Government of New Brunswick

"Out of the forests of New Brunswick has arisen a trade with the mother country beneficial to both ..."

Thomas Baillie, surveyor general
commissioner of Crown land, 1832

The profound relationship between New Brunswickers and their forest heritage began many centuries ago. Early aboriginal inhabitants relied on the forest for food, clothing and shelter. They developed spiritual traditions based on trees, and gathered woodland plants for medicine. European settlers used wood to make everything from barrels and furniture to buckets and sewer pipes. Trees were burned for fuelwood, charcoal and fertilizer production. Forestry is the largest industry in New Brunswick today. It has been our economic mainstay since the early 1800s.

The 1800s
In 1806 – during the Napoleonic Wars – Emperor Bonaparte began a lengthy blockade that cut Britain from its traditional Baltic wood suppliers. Forced to seek timber elsewhere, Britain turned to its North American colonies, especially New Brunswick. The British government imposed protective tariffs to encourage a steady flow of provincial timber, and the forest industry came of age.

New Brunswick's extensive river system gave loggers easy access to the interior with its rich stands of pine, spruce and hemlock. Sawmills churned out square-cut timber for domestic and overseas consumption. At mid-century, forest products accounted for more than 80 per cent of the province's total exports. Britain absorbed much of the output, but New Brunswick shipbuilders also consumed their share. Shipyards along the coasts and major rivers launched vessels to carry masts and other wood cargo around the world. After 1870, the expanding railroad system opened more of the province to logging.

Yet despite the improved infrastructure and apparently unlimited forest resources, New Brunswick's timber trade began to faltered. After 1880, foreign tariffs, world recessions, competition from Pacific Coast logging, and the demise of wooden shipbuilding took their toll. The province also experienced a growing shortage of large and accessible trees, caused by years of wasteful cutting practices.

The 1900s
Meanwhile, a new type of forest operation appeared on the scene: wood pulp mills. They opened first in the late 1800s at Penobsquis in Kings County and Miramichi, and grew more numerous after 1900. By 1930, the pulp and paper industry achieved enough vigour to economically surpass the lumber industry – a position it still holds today.

The 1930s to 1950s brought other challenges to the forest industry, including major insect infestations. At mid-century, timber consumption began to escalate rapidly. Wood harvest tripled in just three decades. By the mid-1970s, it became apparent that – if harvest levels continued to increase – New Brunswick could experience severe timber shortages. Government reports such as the 1974 Forest Resources Study recommended a more sustainable approach to forest management.

The Province responded with a series of moves that culminated in 1982 with the landmark Crown Lands and Forests Act. That Act has served us well. Today New Brunswick's forest management standards rank with the best in North America.

For more of our history:
New Brunswick's Natural Resources:  150 Years of Stewardship
by Dr. E.S. (Ted) Fellows