expected, the researchers observed profound and disastrous environmental effects during the period of their study. Whereas, in its unmolested state, Hubbard Brook had been a vibrant and self-sufficient system, after the logging operation it was emphatically degraded.

Amongst the numerous changes noted were detrition of the soil, damage to the watercourses (through avulsion and siltation), and loss of biota. Many of these effects were inter-related and mutually reinforcing. To illustrate: the removal of large trees, with their extensive root networks, left the soil vulnerable to erosion. Meanwhile - without the braking effect which the tree canopy had provided - more precipitation struck the newly vulnerable earth at a greater velocity, gouging out minute pellets of dirt and causing even more soil to be carried off than would otherwise have been the case. In turn, the telluric degradation resulted in less topsoil being available to anchor new growth. That which did remain showed a waning capacity to hold nutrients and moisture, further decreasing the survival prospects of young plants. With the consequent net loss of flora, it was only to be expected that the cycle would be perpetuated.

The clearcutting of Hubbard Brook also devestated the habitat of a whole range of animals, O'Brien added. Those affected naturally included birds - which were deprived of safe spaces to nest - but also earthbound animals, amphibians and fish. Land animals as diverse as squirrels and bears use hollowed out trees for hibernation - but no wood of significant size was left at the site; amphibians and fish alike were unable to cope with the massive temperature fluctuations and net gain of heat that resulted from the loss of shade and water storage that had been provided by the forest. Siltation of the water courses caused further harm to the fish population.

Having detailed the "collateral damage" attendant on clearcutting, O'Brien concluded her presentation by noting that, not so long ago, even those working within the forest industry recognized the destructive nature of the technique. O'Brien quoted Ralph Johnson (from 1928-65 Chief Forester for Bowater, one of the larger pulp and paper concerns in Nova Scotia) as being of the opinion that clearcutting was contra-indicated in all but a select number of circumstances. O`Brien noted that Johnson also condemned the practice of harvesting trees before they reached maturity - a practice which (as reported by Ronn Colman) is alive - and doing great harm - today.

As Kermit deGooyer had intimated in his introduction, it took a sturdy soul to stand up in front of the `Focus on Clearcutting` crowd and defend clearcutting. Nevertheless, Peter Duinker, who spoke after Minga O'Brien, did not shrink from the task.

Duinker, Director of Dalhousie University's School for Resource and Environmental Studies, wisely sought to woo the audience with humour before making his views known. Indicating his bald pate, he made bold to claim that he knew something about clearcutting at firsthand: having detected an "uncontrolled natural thin" progressing across his scalp, he had decided that a clearcut was preferable (I chose similarly in a like situation, as those who have seen your humble reporter know). Lest jocularity prove insufficient, Duinker further sought to passivate the crowd by dissecting the term "clearcutting" - an endeavour which, by his own admission, was somewhat soporific in its effect.

Having taken these steps to tame the audience Duinker at length addressed the evening's topic directly. "Is it time to stop clearcutting in Nova Scotia?" he queried. In all likelihood, he postulated, this time would never come; and definitely not, at a minimum, until certain conditions come to pass.

As it happens, two of the requirements he had in mind had already been adverted to by Kevin Deveaux: the apparent antipathy of woodlot owners towards regulation of harvesting and the perceived financial hardship entailed in swearing off clearcutting (the latter obviously influencing the former). However, while Deveaux was relatively optimistic about the possibility of bringing landowners on side, Duinker dismissed this notion as unrealistic for the foreseeable future.

Referring to his earlier descriptive remarks about clearcutting, Duinker further argued that the method - especially in its so-called "messy" form - was actually an appropriate one, given the present composition of our forests. Duinker conceded that clearcutting would not have been an optimal strategy in the Acadian forest that existed in a virgin state prior to European incursions but maintained that, in their present condition, our woods lend themselves to clearcutting given that the species which now predominate grow back best under conditions of full exposure. He noted, however, that an increase in messy clearcutting (where more biomass - branches, e.g. - are left at the site, so that there is less loss of nutrient content) would be an improvement on the status quo.

Duinker also stated that the impact of climate change ought to be be given due consideration in the clearcutting debate. If Nova Scotia comes to be severely affected by global warming, said Duinker, it might behoove us to become "more aggressive" in our harvesting.

Regrettably, Duinker did not elaborate on this thesis, so one can only guess at his rationale. My own assumption was that he had in mind the susceptibility to natural disaster (fire, insect invasion, etc.) of the degraded forest now common in Nova Scotia. It is now certain that conditions will worsen over the course of the 21st century and Duinker`s idea, I would presume, is that we might as well cut the maximum number of trees ourselves, and use the wood - because otherwise gales or pests or whatnot will do the job anyway, but without benefit to us.

In rounding out his address, Duinker made a plea to examine clearcutting in historical perspective. As instantiated today, Duinker argued, clearcutting is a less destructive practice than was the single tree felling of valuable specimens ("highgrading") of yesteryear. Then, too, he suggested, clearcutting in itself is relatively benign if trees are allowed to grow back. What has been truly devestating, on Duinker's view, is the permanent conversion of former woodlands to settlement, agricultural purposes, and so on.

Wade Prest followed Duinker. As matters turned out, Prest was the penultimate speaker; but there was some confusion on this point due to Elizabeth May's tardy arrival and Prest went to the podium believing himself to be the final presenter of the evening. In consequence, Prest altered his planned speech in an attempt to sum up key insights of the symposium with a minimum of duplication.

All of the night's presenters were creditable, and in particular I found Peter Duinker's manner quite genial and engaging; but in terms of delivery my favorite speaker was definitely Wade Prest. A scion of an old Nova Scotian sawmilling family, he studied forestry and biology at university and now practices sustainable logging on his own land. Prest is someone who is manifestly well-versed in both the theoretical and the practical aspects of forestry. On my view, Prest's unhurried, folksy way of dealing with some fairly technical material deserves special notice.

The first theme which Prest dealt with was the provincial government's revisionist stance regarding the state of our forests and the related question of how much wood can reasonably be cut in a given year. In 1981, Prest stated, the Department of Lands and Forests (later integrated into DNR) judged that if the several millions of dollars spent yearly on silviculture in Nova Scotia were doubled, the allowable cut could be raised to 4,500,000 cubic metres by 2000. In 1999, Prest noted, 6.3 million cubic metres were harvested - despite the fact that monies used for silviculture had stayed constant or even diminished from their '81 levels.

This apparent incongruity is explained by the remarkable recent discovery, by the Department of Natural Resources, that Nova Scotia has 30% more wooded land than previously thought, and that our forests are 17% more productive (i.e. trees are growing back that much faster) than earlier estimates had assumed. Given these new data, it is agreed that there is a moderate amount of overcutting occuring in the province, but more silviculture, DNR avers, will easily compensate for the excess harvesting.

It is true that generating an accurate count of trees is a notoriously difficult business in an area of any size; obviously it is not feasible to traverse Nova Scotia totting them up one by one, and no other failsafe - but less tedious - method has been devised. While skeptics might find it suspicious that inventory projections should be radically ratchetted upwards just when critics are raising concerns about the sustainability of our harvesting practices, it is not easy to put the lie to the revised estimates of the province's tree population. Tacitly acknowledging this, Prest's body language unmistakably conveyed his doubts about the new, higher total, but he did not directly challenge the contention.

He did, however, take issue with the 17% claim. Referring back to Minga O'Brien's presentation, Prest discussed the degradation of forests attendant on clearcutting. DNR's productivity estimates, Prest indicated, were based on studies of stands which had been clearcut twice or three times - but this is chicanery. Forest ecosystems are progressively weakened by succesive rounds of clearcutting (through mechanisms outlined by Minga O'Brien), and even without this the damage may worsen over time as the incapacitated system loses ever more essential elements (water, minerals, etc.) So even if DNR's model was a correct reflection of say, second or third growth, it is an appropriate guide to later forest generations; and indeed, Prest stated, ultimately woods which have been subject to multiple clearcuts which have productivity approaching zero.

Although he protested that he didn't have the time to talk about his "woodlot owner stuff", in truth Prest's presentation was preceptibly informed by his experience as a forester on his own land. Prest made an appeal to consider the human dimension of the forest industry: 13,000 Nova Scotians work in the sector, he said, and it will not do to throw them out of work even in the name of ecology. Happily, though, there is no reason to suppose that employment and environmentalism are mutually incompatible, according to Prest.

Prest spoke of the positive effect on global carbon budgets that logging can have. He suggested that by cutting down trees - at the proper age, he cautioned; not in an immature state, as is common practice today - and using the wood for constructing shelter, furniture, musical instruments and assorted other artifacts, carbon is kept sequestered in the timber while land is made available for new trees to grow up and absorb yet more greenhouse gases. We should modify our techniques, Prest stressed - notably by dispensing with clearcutting - but we should not give up on forestry.

As indicated above, Elizabeth May was the last speaker of the evening. May is known nationally as the Director of the Sierra Club of Canada; she is also an author and a lawyer. She has been an environmental activist for more than 20 years, first becoming involved through her opposition to aerial spraying of insecticides in Cape Breton.

After a few prefatory remarks, May picked up where Wade Prest had left off in a discussion of the Nova Scotia government's creative accounting techniques. Where Prest had argued that DNR assumptions about forest productivity were flawed because they ignored the damage inflicted on woodland ecosystems by clearcutting, May challenged DNR directly by stating that the Department's modelling was pure obfuscation. Third party audits had consistently found that silviculture targets were not being met, she revealed. Yet, despite the knowledge that the silviculture which was supposed to have generated sufficient new growth to compensate for over-cutting had never materialized, DNR extrapolated its figures exactly as if the work had been done.

May also provided a couple of intriguing quotations. One, from a 1958 Department of Lands and Forests publication (the same document used by Ron Colman to identify the age of Nova Scotian trees in that year), showed the Department taking a very dim view of clearcutting. This changed the following twelve-month when Stora opened its massive pulp and paper plant in Port Hawkesbury, shifting the primary demand in the province from high quality/large diameter timber to low grade wood where size was of little moment.

The second chestnut came from a manifesto produced by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. Reminding us that Peter Duinker had indicated that clearcutting was defined in a number of different ways, May suggested that he had overlooked the most extraordinary of all - to wit, that elaborated by said Council.

According to this august body, clearcutting is to be understood as a method of regenerating trees. This assertion moved May to conjure the spectacle of the noble clearcutters who go to the trouble of hewing exhaustively, then remove every last stick from a site - not with any mercenary thought of selling the wood - but only to create the "fully exposed environment" neccesary to the promotion of certain plants...

May wrapped up her presentation with a strategic suggestion for environmental activists. Never mind clearcutting for the moment, she advised - concentrate for now on a campaign against feller-bunchers.

First of all, she explained, feller-bunchers - the primary piece of heavy equipment currently used for industrial logging - cause specific types of damage over and above that entailed in clearcutting generally. For one, they are so massive that they cause soil compaction; this promotes run-off which leaves ecosystems vulnerable to drought while at the same time increasing the risk of flooding. Then, too, extensive road networks must be created to allow the machines to be brought to site. This leads to further telluric degradation, as well as opening up former wilderness areas to other types of exploitation, be it snow-mobiles or settlement.

Moreover, May noted, a primary economic impetus driving clearcutting is the huge debt load taken on by logging contractors in the act of purchasing the obscenely expensive feller-bunchers. Saddled with such a burden, the contractors are compelled to keep their machines working around the clock in order to meet their debt service obligations; under these circumstances, clearcutting is the only viable option. In consideration of this, May proposed lobbying government to buy back the feller-bunchers, thus removing the pressure to harvest at breakneck speed. Once this was accomplished, she concluded, a fitting resting place for them would be in a Museum of Inappropriate Technology alonside the draggers which have devestated the fisheries.

The evening had gotten off to a bit of a tardy start anyway, and as Kermit deGooyer`s introduction proved to be of some length and most of the presenters ended up overstepping the time allotment, the question period had necessarily to be reduced. As it turned out, intervention from the floor was further limited by the tendency of audience members who did make it to the microphone to hold forth without apparent thought for others who might wish to speak.

I suspect that at this stage almost everyone was feeling somewhat taxed, due to the lateness of the hour and the strain of attending to the session's half dozen presentations. As a result, many people were doing an indifferent job of listening; which was unfortunate because it meant that the panel's prepared remarks could not be properly augmented through supplementary discussion.

A notable example was a challenge directed at Peter Duinker: how, he was asked, could he assert that the damage wrought by forest fires and by clearcutting was comparable? Duinker calmly responded by reminding his interrogator that he had made no such suggestion in the course of the evening, adding that he fully agreed that the two phenomena were dissimilar in all essential respects. I suspect what may have happened is that the questioner (who I understand was aware in advance of Duinker's pro-clearcutting sentiments) may not have listened closely to Duinker's presentation. No doubt used to hearing this equation made by clearcutting apologists as a matter of course, he likely took it for granted that the Resource School Director would trot out this line.

Panellists were responsible for some miscues as well. When her fellow guests seemed disinclined to respond to a pair of cogent queries from an audience member, Elizabeth May spoke up. Unfortunately, she became so absorbed in a single aspect of the woman's inquiry that neither actual question ["In the main, do corporations or individuals own the feller-bunchers?" and, "What role do international trade agreements play in Nova Scotian forestry?"] received a satisfactory answer.

Then, amidst a disquisition by another member of the audience, Ron Colman interjected with a non sequitur. To be sure, Colman's expostulation was wellfounded (he was expressing his outrage at the government boycott of the forum), and the speaker was rather more prolix than the occasion demanded. Perhaps stronger action on the part of the chair was indicated, but she had been called in at extremely short notice (the slated moderator having cancelled on the very eve of the conference) and may, quite understandably, have been slightly unsure of her office.

Lest it seem that I have nothing but criticism for the question period, I should note that good ideas were put forward here, too. The man whose soliloquy was interrupted by Ron Colman argued effectively against Peter Duinker's conclusion that it was not politically feasible to regulate tree harvesting on private property.

As related above, Duinker had argued that woodlot owners would not put up with being told what to do on their own land. Yet, the man observed, along with all their fellow citizens these same people must obtain permits for any number of activities on their private property (building a shed, digging a well, etc.); why should they suddenly revolt on this one point?

Another man made the extremely important observation that government (whatever our high school civics courses taught) does not unproblematically reflect the will of the people, whether with regard to conservation or any other matter. Indeed, more often than not "our" elected officials are concerned only with what industry wants.

We are setting ourselves up for failure, the man averred, if we approach issues with the belief that we need only inform politicians of our preferences, and they will make it so. Rather, we must understand that our supposed representatives will frequently form the first wave of the opposition against citizen action.

Typically it takes some time to digest such extensive information as was put forward at the `Focus` forum. A fortnight on, it strikes me that a certain re-direction might be appropriate in future meetings of this sort.

One aspect of the conference which I found disquieting was the rough treatment meted out to Peter Duinker by certain members of the audience during the question period. It struck me that this was neither constructive nor called for.

Now, as related earlier, I was vexed by Kermit deGooyer's expression of support for Canada Trust, which was coupled with what I found to be an overly sympathetic allusion to the decision by industry to stay away (for fear of encountering the reaction Duinker was met with). On the face of it, these complaints may seem inconsistent. The difference is that, first, corporations are not people - the odious legal fiction of corporate "persons" notwithstanding - and they ought not to be treated as if they were. More specifically, Duinker deserved the respect and consideration which is the due of any person; Canada Trust, an artificial and (in common with all modern corporations) baleful construct, did not.

Second, forestry companies and the state are the actors responsible for what is now happening in our woods - and by all rights they should answer for their actions. It is possible, I suppose, that Duinker attended the forum as a stalking horse for these two groups; but if anyone at the conference had evidence of this they failed to bring it forward. This being the case, Duinker was entitled to present his views without having his character impugned, and without being attacked because he has ideas that square with those held by the true culprits.

An unfortunate effect of all this was that Duinker`s ideas were not as well analyzed as they might have been. In particular, I would have liked to have heard more of his thoughts on climate change. While I question whether anyone would have been converted to the view that clearcutting is a sensible response to global warming, I definitely feel that the theme needs to be dealt with.

Duinker, if I understood him aright, represents a kind of realpolitik position. He recognizes that Nova Scotia`s forests have been badly mauled for centuries and that to restore them to health (if it is still possible) is a project that will take generations of humans. Given the domination of neoliberal politics and the rapidity with which climate change is coming upon us, what is the sanest strategy for those with an interest in forest issues? At the end of the day, perhaps the answer is still that we should mobilize all our efforts against clearcutting; but I would find it comforting to hear more talk that suggests that environmentalists are fully cognizant of these factors.

The 'Focus on Clearcutting' forum - even in the single session that I attended - provided a wealth of information. Additionally, it has stirred up considerable attention to this topic in the wider community (the conference itself made CBC Radio's national news and the local CBC has suddenly come alive with forestry stories in the past fortnight). The organizers and the presenters have done the public a great service and richly deserve commendation.

Linda Pannozzo of the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG) has, in the recent past, planned and facilitated two somewhat smaller symposia on forestry practices in this province - arguably the inspiration for the 'Focus' forum. Without meaning to be greedy, it is much to be hoped that further conferences of this type can be arranged in the future.


The groups which sponsored the `Focus on Clearcutting` were:

In conjunction with the conference, Linda Pannozzo and David Caulfield of NSPIRG coordinated the production of a tabloid entitled Clearcutting in Perspective. The magazine includes articles by a number of the `Focus on Clearcutting` panellists as well as original artwork by Lyse Boyce.

Copies of the tabloid are available, free of charge, at the NSPIRG office (314-6136 University Avenue, Halifax; open Monday-Thursday 11am-5pm). Those who can`t make it in person can call 902-494-6662 or write <> and I`m sure the good folks at PIRG will arrange to send you a copy.