FREDERICTON - New Brunswick is going to allow its forestry industry to harvest an additional 660,000 cubic metres of softwood a year — a hike of 20 per cent from existing levels.
Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud said Wednesday the increase in the province's new forestry strategy will bring the total to about 3.9 million cubic metres of spruce and fir, enough to add 500 new jobs.
The government says the 10-year plan is expected to generate more than 1,200 construction jobs as 40 mills around the province begin to modernize.
"A strong forestry sector is critical to our economic success," Premier David Alward said in a statement.
"It is time to start growing our forestry sector again. I am proud that we are putting one of the most valuable resources we have, our Crown fibre, to work."
Robichaud said the government will follow through with a commitment to increase the number of protected natural areas in the province, bringing the total area to 270,000 hectares.
He said the industry is at a crossroads and needs to be more competitive to survive.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant questions whether planting and silviculture programs are sufficiently funded to keep pace with the higher harvest levels.
"We were a bit worried in the last budget to see this government will be spending less money when it comes to forest management," the Opposition leader said in an interview.
"We believe if they are giving more wood to be cut, we should be investing at least the same, if not more, when it comes to forest management."
Green party Leader David Coon said the plan will decimate the province's forests.
"It amounts to rape. This is impossible. You can't take 20 per cent more wood off Crown land without doing vast damage to Crown lands. The wood just isn't out there," he said.
Coon said it's almost certain habitat zones that protect streams and wildlife populations will be reduced.
"They're going to have to reduce wildlife habitat zones by clear-cutting them."
Robichaud said the industry — which generates about $1.45 billion a year in revenues — has been shrinking in recent years but continues to provide work for 22,000 people.
He said since 2004, the number of mills operating in New Brunswick has been reduced by half, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs. Four of those were pulp mills that provided a market anchor for sawmill byproducts and low-grade forest products.
“This strategy protects current jobs and creates new opportunities while ensuring a sustainable forest for generations to come," he said.
"We are striking a balance."
The province says in the plan that it will maintain the annual hardwood harvest at 1.8 million cubic metres.
— By Michael Tutton in Halifax
Follow @mtuttoncporg on Twitter