A Time of Challenge

Forestry is a core component of Nova Scotia’s rural economy, but market pressures, economic downturn, mill closures, and supply constraints have created significant instability over the past decade.

Historically, high levels of government support have been used to temper the impacts of these challenges. While that may have worked in the past, it is increasingly recognized that sector-led transformation is necessary for the forest industry to build a viable future.

Public concerns about environmental impact and increasing calls for a multiple-value approach to resource management are also challenging the industry to operate differently. The public, stakeholder groups and Aboriginal communities have begun to play a major role in resource decision-making.

To learn more about The Forestry Lab, visit theforestrylab.ca. Click here for a final report on the Lab.

At the same time, many rural communities have declining populations. Land ownership is passing from a generation that tended to work in the forest themselves to one that no longer depends on their land as a source of income. Ownership is now motivated by a wider set of values, and active participation in forest management is dependent on the ability of foresters, harvesting contractors and other service providers to meet those values.

With the majority of the industry’s wood supply coming from private land, this shift in demographics and motivations requires substantial adaptation. Small-scale management capacity is being lost, and current industrial harvesting capacity often can only be deployed at a scale largely requiring the liquidation all timber on a property. As a result, woodlot owner participation rates are declining.

The NSWOOA's Response

The Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association is hosting a unique project called “The Forestry Lab” to address challenges in Nova Scotia’s forestry sector. We are an organization with decades of credibility on forestry issues, and a representative of individuals and businesses that experience these problems every day. 

We believe that the current challenges in forestry call for significant transformation in order to foster a viable future. While transformation needs to occur at many levels, 70% of wood supply for the industry comes from private land in Nova Scotia, and we have a unique opportunity to affect change in this context.

It is clear that traditional advocacy-based approaches are not up to the task of addressing the scope of issues we face. The challenges are beyond any one individual, stakeholder group, or government to solve. Solutions at this scale can only come from collaborative work that gives rise to new insights from understanding all perspectives. The collaborative effort is also intended to shift the pattern of blame and public outcry that has created further instability in the sector.

Rather than continuing to talk about problems and expecting someone else to solve them, the NSWOOA is seeking to bring leading methods of social entrepreneurship and business innovation to the Forestry Lab process to take on the current challenges.

What is The Forestry Lab?

The process comes from an established approach for “social labs” that has been pioneered around the world. Strong examples of social labs can be seen in issues as diverse as food security (www.sustainablefood.org) and tax reform (www.financeinnovationlab.org). There are many examples from multiples sectors to draw upon, but simply put a social lab is just like any other type of lab – it is a stable platform to support the work of understanding a problem and experimenting to find its solution. The difference lies in the tools being applied when the problem being addressed is more fundamentally social in nature.

The Forestry Lab will focus on business model innovation that aligns the industry with existing and potential competitive advantages from operating in Nova Scotia; the long-term productive capacity of our forests; and the values of our communities.

The Lab will be a dedicated incubator for new business ideas, particularly in the areas of new technologies, harvesting capacity and supply from private woodlots. Prototypes in the form of business start-ups, service delivery models, policy reforms, etc., will test ways to address key problems and issues facing the sector.

The Lab will also train leaders from across the sector in emerging business development concepts and methods. This will not only support Forestry Lab prototypes, but also introduce these skills to the sector for use in future business planning.

The Lab is built on significant levels of stakeholder engagement, with better collaboration and conflict resolution as an outcome. This will help to reduce unpredictability related to public pressures on natural resource management, which is an increasingly significant risk factor for the industry.

We believe The Forestry Lab is an exceptional project. It has strong support from government, forest products businesses and environmental NGOs. To learn more, visit the Lab's website at www.theforestrylab.ca.

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