NSFM members are concerned with a number of aspects around the forestry industry. In 2016, NSFM hosted a workshop on forestry that provides various perspectives around the issues, linked below.
Taxation of forestry land is being questioned as to whether it is encouraging and supporting economic activity, and whether it can or should be used to encourage sustainable forestry practices.
Clear cutting has also been raised as an issue, with concerns about clear cutting on crown lands as well as private lands.
Forestry land is taxed at a rate set by the province. This rate has not changed in decades, and a review of the property tax system in Nova Scotia recommended the rate be reviewed. This has not yet happened. The Department of Natural Resources is willing to participate in a review of the tax.
Forestry land is determined under PVSC on the basis of property owner statements confirming the land is being forested. In some jurisdictions there are clearly defined characteristics and criteria to define land eligible for the forestry classification.
With respect to taxation, in many cases, the cost of billing the property owner outweighs the property tax revenue being generated. There are concerns that lands are designated as forestry that are not actually being intended to be harvested. In some cases, land is being inherited by family members who are not intending to harvest the forest but who do not want to lose the forestry designation. If the forestry tax were to be raised, they may sell their lands to large companies. Others feel the tax should be tied to sustainable forestry practices, which may impact private land owners who want to clear cut. Still others feel the tax should be used as an incentive to promote economic activity. And others feel the rate is too low, and raising it will not impact on economic activity.
With respect to clear cutting, the province has indicated it is not prepared to prevent clear cutting on private land, and that is has processes in place to ensure any clear cutting on public land is appropriate. The province has announced a review of their policies and forest practices, with a goal of improving forestry, balancing long term environmental, social and economic interests in managing Nova Scotia forests. Professor William Lahey has been retained to lead an examination of the legislation, policies and guidelines; the science based tools that determine whether and where harvesting occurs, as well as the harvesting methods (including clear cutting). He will evaluate market access for private forest owners, particularly in the western region. His work will build on previous consultations, but will also provide additional opportunities for input. He is expected to complete his work in the spring of 2018.
There are also different opinions about what constitutes sustainable practices, and related concerns about the spraying of pesticides.
Discussions at the regional and caucus meetings did not lead to a consensus on what needs to be changed with respect to forestry.
Impact on Municipalities
Municipalities recognize the economic value of forestry activity and want to ensure forestry remains a viable, sustainable industry. It is critical component of rural life and the issues are complicated.
The property tax system is the primary tool for municipalities to raise revenue, and it needs to be fair. There are questions raised about the treatment of forestry land, compared to the treatment of agricultural land and whether they are taxed appropriately.