Nova Scotia municipalities lead the way in addressing climate and biodiversity crises, L&F Please follow! 26Sep2019

Annapolis County wants the province to hand over a swath of Crown land forest  known as the Corbett-Dalhousie Lakes Old Forest (above) so the municipality can develop and manage it as a “climate forest”. In the lower photo: A group of women camp out on the forestry road in early June 2019, 2019 under the banner of Extinction Rebellion to protest harvesting. Subsequently, L&F put a hold on harvesting while they investigate reports of Species-at-Risk at the site by local naturalists

In this week of global attention to climate change, with the biodiversity crisis usually cited in the same breath, there have been two encouraging developments in NS, both at the municipal level.

First, in Annapolis County, which is mostly rural (area: 3,185 km2, population approx. 21,000), the County’s Municipal Council has declared a “climate emergency” (Sep 23, 2019). The motion:

In accordance with the recommendation of Committee of the Whole, that municipal council for the County of Annapolis declares a climate emergency in order to engage citizens in a cooperative approach that would address the rapidly emerging impacts of the deteriorating climate.

Reports Lawrence Powell in the Annapolis Spectator,

[Warden] Habinski said by his tally at least 20 local organizations are currently active in one way or another in addressing one or another of the consequences of climate change.

“But most of these organizations operate in silos,” he said, noting the intention of the summit is to bring together community organizations, individual community experts, and outside experts to help to guide council so it can be aware of what work is currently being done on climate change adaptation and mitigation in Annapolis County.

He said the county wants a strategy that encompasses the entirety of the county and its population. He said the summit would likely become an annual event. “Because we’re going to have to continue to address and modify our strategies as events unfold,” he said.

Not mentioned in that article, but certainly a key backdrop to the Council’s progressive stance are their efforts to stop the excessive clearcutting on Crown land in Annapolis Co. – it was likely their letter to the Premier in the spring of 2017 requesting exclusion from the WestFor Agreement that finally triggered the Independent Review of Forest Practices – and more recently to develop and manage a “climate forest“*
*The concept of a “climate forest” has been promoted in the Maritimes by Dale Prest – view NSFN Post of May 4, 2018

Attention to the latter area, the Corbett-Dalhousie Lakes Old Forest, was initiated by Annapolis Co. residents in the latter part of December 2018, a topic well covered in this blog. (View some of the history of it here.)

It is no credit to the NS Government/Lands & Forestry that both initiatives were firmly rejected – and the  Corbett-Dalhousie Lakes Old Forest remains as ground zero in citizens’ efforts to protect more Old Growth forests in Nova Scotia.

That clearly has not stopped the momentum for progressive action on forests and climate by both the Council and the residents at large. Kudos.

Second, on Tues. Sep 24, 2019 Halifax/Halifax Regional Municipality which  includes all of Halifax County (5,496 km2, population 403,131 in 2016)  formally incorporated consideration of wildlife corridors – as mapped in their Green Network Plan (2018) – into the Halifax Regional Plan/Planning Strategy.

Wow. Please Lands & Forestry follow this lead!  After 20 or more years of field and computer work mapping all of the features required to put together an  integrated Landscape Level Plan for biodiversity conservation  with critical wildlife corridors clearly identified,  L&F has yet to come forth with such a map  or plan.

On Aug 20, 2019 I attended  a meeting of “targeted [invited] technical experts and policy stakeholders” to “to discuss the proposed policy direction and associated revisions” of the  FMG (Forest Management Guide).  I attended at the request of the Healthy Forest Coalition, one of the invitee groups.

After an introduction  to it all by the L&F Team Leader for the FMG Project and by the author of  the current FMG, I had two questions:

(1) How does the FMG relate to the Triad, in particular to the High Production Forestry component?

(2) The FMG is a guide to make decisions at the stand level. Where does Landscape Level Planing for Biodiversity Conservation come into the process.., i.e. into the decision on what stands are going to be cut whether in the Matrix or the High Production Forestry components? Surely that needs to come first.

The answer to the first question: The FMG will apply only to the the Matrix Component, the High Production Forestry group will be producing a separate guide for those decisions.

The second question caused more than a little unease. “The department is aware of that need..and a pilot project was instituted a few years ago in Eastern NS in collaboration with Port Hawkesbury Paper”, we were told, but they couldn’t provide any details.

These senior L&F foresters made no mention of the “the first Canadian Maritimes Ecological Connectivity Forum which was held in April 2019. That forum  was opened by L&F Minister Rankin and a landscape planner from L&F was a co-organizer. So it seems that Landscape Level Planning is in a separate box at L&F and is not a matter of active discussion outside of the box.

I remain in a state of shell shock over this response. The uproar about clearcutting in NS is not about a clearcut here and  but about the extent of clearcutting and its effects on wildlife habitat, and about the loss of old forest habitat in particular which has big negative consequences  for both carbon storage and biodiversity.

The only way that can be addressed is by doing what Halifax has done over a much shorter period, i.e. to identify critical habitat, corridors etc., and then insert that information into the process involved in selecting forest stands for logging.   But Landscape Level Planning  remains,  apparently,  a “pilot project” at L&F about which we know nothing, and is not amongst the priority responses of L&F to the Lahey report.

It seems that one big hurdle to L&F moving more quickly on Landscape Level Planning is that they insist on doing it all in-house. Like L&F, Halifax  had mapped just about everything but gave the job of producing a Landscape Level Plan to O2 Planning + Design, a Canadian firm well recognized as a leader in producing such plans. Of course, farming it out could mean some loss of control of the result by L&F.

As well as using the Halifax Green Network Plan (HGNP) as a model for the type of plan that is needed at the provincial level, L&F could well follow the fully transparent and inclusive processes* that were involved in developing  the HGNP – and are the reason that the HGNP was unanimously endorsed by Halifax Regional Council, as was this latest amendment to the Planning Strategy.
*For example, Our HRM Alliance was  formed in 2011 to advocate for progressive improvements to the Regional Plan then up for review, and went on to be actively involved in the HGNP. The Alliance has 60 member groups including 8 Trail,  9 Wilderness, 18 Environmental, 18 Community and 8 Business groups.

Somewhat ironically and although it’s co-occurence with the week of global protest is coincidental, during this past week L&F has been in court defending itself against a lawsuit by naturalists. The suit seeks simply to force L&F to do what it has committed and is legally required to  do to protect Species-at-Risk in NS.

“We seek the Court’s assistance as a last resort,” said lawyer Jamie Simpson, representing the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists, the Blomidon Naturalists’ Society, and the Halifax Field Naturalists during yesterday’s hearing.

The position of the province put forward by lawyer Jeremy Smith involves some nuanced hair-splitting. Smith did not object to the three nature-loving groups who claimed to be acting in the public interest when they asked the court to review whether the minister is meeting his responsibilities under the Act. Instead Smith argued the groups do not have “a clear and legal right” to force the minister to obey the rules.

“These applicants aren’t the mainland moose, they aren’t the lady’s slipper, and they aren’t the Eastern Pee-wee,” said Justice Christa Brothers with a trace of annoyance. “If they aren’t in court because they represent the public interest, why are they here? When the issue is regarding endangered species and they can’t mount a challenge themselves, who can?”
Cited in the Halifax Examiner Morning File, Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Not only is L&F being difficult about enforcing NS Government legislation to protect Species-at-Risk, the department has actually impeded volunteer efforts to help species at risk.

It seems that in Nova Scotia, citizens have to fight the provincial  government to do the sorts of things the youth are in the streets about this week.

It is encouraging that at least of two the  municipalities – and many Nova Scotians –  are thinking about and acting on such matters very differently.

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