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Bold step to protect Newfoundland’s large intact landscapes

NOTE: This op-ed originally ran in St. John's Telegram on November 28, 2014

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has done something very interesting — the new provincial sustainable forest management strategy, released Nov. 13, contains a clear policy to protect “large intact landscapes.”

The Department of Natural Resources identified four million hectares with minimal human impact (roughly 35 per cent of the island) and declared that these lands would be off-limits to industrial forestry and managed to protect large wilderness values. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society welcomes this bold and decisive step.

While other jurisdictions across Canada are grappling with how to protect intact large wilderness within the boreal forest, Newfoundland has come up with a workable plan that moves in the right direction and at a scale sufficiently large to address the challenges facing such areas.

Large intact landscapes containing resilient ecosystems are able to resist changes associated with climate change. They support important areas of old-growth forests and help protect biodiversity that struggles to persist in previously disturbed forests. A few such areas contain complete watersheds from headwaters to the ocean, without roads or large human disturbance.

Lands identified for the large intact landscape area contain nearly 75 per cent of the best caribou habitat on the island, including calving areas and migration routes.

This species has suffered a serious decline in abundance over the past decade, and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada is currently assessing Newfoundland’s caribou population for potential listing as a species-at-risk.

The large landscape deferral specified in the new strategy is helpful for the caribou by ensuring that a large proportion of its least fragmented habitat will remain intact. 

Other, less well-known species will also benefit from the large intact landscape area, such as the endangered boreal felt lichen, which requires wet, dense coastal forests that are free of roads and fragmentation. Newfoundland contains the most important habitat in the world for this elusive species.

It is noteworthy that Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Ltd., through its forest stewardship council international certification, has deferred from harvest three sizable pieces of its tenure, thereby helping to provide connectivity of the overall intact landscape areas.

We welcome the steps the company has taken.

The provincial sustainable forest management strategy clearly identifies the Commercial Forest Management Area, giving greater certainty to the forest industry about where the available wood supply will be secured.

This working forest area is nearly five million hectares in size.  By clearly identifying areas on the landscape where industrial forestry is appropriate, and where it is not, the Department of Natural Resources is being proactive, thereby reducing the likelihood of unnecessary conflict between stakeholders.

The threats facing our natural environment remain huge and daunting.  Accordingly, it is important to recognize when something important has been achieved for the province and the planet, as is the case with this new sustainable forest management strategy.

Chris Miller, Ph.D., Ian Goudie Ph.D., and John D. Jacobs, Ph.D. are with the non-governmental organization, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.