[YARMOUTH, NS] – Ask Eldon White how the closure of the Bowater Mersey pulp mill in Brooklyn has affected his business and his reply drives home the severity.
"If you were here in Richfield you could see for yourself. All my gear is in a pile and my son and a driver are loading up a tractor-trailer and a half-ton truck. They're heading for Alberta in the morning. There's lots of work out there.
"I guess you can fill in the gaps," he says.
White was presented with the provincial and regional Woodlot Owner of the Year award from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources for his 400-acre lot last year. Now his equipment sits idle and there are few jobs outside of some silviculture, selective cutting at YMCA Camp Wapomeo and a bit of firewood cutting.
White established Richfield Forestry in the early 1980s. The 400-acre lot he won the award for is a mixture of hardwood (two kinds of maple, yellow birch and beech) and softwood (spruce, fir and hemlock).
Even though he says he saw the handwriting on the wall for the Bowater mill, he had hoped it would stay open so that there would be at least one facility in this end of the province. With that mill closed and another large paper mill – New Page – teetering, the future doesn't look bright.
"The world's changed. We don't need as much paper. It's a weeding out process. It's unfortunate for us, especially in this part of the province. We've had enough bad news. It's going to hurt a lot more people than the average person thinks," he says.
"I'm fortunate to have my equipment paid for, but a lot of people aren't in that position."
Before becoming mechanized, White had 16 men working for him. He's seen the industry slow before, but the mills were always retained.
"Right now, we've lost so many mills – we've lost Comeau Lumber in Meteghan and Irving Mill in Weymouth too."
He believes loggers are going to have to rethink the industry. And that won't happen overnight.
Sixty per cent of the wood supply in Nova Scotia originates from small private woodlots.
On June 26, the Federation of Nova Scotia Woodland Owners (FNSWO) held a special board meeting to discuss strategies for assisting private landowners affected by the loss of market for their products and to develop solutions to offer the transition committee that was formed to review and aid the sale of the Resolute Forest Products' (the owner of Bowater) land assets and the future of forestry in western Nova Scotia.
Two common themes arose from the meeting. The first was that landowners need a healthy forest industry in order to maintain healthy woodlands. The second was that Nova Scotia's forest industry must change to survive.
"Many people fear or avoid change. Right now, change is happening. Global markets and economies are affecting our rural way of life. It often takes a war, a disaster or an economic collapse to spark new thinking and to redesign the way we do business. As for our forest industry, it has been dying a slow death for nearly a decade now," says the Federation's Executive Director Andrew Fedora.
He added that FNSWO is most interested in representing and leading its 1,200 members during these difficult times.
Private landowners are invited to join the group to voice their ideas and concerns.