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The Regional Risk Assessment (RRA) Process

Regional Risk Assessments (RRA) are a part of SBP’s approach for identifying and mitigating risks associated with sustainably sourcing feedstock for biomass pellet and wood chip production. The process that must be followed is set out in  SBP’s RRA Procedure Version 1.1. The scope of the Nova Scotia RRA  includes all uncertified forests on Crown and private lands in the province.

The intent of the information presented here is to encourage information sharing to ensure that all stakeholders have the opportunity to review and provide comments on the RRA for the SBP in the Province of Nova Scotia.

The RRA process is currently on hold pending the release of the revised SBP Standards.

Sustainable Biomass Program

The Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) is a non-profit international standards organization that has developed a certification system for woody biomass, which is mostly used in the form of wood pellets and woodchips, as fuel for industrial, large-scale energy production. The certification system is intended to provide assurance that woody biomass is made from legal and sustainable sources.  Biomass must be compliant with the SBP Standard to enter certain markets - many European utilities only take SBP biomass. Feedstock certified at the forest level through standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or by the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), which are standards set by organizations such as Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) are considered SBP-compliant.

Forest Trees

Consultation Approach

The Working Body (WB) utilizes experience gained from years of stakeholder engagement on various certification projects, advisory groups, certification audits, as well as evaluating the processes and outcomes from provincial-lead consultation. From the start, the WB reaches out to individuals and organizations to identify sources of information, highlight facts and experiences to write well-documented and logical  findings to determine the risk level associated with the standard's  indicators. The WB chose to a -2- phased approach to consultation.

Phase 1 Stakeholder Outreach - Deadline TBD

Prior to the required 30-day stakeholder consultation, as part of the Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) RRA process, the WB reaches out to numerous individuals and groups though out the Province, some linked to the Biomass Industry as well as others. These groups included; 

  • Local Government Elected Officials 

  • Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA’s) 

  • Members of Parliament (MP’s) 

  • First Nation Organizations 

  • ENGOs 

  • Chamber of Commerce 

  • Biomass Producers  


The goal of this outreach is to gauge the level of impact the biomass industry has on local communities and to supplement the required 30-day required stakeholder consultation.

Phase 2 30-Day Stakeholder Consultation - Deadline TBD

We encourage to share your input  

The RRA Working Body is asking you as a reviewer to identify:

  • new or missing information that is relevant;

  • more up-to-date data that may have recently become available;

  • errors or mistakes; and

  • documented evidence that may be important to the assessment that are missing from the write-ups.


The RRA Working Body asks you to review any number of indicators that you wish, but please use one feedback form per indicator reviewed.  This will make it easier for us to organize and address the comments received. There is an on-line RRA feedback form (coming soon) that you can complete or a downloadable, fillable Adobe form that you can use.  If you use the Adobe form, please share completed forms by uploading the file a the bottom of the on-line form. If you are having difficulty accessing or completing the feedback forms, please contact the RRA Working Body by clicking here.

Because this RRA covers the entire province of Nova Scotia, the RRA is primarily concerned with assessing how well the indicators are met at a provincial scale.  This means that individual local anecdotes are by themselves less relevant than issues which occur at a wider scale, unless the anecdotes are used to illustrate a more general point.

After you submit one or more comments, your contribution will be acknowledged by an e-mail thanking you for your assistance.  Once the public comment period has closed, and revisions are made to the RRA report, the RRA Working Body will e-mail you again to let you know how your comment(s) were addressed in the revision. 


Thank-you for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights.


As part of the Regional Risk Assessment (RRA) process, a draft report is made available to the public, including all stakeholders, for review and comments. The draft is prepared by a team of consultants (RRA Working Body) based on a review of literature and on-line information, interviews with experts, and the personal knowledge and experience of the consulting team. The evidence gathered forms the basis of the assessment of each indicator. While it goes through a rigourous internal review, there may be errors and omissions or oversights. The RRA team Working Body welcomes your comments to improve draft report. 


Overview of Nova Scotia's Forests

Nova Scotia is a well-forested province, with 4.2 million ha of forest. This represents 76% of the province’s 5.5 million ha. The 2016 Nova Scotia State of the Forest report provided the amount of area by ownership but did not break out forest area by ownership. One would expect that the majority of agricultural land (275,000 ha) and urban land (155,000 ha) would be owned privately, while a high proportion of wetlands may be owned by the province. However, without more definitive information, the ownership statistics provided below are for total land area. 

The province is situated within the Acadian ecozone, and there are nine ecodistricts in Nova Scotia within that ecozone. The Acadian forest is a mixture of hardwood and softwood species, characterized by the coniferous red spruce, hemlock, balsam fir and black spruce and deciduous species such as yellow birch, red and sugar maple, and poplar. The Cape Breton Taiga ecodistrict is distinct in that it contains scrub forest and extensive stretches of boggy wetlands and rocky barrens above 400 metres while the forest of the Cape Breton Highlands ecodistrict are quite boreal in character. 

The province owns approximately 1.86 million ha of land (34% of the total land area), which is known as Crown land. The forested portion of this land is referred to as Crown forest. A total of 59.4% of provincial land is privately owned, of this 0.64 million ha are under industrial ownership and 2.64 million ha are owned by individuals or small companies. Inland water covers 234,432 ha (4.2% of provincial area) and federal land, primarily National Parks (especially Cape Breton Highlands and Kejimkujik National Parks) as well as First Nations reserve lands and military bases, covers 154,372 ha or 2.8% of the province. The proportion of provincial land in each major ownership class is shown in the figure below. 

Figure. Proportion of land by ownership class in Nova Scotia. 

In 2018, the most recent year for which data were obtained, the area of harvest was 31,151 ha, equivalent to 0.75% of the total forest area. Lahey (2018) reported that 80% of the harvesting is done by clearcutting, with 89% of harvesting on private land and 64% of Crown land harvesting being implemented using this system. 

As of 2016, a total of 580,383 ha of provincially-owned land (10.50% of provincial landbase) was identified as protected, and another 17,942 ha was in provincial parks but did not meet IUCN standards for protection classes Ia Ib, and II (i.e. these lands had a moderate level of protection). Lahey (2018) reported that 12.26% of the province was protected. 

Key forest management legislation includes the Forests Act and its regulations, the Crown Lands Act, the Scalers Act and the Code of Forest Practices. The Forests Act applies to private forests and the Crown Lands Act and the Code of Forest Practices apply to provincially owned land. 

Land Cover Types.jpg
Overview NS Forests

Crown Land Overview

Public forests are managed by the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry (DLF). DLF is also responsible for implementing the province’s Endangered Species Act and it hosts the province’s species at risk registry. Crown land provides a significant component of the provincial wood supply and it is also managed to provide ecological and social benefits.  

The province has been an active buyer of private forest land, most notably buying two parcels of 10,117 ha and 220,000 ha in 2012 from Bowater Mersey, after the company closed its pulp mill and associated sawmill. These lands were used to establish a small community forest, issue a small First Nations tenure, and provide the landbase that has been licensed to a new forest management entity, Westfor. Through land purchases, provincial ownership of forest lands has increased from 28% in 2008 to 34% in 2017. 

FULAs have a twenty-year term, and, at their halfway mark, they can be reviewed and extended back to twenty years. FULA-holders are required to prepare forest management plans. These twenty-five-year plans must be revised every five years and must meet the requirements of the provincial forest management planning manual, which specifies where a number of relevant objectives are required to be met.  

DLF, under the Crown Lands Act, is the authority that allocates forest tenure, issues forestry licences and oversees forest management. There are several levels of tenure, with the licence agreements covering different sizes of area, terms, and management responsibilities. The largest licence types are Forest Utilization Licence Agreements (FULAs), and the two in the province are held by Port Hawkesbury Paper and Westfor. (A third FULA, for the Crown lands around the Northern Pulp mill, does not appear to have been issued as the province declined to extend the time period for the mill to remedy its unsatisfactory pollution abatement system and the mill closed in January 2020. The mill owner and the province are still seeking to find a way to re-open the mill.)   

FULAs have a twenty-year term, and, at their halfway mark, they can be reviewed and extended back to twenty years. FULA-holders are required to prepare forest management plans. These twenty-five-year plans must be revised every five years and must meet the requirements of the provincial forest management planning manual, which specifies a number of areas where relevant objectives are required.  

DLF also issues licences that have a term of up to two years, with the option for a one-year extension. Some of the larger sawmills, as well as the pulp mill companies, hold these licences. Finally, Letters of Authority are issued primarily to individuals who would like to harvest a small amount of timber for personal use.  

Nova Scotia’s forest policy has been evolving since the 1980’s, when concern about overharvesting and recognition of the implications of sustainable development drove a series of changes. Because so much of Nova Scotia’s landbase is privately owned, the province has depended on the Crown forest to provide ecological benefits and services, as well as contributing to the provincial wood supply. The termination of federal-provincial forestry funding agreements in 1995 also led to policy changes in Nova Scotia. In 1997 the province issued a position paper titled “Toward Sustainable Forestry” and established the Registry of Buyers in 1998. During the 2000’s, the province has steadily moved away from a policy framework largely geared towards timber production to one that embodies a much broader view of sustainability.  

In 2017, the province appointed Dr. William Lahey, President of Kings College, to lead a review of provincial forest practices. Among other things, the review recommended the adoption of the “triad” approach on Crown land, which manages the land at three levels of intensity: protection, low-intensity management, and intensive management. The review also recommended a shift towards more fully embracing the ecosystem management paradigm. The province is in the process of implementing these recommendations and has recently released a draft Forest Management Guide for public review. 

Crown Land

Private Land Overview

Private land makes up almost 60% of the provincial landbase. Industrial interests own 638,637 ha (11.56% of provincial land) while non-industrial interests own 2.64 million ha (47.81%). As mentioned, these area figures include agricultural, urban and other non-forestry land uses, as well as forests. Given the predominance of private land, it provides the majority of the timber harvest and management of private forests is critical in determining both the future of the forest industry as well as the overall well-being and character of the provincial forest resource. 

It is estimated that there are more than 30,000 private woodlots; in 1980, 60% of the private forest land was in holdings smaller than 1,000 acres (405 ha). With the government’s purchase of the Bowater lands, small holders likely own an even greater share of the private forest in Nova Scotia. 

The Nova Scotia government has attempted to balance private owners’ right to manage their land as they see fit while encouraging them to use appropriate management and harvesting approaches. Accordingly, harvesting is done at the discretion of the landowner and DLF lightly regulates activities on private land and ensures that the forest industry supports some private land silviculture. In this regard, it was significant that the Lahey report did not recommend additional regulation of private land. 

Private landowners are lightly regulated in terms of how their forested land is managed. The federal Fisheries Act applies on private land, as do federal and provincial Species at Risk legislation. The Wildlife Habitat and Watercourse Protection Regulation was passed in 2002 under the Forests Act, which requires private landowners to retain clumps of trees for wildlife and sets minimum riparian watercourse buffer widths. The Forest Sustainability Regulation under the Forests Act established the Registry of Buyers, which was originally established so that the province could have accurate data regarding the private land harvest but now plays a role in ensuring the delivery of silviculture on private lands. 

Private landowners may also be subject to municipal regulations limiting the harvest of trees, usually referred to as tree-cutting by-laws. These are normally passed by the councils of large and medium-sized communities, as well as some small communities. 

Nova Scotia has in place a unique and innovative approach for funding silviculture on private land. Under the Forest Sustainability Regulation of the Forests Act, buyers who acquire more than 5,000 m3 of timber from private land in a year are required to provide silviculture. They can either contribute to a Sustainable Forestry Fund (SFF) or undertake the silviculture themselves. Most pursue the latter approach and are required to submit a Wood Acquisition Plan (WAP) to Nova Scotia DLF that includes a description of the planned silviculture. DLF sets standards for silviculture and monitors the work. DLF may also supplement the Buyers’ silviculture effort. In addition, the Association for Sustainable Forestry receives approximately $2 million/year from government for additional silviculture on private land. 

Participation in forestry by private woodlot owners has been declining since the peak private harvests of the mid-1990’s. In 2011, Woodbridge(1) noted that only 64% of private woodlot owners participated in the forest sector (compared with the number of participants in 1995-97), with harvest levels declining steadily. Woodlot owner participation in silvicultural programs has also declined roughly 50% between 2002 and 2017. These trends represent a significant challenge for the industry. 

1-Woodbridge & Associates. 2011. Economic Impact Analysis of Timber Management and Supply Changes on Nova Scotia’s Forest Industry.  Prepared for the government of Nova Scotia and Department of Natural Resources. May 2011. 

Private Land

Nova Scotia Timber Harvest

There has been a considerable amount of change in Nova Scotia’s forest sector during the past two decades, and a graph of harvest volume by ownership, sourced from Nova Scotia’s 2016 State of the Forest Report, makes this point clearly.

The chart illustrates a downward trend in total harvest volume. Unlike in many jurisdictions, there has been no recovery after the 2009 recession caused by the collapse of the US housing market. One reason for this was the permanent closure in 2012 of the Bowater Mersey pulp mill and an associated sawmill. With this closure, the sector lost a major user of wood and a purchaser of sawmill chips and the harvest in western Nova Scotia has never fully recovered. 

The chart also shows some dramatic changes in the share of harvest by ownership. One of the largest shifts has been the decline of the harvest from the industrial freehold lands. The industrial freehold harvest declined from a peak of 2.3 million m3 in 2005 to 0.8 million m3 in 2009, and to 0.47 million m3 in 2015. Woodbridge (2011) attributed the decline from 2005 to 2010 to overharvesting in response to high sawlog prices in the early 2000’s; since then, the impact of the closure of Bowater Mersey and the sale of its large freehold tract to the province is also evident. 

The private woodlot harvest peaked in 1995 at 4.7 million m3 in response to buoyant product prices, and aside from a blip higher in 2004 due to salvaging after Hurricane Juan, the harvest declined steadily to reach 2.7 million m3 in 2010. While 2010 was a low point in the forest products cycle, the private woodlot harvest continued to decline, reaching 2.0 million m3 in 2012 before climbing back to 2.4 million m3 in 2015. Changing landowner attitudes as documented by Woodridge (2011) have continued to shift – one of the drivers for this has been the transfer of ownership from rural inhabitants to their sons and daughters who live in urban areas and have less connection with the family woodlot and less need for income from timber harvesting. 

In contrast to harvesting on private land, the Crown harvest has trended higher, rising from 500,000 – 600,000 m3/year in the early 2000’s to roughly 900,000 m3/year in 2015. The purchase of the Bowater lands by the Crown accounts for some of the increase, and it is likely that mills have turned to Crown timber as private supplies have waned. 

Overall, between 2002 and 2015, Crown timber’s share of the harvest has risen from 9% to 23% while the share from industrial freehold fell from 37 to 13%. The share of private woodlot timber has actually risen from the mid-50% range to the mid-60% level. 

NS Timber Harvest

The Nova Scotia Forests Act and the Crown Lands Act

Nova Scotia has several key pieces of legislation governing forests.  The Crown Lands Act applies to the management of Crown forest and the Forests Acts provides direction for provincial and private ownerships, including the establishment of a Registry of Buyers of timber.   

The Forests Act is oriented towards the management of forests for timber production. The Act sets out six principles of sustainable forest management that are related to harvesting, best end use, and management including silviculture and pest and fire management. The Act speaks to planning and forestry techniques that are required on Crown land and “recommended for use” on private land.  The Registry of Buyers is established, which has become a key mechanism for ensuring the delivery of silviculture on private land.


The Crown Lands Act was passed in 1987, making what was then the Department of Lands and Forests responsible for the acquisition, registration, survey and sale or disposition of Crown lands as well as their administration, utilization, protection, and management.  The Act regulates the construction and use of forest access roads and sets out the various forest and timber licences and permit types that may be issued.   The Act also stipulates that the Minister is responsible for the provision of habitat for the maintenance and protection of wildlife, and “for the maintenance of long-term productivity, diversity and stability of the forest ecosystem”. 

The Code of Forest Practices is a document that has been prepared by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. The most recent version is from 2012.  The Code outlines an approach to achieve ecosystem-based management, and consists of three elements: 

  • A framework document that outlines the set of principles underlying the Code (published as Report FOR 2004-8 by the Government of Nova Scotia); 

  • Guidebooks that list more detailed guidance (published as FOR 2012-3); and 

  • Technical manuals that provide techniques and tools for implementing the guidelines. 


The government applies the Code on Crown land and promotes the use of the Code on private land, although it is not mandatory.  Some examples of technical manuals include a guide to forest ecosystem classification and a series of silvicultural manuals for different forest types.   

The Nova Scotia government is preparing a comprehensive overhaul of forest management in Crown land in response to the Lahey report.  The new direction will strongly emphasize biological sustainability; a draft of the new forest management direction titled “Silvicultural Guide for the Ecological Matrix” was available for public review until February 2021.  The government is also moving towards the implementation of the “triad” system of management.  Forbes (undated) reports that 28-29% of Crown land is already protected but only 6% is managed as high-production forest (HPF).  Thus, one key component of implementing the triad will be determining what additional land will be moved into the HPF part of the triad.  To this end, draft criteria for identifying high production forest areas have been developed (Nova Scotia 2020) and continue to be discussed with stakeholders (CBC 2021). 

At a much higher level, Nova Scotia passed the Sustainable Development Goals Act in 2019, which set broad provincial goals that were intended to be given more specific direction through regulations.  The government intended to consult on the regulations and proclaim the bill at the end of 2020 but COVID-19 interrupted the planned consultation and the bill is not yet proclaimed (CBC 2020). 



Forbes, Graham. Undated. Triad – A new vision.  

Nova Scotia. 2020. High Production Forestry. Phase 1 – A Discussion Paper. 

Lahey, William. 2018. An Independent Review of Forest Practices in Nova Scotia. Executive Summary. August 2018. 

CBC. October 29, 2020.  

CBC. March 17, 2021. 

Forests & Crown Lands Acts

Forest Biodiversity

Nova Scotia has a considerable diversity of forests, ranging from coastal areas to inland forests. The Acadian Forest, which covers the majority of the province, ranges varies from the very diverse complex forests on mainland Nova Scotia to the more homogenous boreal-like vegetation on Cape Breton Island. Historically, harvesting has focussed on the species of highest value, including red spruce, yellow birch and sugar maple.  While the industry continues to use a wide variety of species, spruce and balsam fir are now the primary commercial species. 

With such diverse forests, Nova Scotia has considerable biological diversity.  However, 63 species are on the provincial species at risk list (, including the Canada lynx, American marten, mainland moose population, black ash and eastern white cedar.  The province created a Biodiversity Council in 2018 and one of its first tasks was to develop a proposal for a Biodiversity Act, which passed on March 21, 2021.  The final version of the Biodiversity Act applies only to Crown lands.  The Act allows the government to create Biodiversity Management Zones on Crown land and on private land if the owner consents.  Emergency orders may also be issued where an activity is planned or is being undertaken on Crown land that threatens to kill certain species or is likely to have serious adverse effects on biodiversity.  The draft of this legislation included more powers for the Minister on private land however there was vociferous opposition to these parts of the Act, and they were removed from the version of the Act that was passed. 

While the province has relatively few timber management regulations that direct private forest management, the Nova Scotia government has been actively promoting ecosystem-based management on Crown land and Forbes (undated) recently reported that protected forest accounts for 28-29% of Crown land.  The Lahey review of forest practices (2018) identified gaps and opportunities to improve the ecological sustainability of forest management, notably reducing the amount of clearcutting on Crown land and implementing the “triad” management zoning approach on Crown land.  The triad envisages the forest being divided into three zones with different management goals: protected area, high timber production area, and a large portion of extensively managed forest (called the “ecological matrix”) that is managed to meet integrated conservation and timber production objectives. The matrix will be managed to provide relatively high ecological values.  The shift towards this approach, which is being developed and implemented by the Nova Scotia government, is set out in the draft Silvicultural Guide for the Ecological Matrix, revised December 16, 2020.  

While Lahey felt that less clearcutting on private land would be ecologically beneficial,  he recognized constraints on private woodlots that limited their ability to avoid clearcutting and did not advocate adding regulations for private landowners. 

The draft Guide prescribes treatments that create “stand structures and compositions similar to those resulting from natural disturbances” and provides for appropriate recovery periods and intermediate treatments.  Old forests will also be managed in such a way as to sustain these forest attributes or conditions in the landscape. 

Nova Scotia has in place an Endangered Species Act, parts of which (e.g., the Minister’s ability to designate core habitat) apply on all land ownerships in the province.  East Coast Environmental Law (2) reports that the Endangered Species Act is meant “to provide for the protection, designation, recovery and …conservation of species at risk in the Province, including habitat protection”.  The Act allows the provincial government to create plans and identify areas to be considered for designation as core habitat however the East Coast Environmental Law (1) association reported that “since 2015, [only] 11 more species have been added to the “at risk” list and little has been done to improve the status of listed species”. 


East Coast Environmental Law (1). 

East Coast Environmental Law (2). 

Forest Biodiversity
Biomass sourced from?

Where is the biomass sourced from?

Biomass Producers (BPs) can source fibre to be feedstock supply for pellet production from primary, secondary and tertiary sources.  

  • Primary feedstock is fibre sourced directly from the forest, which includes chipping whole trees and grinding of piles of logging slash left alongside forest roads and at landings.  

  • Secondary feedstock is wood fibre generated as a by-product from mills manufacturing logs, most notably it consists of sawdust, bark and excess wood that cannot be converted into lumber. 

  • Tertiary feedstock is derived from pre- and post-consumer fibre, such as trimming of cardboard and paper from a remanufacturing facility. 

Documents, Forms & Maps

Working Body Coordinator

Hopkin Forest Management Consulting Ltd.

Brenda Hopkin



Documents, etc.
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