If we run into some good woods, we must be off of Crown land

    So writes Zack Metcalfe, citing a not-so-funny joke told to him by a guide taking him through a slice of Halifax County.

    Practicing forestry as if there were a tomorrow. This old logging road is on land now owned by Halifax Regional Municipality land. As private land it was logged up until about 20 years ago, but there are still lots of trees over 2 ft diameter, and snags and coarse woody debris.

    A Quiet Word on Forestry, published in the September issue of Rural Delivery, begins with “There are no names in this story”, a line by Ernest Hemingway. Writes ZM:

    I’ve followed this topic [NS forestry] in earnest for several months now, and everywhere it’s the same, from people in government, industry and even conservation; no one wants to talk openly about it – some for political reasons, some citing job security, and some because they don’t want to burn important bridges. So while visiting a slice of Crown land in Halifax County with yet another person in-the-know, I decided to indulge my source in anonymity. Otherwise, this story wouldn’t exist.

    Zack’s Guide and person-in-the-know is “an expert in regional birds – someone who also knows a great deal about the workings of the forest industry in the province.” The Guide talks about the declines of once common birds inhabiting mature forest, and how forestry on Crown land is removing the last vestiges of suitable habitat.

    One of the province’s major forestry companies logged this area heavily only five years back, and left behind small, untouched pockets which amount to perhaps 10 percent of the landscape. To the bird expert, this seemed sensible at the time, given the diversity of species inhabiting the area. But now the company was coming back for these scraps, and my guide wanted me to see them before cutting commenced.

    And people who work the forests know that its not just the birds that are going away, so are forest jobs.

    Talk to the guys building the roads or the guys doing the cutting – good guys – a lot of them think this job is going nowhere.

    There are a lot of insights in this article both from the Guide and from Zak and I encourage those interested to borrow or purchase the Sept. issue of Rural Delivery*.

    There were a couple of thoughts or observations that particularly resonated with me. One is Zak’s comment that “As a society, we have a bad habit of focusing our attention on species-at-risk… But the more I speak with people in the field, the more I worry for all our wildlife species, common or otherwise.”

    I came to the same conclusion some time ago, except that I see the focus on Species at Risk as an “umbrella” for protecting common species as well and that it was a necessary place to begin years ago; it is easier conceptually and more sellable to politicians and probably legally to focus on species formally recognized as at risk of being totally lost.

    The difficulty arises when even the common species begin to decline or when people want to keep a particular landscape with, for example, mature forests but which contain no species-at-risk. Without the presence of species-at-risk or other special features, it’s difficult under the current framework to make a case for formal protection of a piece of Crown land or as a land owner to get a conservation easement on such land. NSDNR now recognizes that old growth forests are rare and worth conserving but apparently not yet that the same forest in an earlier stage is worth maintaining for its own sake, as habitat for common species or perhaps for the social well being of the local community and even the larger community.

    Conservationists, however, are well aware of the need to manage much larger blocks of lands for biodiversity conservation – as much as 50-60% of the landscape in total – than those contained in formally protected areas (see Conservation on this website). For our Acadian forest, management for biodiversity conservation AND timber would involve much longer forestry rotations (100-150 years) between clearcuts and/or some form of selection cutting. Currently, selection cutting on Crown lands amounts to only about 10% of total harvesting and the average rotation length is circa 50 years.

    The longer we wait to prioritize biodiversity conservation on Crown lands, the more we will lose, it’s as simple as that. We need to prioritize biodiversity conservation on private lands as well, but private landowners at large are already much more on board in that regards than NSDNR (see Post July 26, 2017).

    The other comment that resonated with me in Zack’s article was this one from the Guide:

    Forestry in Nova Scotia is just flawed, right down to the core, and I think they just need to scale it back. We still think we can employ however many thousands of people in the forestry industry, but we can’t. The wood is just about gone. We’re going to have to scale back, let the woods grow up, and start from scratch, basically. I think we should go back to growing quality wood, and stop growing biomass for Europe and pulp for China.

    As Bob Bancroft has argued for so long, the forest needs a rest. If it gets one, in the longer term we can have a healthy forest economy AND a high level of biodiversity conservation. If it doesn’t, in the longer term we will likely have neither.

    As I was preparing this item, Wendy Elliot: clearcutting too much, too fast and for too long came across my news stream. Wendy, a columnist for the Kings Co. News begins with the shameful story of how Nova Nada monks in SW Nova Scotia were driven from Nova Scotia

    For almost 25 years the monks lived at Nova Nada in peace and mostly solitude. Then in 1994, J. D. Irving Ltd. bought the land around the monastery from another forestry company, Bowater Mersey. Two years later harvesting operations began and the silence that the monks depended on was shattered by the noise of clear-cutting and road construction. A two-mile buffer was requested by the monks, but no agreement could be brokered. So the monks departed Nova Nada in 1998.

    Now, like the common wildlife species that have become clearcut refugees, more and more Nova Scotians are feeling like the monks of Nova Nada: besieged by clearcutting.

    Says Wendy Elliot: “I simply do not understand how Crown lands are not considered by the provincial government for their highest and best use as opposed to short-term gain. All Nova Scotians should have a voice when it comes to our resources’.

    I would like to think that the Independent Review will provide that voice.


    *Rural Delivery is published 10 times “providing information and support to rural residents in Atlantic Canada and points west” since 1976. An annual subscription is $24. Another good one from the RD folks: Atlantic Forestry Review, a quarterly for $20/year.

    UPDATE SEP 12, 2017: Extracts from a few of the comments about this post on Woods and Waters Nova Scotia (Facebook Site)

    BH: a big saw mill in wileville , lunenburg county , clear cut a piece of property that bordered on my land recently. it looks like a war zone. such a waste of good wood. and the land owner and i shared a common road , a deeded road , that runs back and forth from my land to the neighbors land. the big mill owner who clear cut the neighbors land destroyed that common deeded road in a 3 hundred foot section with his machinery. and he refuses to fix it..

    GK: I’ve worked in the forest industry in Nova Scotia for 37 years there’s no need to clear cut any stand of woods there is always something you can leave but the big forestry companies say no no we have to clear cut they have to clear cut because they can’t move those big giant machines around the woods fall or buncher’s Porter’s that just keep getting bigger every year that’s why they tell you they have to clear-cut I’ve worked in the woods my whole life I’ve watched Forrest grow from seedlings that I’ve planted you do not have to clear cut any stand why they’re clear-cutting it is because that’s the only way they can do it with a machine I blame the problem with the forest industry on the Compensation Board which drove the price to cover a chainsaw operator to I believe it’s around $18 on every hundred that he made so therefore the company’s whined that the compensation was too hot to pay so therefore they had to use a machine this is a combination of politics and big business is what’s destroying our forest …

    JH: We should have scaled back 20 year ago. If we don’t do it right now it will be to late, we will have nothing left.

    MH: There is lots of forest destruction on the Windsor Chester highway. .clear cuts throughout. .the land is raped and stepped on ..thousands of cords of wood pushed over and left..
    How and why are they able to do this..

    GS: Guysborough county has been raped of its forests to power the american mill in port hawksbury and is not making any effort to replant the forests but if the locals take some scrapwood for heat the forest rangers charge you for taking some wood. They seem to be putting presure on the atv clubs for keeplng up thier trals but dont say a word to contractors with their giant machines.

    MK: As a former tree planter I would like to point out that well over 90% of clearcut are replanted and regrow within 30-40 years. Wood lots are cleared on a rotation so there is a sustainable supply of wood.

    MP: There’s the problem. 30-40 year rotations. Tree plantations. Where’s the biodiversity, ecosystems. Sounds like “pulp” fiction as in Northern Pulp.
    TM: I know of only one place in Inverness county cape Breton that has ever been replanted and it was replanted with all the same species of trees and they put up a placard like they deserve a reward. The clear cutting (in cape Breton anyway) is getting out of hand.
    JC: I’ve been working in the woods my whole life, and every ten years someone tells me that there is only ten years left of cutting. 😉 we will never run out, logging has been going on for literally thousands of years, I’m pretty sure we have it figured out, and that picture you used, that’s probably the second or third time that has been cut. Just saying.
    SG: I remember hearing fishermen say the same thing about the Grand Banks.
    DP: Between 1990 and 2014 just over 36,000 ha/yr of forest was clearcut on average in NS. Over that same period plantations totalled just over 7,000 ha/yr. This data is freely available on the Cdn Council of Forest Ministers website https://www.sfmcanada.org/en

    CJ: Kings county on the south mountain.. its horrible. Forests that have been around since i was a kid (beautiful forests i might add) are completely gone. Leaving wildlife no where to go. It breaks my heart to see them doing this and no idea how to stop it…

    GW: I have 60 acres of farmland/forestry from our origional Wallace settler from Scotland. Im doing my best to restore it. It has a fairly healthy brook that runs into a lake in lakevale Antigonish. I offerred the contractor to come in while he was nearby and take the scrub/alders/pasture spruce and leave the mature trees on the property. Probably equated to 20 cord of wood. He was literally 5 miles away with his equipment. He said the machine is so big and expensive and what they need.. isnt worrth getting off the flost. Imagine that? This was a guy providing biomass to the Port Hawesbury plant. I asked him where is all the wood going to come from. He said he didnt know.

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