In March, we visited Caledonia, Nova Scotia, to understand the challenges facing small private woodlot owners in the region

Making a living off of the land is a rewarding, but challenging commitment. Small private woodlot owners, of which there are approximately 80,000 in Canada’s Maritime Provinces, face both new and persisting challenges in managing their forests. A weakening forest economy, marginalization by big industry, and climate change are some of the massive challenges that small private woodlot owners have to contend with.

Here at Community Forests International, we have been thinking a lot about how we can make the sustainable management practices we adopt in our forests feasible for small private woodlot owners who might not have access to the same supports as we do. Over the past year, we have been learning a lot from landowners about the unique challenges they face and the resources that could mitigate these challenges.

In March, we continued this learning with a small group of landowners in Caledonia, Nova Scotia. The region is home to some very special forests, including the majestic old growth hemlock stands in Kejimkujik National Park. The last couple of years have seen a lot of big shakeups in forestry in the province; the Lahey Report came out in 2018, with all its resulting changes to the forestry sector, and the Northern Pulp Mill closed in late 2019, which left many people in the region feeling anxious and isolated.

The conversations we had in Caledonia were laced with uncertainty about the future of Nova Scotia’s forests. In addition to province-wide challenges, the closure of a local mill, the decreasing availability of reliable contractors, and an encroaching population of the hemlock woolly adelgid—an invasive pest that could see the demise of hemlock forests in the region—are causing immediate stress for landowners. Long term, landowners worry about the succession of their woodlots due to the outmigration of young people from rural areas.

Despite the many challenges, we saw hope and pride among landowners in Caledonia. The region is home to some of the most exciting work in forestry today, like Medway Community Forest—an experiment in alternatives to Crown land management and an excellent resource for landowners in the area.

Community Forests International’s work has always been guided by community needs, and this remains our approach as we expand our work across the three Maritime Provinces. The insights we gain from landowners mold our work and to guide us in new directions. With the right support, small private woodlot owners can lead the way toward sustainable forestry—something we can all benefit from.