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New Brunswick Crown forestry agreement with J.D. Irving 'mind-boggling'

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FREDERICTON - The government of New Brunswick is giving away the key to the province's forests in an agreement it has signed with J.D. Irving that increases the number of trees that can be cut on Crown land, the leader of the province's Green party said Thursday.

Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud tabled the agreement and told the legislative assembly he will also release the agreements the province has signed with other forestry companies when they are finalized in the coming weeks.

The Irving contract is for 25 years but could be extended by five years if regular reviews of the company's performance are satisfactory to the government.

Irving's annual allocation of spruce, fir, jack pine and white pine on Crown lands for Irving totals 1,617,000 cubic metres. Under the agreement, that will rise to 2,027,000 cubic metres — an increase of about 25 per cent.

Green party Leader David Coon said the deal is designed to ensure the sustainability of the company, not the province's forests, pointing to the opening line of the agreement.

"The spirit and intent of this agreement is to ensure the ongoing global competitiveness and sustainability of Irving's forestry operations in the province of New Brunswick," the agreement says.

"That is just mind-boggling," Coon said.

Coon said he fears the deal will lead to more clear-cutting and depletion of natural forests.

"It is increasing the wood supply, ensuring that the costs of that wood are competitive and reducing the costs for Irving's operations on Crown land," Coon said.

Under the agreement, J.D. Irving agrees not to displace wood purchases from private woodlot owners with the new allocation from Crown land.

Last week, it issued a statement saying it wants to buy 740,000 cubic metres of wood from private woodlots this year — a nine per cent increase over 2013.

Neither Robichaud nor the company could be reached for comment Thursday.

Last month, the New Brunswick government released a new 10-year forestry strategy allowing the harvest of an additional 660,000 cubic metres of softwood a year — a hike of 20 per cent from existing levels.

Robichaud has said the strategy has already resulted in $600 million in private investment by forestry companies and created 500 new, full-time jobs, many of them in rural New Brunswick.

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