Questions about easements on private woodlots in Nova Scotia

“How do we ensure that the last bits of mature forest in the province are managed sustainably for a variety of purposes other than the single-minded interests of fiber production?”

Cutting red maple to make logs for growing   mushrooms

Cutting immature red maple to make logs for growing shiitake mushrooms on private woodland in Nova Scotia

Even before the thesis by Andrew W. Kekacs (Gifts to a Future World: conversations with woodlot owners in Nova Scotia) is formally defended (see post), a post about it on the publicly viewable Birding on the Net: Recent postings from Nova Scotia stimulated questions and discussions about ways a woodland owner might see his or her land permanently protected from clearcutting or the bulldozer.

I have provided some excerpts below with links to the posts. I will add more as they might arise and are pertinent.

On a related note, I have heard that “the NS Government is changing the land taxation for forest lands: unless doing active forestry with a management plan in place, woodland owners will pay much more than 25 cents/acre. There seems to have been no announcement about this change.” Note (July 29): I have been unable to confirm or not confirm that such a change is in the works.

Initial Post Tue Jul 25 2017 by JK: A Hopeful Perspective on NS Forestry

School for Resource and Environmental Studies
MES Thesis Defence
By Andrew W. Kekacs
Abstract:Private, non-industrial woodland owners provide more than half of the timber used by Nova Scotia’s forest products industry. Research, however, suggests many of these owners do not consider income from timber sales to be their primary reason for owning woodland. This study aimed to reach a holistic understanding of their attitudes and motivations using walking interviews on the owners’ woodlands and a grounded theory approach to analysis, in which explanations of the phenomena under study are induced from the data rather than being based on responses to survey questions or derived from a priori hypotheses. Forest landowners interviewed for this research were most concerned with the conservation and ultimately the conveyance of values that provide them with no immediate economic returns. The high value placed on these gifts to a future world offers a new way to think about the design of programs meant to encourage active management of private forestland.

From Post Tue Jul 25 2017 by DW

I suspect conservation, and nature worship, rank high in the minds of most private woodlot owners.I was fully disgusted with NS Nature Trust when they sniffed ‘We don’t protect that kind of woodland’, when I made inquiries about protecting my woodlot permanently from residential/commercial development. If you aim to protect 12% of an area then 78% is unprotected and what good is a pail if 78% of the bottom is missing ?

From JK Wed Jul 26 2017

I agree that we need more alternatives for saving our patches of land for future generations.
A number of years ago, on one my birding field trips, I came upon a 95-year old farmer working a small patch of land, surrounded by a mature Sugar Maple-Yellow Birch forest, in the high country of Pictou County with a beautiful view of the valley below. In the course of our conversation he expressed cynacism about what his relatives would do with the land when he passed away, and he lamented the fact that he knew of no way to ensure the protection of his lifetime of work in caring for the land. Today that land is part of an industrial-scale wind energy facility. It makes me wonder what Nova Scotia would be or could be like if all these patches were preserved. The choice is not between progress and a romantic clinging to the past as some might argue. Rather it is I believe, a choice between seeing the land as a commodity for our personal use and profit, or as a heritage, a work of art even, that we have a collective responsibility to care for and enhance during the time we dwell on the land.

From: CJP Wed Jul 26 2017

One mechanism for protecting amazing forest parcels, eg. old growth forest, on your property is through a private land conservation organization. Those groups sometimes have the ability to help landowners protect their property through a conservation easement – that’s a legal document that maintains conservation values on a property “in perpetuity”.
Those charity groups who do this work have only a few staff on hand and limited resources. Putting a conservation easement on a property and maintaining that over time is a time consuming legal process that requires fairly substantial funding from the NGO to cover those legal fees, future monitoring of the lands, etc. That means these groups only have the ability to take on certain properties that they can get funding to take on. They usually have fairly strict criteria for being able to take on a property. Despite that, I’d encourage anyone with something exceptional on their lands that they’d like to see protected to contact an NGO such as the Nature Trust or the Nature Conservancy of Canada and explore what options might be possible. Just keep in mind that the funding might not be there and that the amazing folks who work for those NGOs are working really hard behind the scenes and so it may take some time for them to respond to your calls or emails.

From:RP Wed Jul 26 2017

One project that I had a small part in was MICA and it was successful beyond my wildest dreams. Their WWW site will bring folks up to date on their accomplishments. Every community would do well to copy the plan.

From: PC Wed Jul 26

Good points about preserving working woodland. I have the impression that working farmland is better protected, but maybe that is a matter of local zoning?
I was once told about the fate of a mature sugar maple woodlot in the hardwood hills of Pictou County. It had been carefully managed for maple syrup production for generations. When Grandpa died, none of the family could take it on. They all agreed that it should only be sold to someone who planned to continue the operation. They found a buyer who promised to do so. The next year, he clearcut the acreage and sold 200 year old sugar maples for firewood. The granddaughter who told me this was alternately enraged, and teary-eyed, at the folly of it.

From: J&N July 26, 2017

Thanks for this…It clarifies a lot.
Some years back, a landowner with a plot of land in two adjacent municipal units (one a town) willed us a chunk of her land. For legal reasons, we were not able to assume ownership, but I remember advising her heirs that they could take out a conservation easement on the land in question. Offered to help further and never heard back, but I am sure the offspring honoured their ma’s wishes to the best of their ability.
My point (question?) is that if an owner wants to protect his or her land and if NSNT or the Nature Conservancy of Canada doesn™t take it, the owner can take steps to apply his or her own legal easements on the land (can’t he/she??).

From: LL Wed Jul 26 2017 17:12 pm

The answer is that in Nova Scotia and other Canadian Provinces that I’m familiar with, an easement is between the land owner and an eligible body. The “eligible body” is the key phrase. In Nova Scotia an eligible body is:
– Her Majesty in right of the Province or any agency of Her Majesty in right of the Province;
– Her Majesty in right of Canada or any agency of Her Majesty in right of Canada;
– A municipality or any agency of a municipality;
– Any of the thirteen Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw bands or any legal organization representing two or more of the bands;
– Any organization that was, immediately before this Act comes into force, designated by the Governor in Council as a conservation organization under the former Act;
– Any other organization designated pursuant to the regulations
NSNT would be such a designated organization. A private citizen would not be.
My source is the Conservation Easements Act of the Province of Nova Scotia.

From: DC : Thursday, July 27

It’s timely to read this exchange regarding conservation easements and other solutions to ensure that private woodlots continue to house biodiversity values and ecosystem services while perhaps continuing to provide a modest income, or otherwise remain a working woodlot. The issue of woodlot liquidation (or otherwise flattening woodlots) is a huge one that needs to be addressed quickly. Woodlots that were carefully managed for generations are now falling to clearcutting practices for a variety of reasons by the next generation. As we rapidly run out of Crown wood, DNR and the mills will count on getting wood from private land holdings (though presently private land wood is being froze out of the market in the southwest). How do we ensure that the last bits of mature forest in the province are managed sustainably for a variety of purposes other than the single-minded interests of “fiber production”?

[I am] hoping that someone, or some organizations who have earned public trust, will provide some useful and very practical legal advice on conservation easements very soon. Small woodlot owners, many of whom are now seniors, require the information now, rather than later. The obvious organizations we might have turned to, such as DNR, have lost public trust, and it would be best to obtain solid advice on conservation easements from elsewhere, from group(s) that will not directly profit from this/who are not in conflict of interest.

For future generations, we need to preserve the last tiny bits of the old growth and intact wilderness, with sugar maples, yellow birch, red spruce, hemlock, and other living components of our forests. I am looking into a conservation easement for my tiny woodlot. I like the idea of providing some kind of lasting legacy in my will, while not shutting out the possibility of sensible, informed harvesting here and there in future generations. I’d like to stipulate the maintenance of a shaded forest floor (protecting soil carbon, nutrients, mycorrhizae, and other components perhaps as yet unnamed, as part of the sustainable solution)…

Some Links

Protecting Nature onYour Property: An introduction to nature conservation on private land in Nova Scotia
NS Environment brochure. “To be considered for a conservation easement, a property must provide habitat for species at risk; contain unique, rare, or exceptional features; be a haven for large populations of animals; or have intact natural areas.”

Conservation Property Tax Exemption
NS Environment document. Q&A: What is the conservation property tax exemption? Why is it needed? How does it work? What is a conservation property? How can I determine if my land qualifies as a “conservation property”? Who is eligible for this tax exemption? Do I need to apply for the tax exemption? It provides a list of contacts.

Community Easements Act
“In the spring of 2012, Government passed the Community Easements Act, which provides governments, non-profit groups, and the Mi’kmaq with a new tool for protecting land use and land access. In 2013, the government approved regulations under the Community Easements Act. A community easement is a legal mechanism to maintain community or cultural interests in land, including such things as community access to special places, agricultural or forestry land use, view planes, wetlands, and archaeological sites. The land owner would receive financial compensation from those seeking the community easement for agreeing to place the restriction on the land. To place a community easement on land, a group must be designated under the Act. A community easement is a permanent interest in land that allows a group, the Mikmaq or government to retain the land’s traditional use, even if the land is sold.”

Nova Scotia Nature Trust
“An incorporated charitable organization designated as a conservation organization under the Conservation Easement Act of Nova Scotia… The Nova Scotia Nature Trust works with private landowners and other partners to protect significant natural areas throughout the province. We protect these lands primarily through acquisition and conservation easements.”

Nature Conservancy of Canada
“The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is Canada’s leading national land conservation organization. A private, non-profit organization, we partner with individuals, corporations, other non-profit organizations and governments at all levels to protect our most important natural treasures — the natural areas that sustain Canada’s plants and wildlife. We secure properties (through donation, purchase, conservation agreement and the relinquishment of other legal interests in land) and manage them for the long term.”

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