FREDERICTON - The amount of timber cut from private woodlots in New Brunswick could be tripled, returning to levels seen before a recent downturn in the forestry industry, a report released Tuesday said.

The report of the Private Forest Task Force says up to 2.5 million cubic metres of wood could be harvested from private woodlots annually, but reaching that may be difficult because of market conditions.

Just over 900,000 cubic metres of timber is cut from private woodlots each year, including firewood.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup said another 300,000 cubic metres will be added to that because of last week's announcement of government help for Arbec to reopen the Weyerhaeuser mill in Miramichi. He said the deal requires the company to get half its wood from private woodlots.

Northrup said he wants to review the report and gather public input before announcing the province's 2012-2017 wood allocation plan next month for Crown and private lands.

"We feel confident that the private woodlots can produce a lot more wood," Northrup said, adding that private woodlots have more wood than Crown land.

The report recommends that the New Brunswick government provide incentives for private woodlot owners to properly manage their property.

It says many woodlots are clear cut without concern for forest regeneration, and many of the forests are replaced with low-grade trees.

The report also suggests if any of the 42,000 private woodlot owners want funding or other assistance from the government for their properties, they should be required to implement a forest management plan.

Between 2005 and 2007, four major pulp and paper mills in northern New Brunswick closed and the remaining mills faced plummeting prices as the U.S housing market receded and the Canadian dollar strengthened.

As a result, some large forestry firms relied more on Crown land or their own properties where operating costs were lower. Many private woodlot owners stopped cutting trees because they couldn't compete.

According to government figures, more than 3.1 million cubic metres of wood per year came from private woodlots in New Brunswick between 2000 and 2005, but the downturn in the industry saw that drop by 67 per cent between 2007 and 2010.

The report also raises concerns about the prices for timber in the province. It says because the mills control much of the timber supply, it's not possible to have confidence that the prices paid for timber are of fair market value.

It recommends better reporting of prices in neighbouring jurisdictions of Nova Scotia, Maine and Quebec so that woodlot owners in New Brunswick can compare.

"Providing timely, accurate market information is a necessary first step in restoring the confidence of woodlot owners," the report says. "At the same time, the province must attract new wood-using industries to rebalance wood supply and demand."

Mark Arsenault, president of the New Brunswick Forest Products Association, said he believes prices will soon improve.

"The markets are turning," he said. "They are going to get better."

The report also recommends incentives -- such as property tax breaks -- for forest owners willing to set aside their properties for conservation purposes.

Tracy Glynn of the New Brunswick Conservation Council said it will be welcome news if the government is willing to help increase the cut on private lands and stop over-cutting of the province's Crown forests.

In November, a committee studying Crown land in New Brunswick recommended the creation of a new agency to manage the forests at arm's length from government.

Their report also recommended increasing the amount of protected natural areas from four per cent to 12 per cent of Crown land.