PORT BLANDFORD, NL — Government’s plan to clear cut an area near the community as part of its five-year operating plan for forestry Zone 2 (2017-2021) is not acceptable to the citizens of Port Blandford.
That appears to be the consensus from a public meeting on Tuesday night, Feb. 20, which drew more than 100 people concerned about the provincial Forestry and Agrifoods Agency’s plan to allow a clear cut in the area.
“We’re going to stop at nothing to prevent and protect what we’ve had for hundreds of years,” Port Blandford resident Cliff Matthews said to begin the meeting.
“Clearcutting is not acceptable in Port Blandford.”
Residents who packed the local Legion hall were concerned about buffer zones and animal habitat, and had questions about the planned cut, which includes the Port Blandford area, the South West River valley, and Thorburn Lake areas.
A notice of environmental assessment for the plan was issued on in November 2016 and released Feb. 10, 2017. That assessment can be viewed at http://www.mae.gov.nl.ca/env_assessment/projects/Y2016/1865/index.html
The public meeting on Tuesday night was organized by a local concerned citizens’ committee led by Matthews, Garfield White, Linda Davis and Adam Greening.
Two representatives from the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources (forestry and wildlife) — Colin Carroll and Steve Balsom — were in attendance.
Balsom, who is an assistant deputy minister in the department, fielded questions for about an hour.
As the meeting went on, more residents voiced their concerns about what the clearcutting will do to their countryside aesthetically, environmentally and from an economic standpoint, potentially dissuading people from visiting or moving to the area.
Balsom said the “clearcutting” will take place in a rotating system, allowing wood to be harvested but not affecting the overall environment or tourism for the people of Port Blandford.
“We are a boreal forest … with even age stands (of timber),” he said. “When we go in to select and cut a stand, we select the mature trees (of) all the same age in a patch and it’s called clearcutting.”
He adds the trees that will be cut are black spruce. They are shade intolerant and need direct sunlight to grow — hence the reasoning for cutting.
“The reality is, it’s far from a moonscape that people picture in their minds.”
He added the cut, which was initially estimated at about 150,000 cubic metres of wood, will involve about 8,000 cubic metres per year between two small harvesters.
“This is far from a ‘clear’ cut,” said Balsom.
Balsom says if mature trees are left to become over-mature, they are vulnerable to insects and fire, adding the quota for harvest is determined to ensure wood supplies don’t run out in the future.
He added the plan includes buffer zones around the river and cabins in the area.
But many, including Matthews, were concerned about the department’s standards.
Matthews is worried that once harvesters are in the forest, they would take what they wanted and not adhere to the standards of buffer zones or environmental cleanup from their machinery.
Many were also skeptical that the proper reseeding and planting would be done to rehabilitate the area once it’s cut.
Balsom says, as of Tuesday night, there have been no permits issued to harvesters to begin work and he’d like to work with the residents to develop a plan that works for all parties.
“I’m a true believer that forestry, wildlife, tourism (and) recreation — they can all work. We just need to put a plan together that respects those values and we recognize we can’t do everything everywhere, but we can certainly do a lot when we work together,” he said to the crowd.
But for many in attendance, including resident Clyde Oldford, they won’t tolerate any clearcutting in the area they’ve called home for so long.
He offered a solution, calling on government to introduce a moratorium on timber harvesting, the same as when the federal government introduced a moratorium on northern cod harvesting in 1992.
“I’ve been here in Port Blandford for 50 years and I haven’t left,” said an impassioned Oldford. “I don’t know where else to go to have it any better. I know people who jump on planes to go to Florida (and) to go to Cuba. I haven’t been nowhere. I don’t want to go nowhere. This is my Cuba. And I want to keep it my Cuba.”
Terra Nova MHA Colin Holloway, who is also a resident of Port Blandford, was also at the meeting. He told the crowd he was shocked and disappointed to hear the news of the cutting a week ago.
Holloway is also parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment.
“Six days ago, I didn’t know anything about this,” MHA Holloway told the crowd. According to the MHA, the five-year plan was proposed when Steve Crocker was minister of that department, and Holloway was not included in the discussion on the proposal.
He says for the past week, he’s been familiarizing himself with the issues like tourism impact, sensitive habitats for animals like the Newfoundland pine marten, public watershed areas and the salmon river buffer zones.
“I immediately asked (the minister and the department) that all harvesting operations cease until we can have better engagement in this community,” said MHA Holloway.
After the meeting, MHA Holloway told the Packet he took detailed notes and will bring the concerns to Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne again.
“What I heard this afternoon and tonight is there are many ways to change the (five-year plan),” he said.
He adds that more information is needed for the public, and the Forestry and Agrifoods Agency is aware of how strongly the people feel.
“At this point (residents) don’t want to see any harvesting, so I think the onus is on the department to provide more clarity to the community,” said Holloway. “Maybe — just maybe — they might be able to find a plan that builds in their (citizens’) concerns and what the department wants to do in terms of managing the forest.”
As for the concerned residents’ committee, they plan to meet with the Town of Port Blandford on Wednesday evening to discuss the matter further.
Committee members say there were initial concerns that the town approved the clearcutting with the province and kept it from the local people.
However, Mayor Chad Holloway vehemently denied council was aware of any kind of clear cutting on this level to take place in the South West River Valley and areas near Port Blandford.
He says he read all the documentation the municipality received from the province as proof of their level of understanding. There were amendments made to the plan, but Mayor Holloway says this final product is not something the town endorsed.
Committee member Adam Greening told the Packet they were glad to hear the town is on their side and they will continue to work together to prevent the clearcutting from happening.
A live feed from the meeting can be viewed at