Bev Wigney on the revised SGEM for Nova Scotia: perspectives of a naturalist 15Feb2021

Bev Wigney’s depiction of “Super Canopy Trees” Mar 11, 2019

Bev Wigney is first and foremost a naturalist. She founded the Facebook Group Annapolis Royal and Area – Environment & Ecology in the fall of 2018, primarily to promote  natural history observation in the Annapolis area. She and others  became concerned when they learned about a  harvest planned for a Crown land forest they knew well, and eventually managed to get it stopped.   Subsequently,   Bev led the way, with Shelly Hipson in Shelburne Co,  in encouraging folks to get out on some of our Crown land parcels proposed for harvesting to see  what’s there.  The first one Bev & Co  visited  – The Corbett-Dalhousie Lakes forest – turned out to have been posted in error by L&F – and to host some biological treasures.  After a lot of followup by Bev & Co., and a camp-out on the lands by some very determined women, harvesting was  put on hold  (but  I  believe its fate is still unclear). Bev continues to inform herself  – and L&F – about what’s on our Crown lands and to talk about what we need to do to nurture their inhabitants.

Thanks for taking the time to do this Bev Wigney, and for sharing it. I know only too well that you would rather be collecting beetles from your wood pile or peering through binoculars…

Posted by Bev Wigney on Annapolis Royal & Area – Environment & Ecology (Public Facebook Group), Feb 14, 2021:

COVER NOTE [To Lands & Forestry]
I submit the following comments for consideration in the final draft edit of the Nova Scotia Silvicultural Guide for the Ecological Matrix. My comments are based on practical considerations and observations – written as someone who is a life long naturalist, managed a 40 acre private woodlot in Ontario, and served as an advisory naturalist for Marlborough Forest in the Ottawa Region for a time in the 1990s. I have focussed my comments on just a few items which seem of greatest concern (See below).

One point that must be said about this whole process is that we cannot go on operating under the current “interim guide”. It is resulting in too much serious damage to the ecology of Crown land forests. What needs to happen is to move to the SGEM a.s.a.p. — AND even if it needs more work, that should not stop the process. In spite of the need of some revisions, it should be implemented AND there should be a halt to the low percentage variable retention cuts (10, 20, & 30 percent) and Shelterwoods that are removing large percentages of the forest. Further, previously approved parcels must be re-evaluated under the new management guidelines. Under “Wind Exposure” I give the example of forests in Cape Breton that have been harvested with very low percentage retention, that are in areas that, under the new SGEM would be considered “high wind exposure” and that should not be heavily harvested due to windthrow risk. And yet, as recently as 3 weeks ago, such prescriptions were *still* being approved! This kind of thing has to stop and what has already been approved *must* be re-evaluated to end further ecological damage.

These are topics which I have commented upon below::
* Inadequacy of Forest Cover and the creation of “Heat Islands”
* Wildlife Connectivity and Shoreline Buffer Zones
* Forest Access Roads
* Wind Exposure
* Silviculture for “other” purposes
* Management for Wildlife.

I will not comment directly on any particular harvest treatment. However, these are a few practical observations and associated concerns based on my own time spent in Crown land forests over the past few summers when I have gone out botanizing and looking for lepidoptera, etc…

Shelterwood cut at Corbett-Dalhousie Lakes Forest on June 15, 2019: even with the ‘shelter’, there was severe drying out of the forest floor. (NSFN photo)

** I’ve walked around in a number of harvests on Crown land from early spring into autumn. Surface temperature of the soil in harvested areas is just searing, especially in any area where soil is thin over rock — which happens to be throughout much of Nova Scotia. After a harvest, within the space of even a few days, the ferns have all died, the mosses are dried into powder that will just blow away off the palm of your hand. Any plant colonies are usually dead. Any slash is already drying out. The air temperature above the soil actually feels *hot* even on an overcast, cool spring day. Anything — any source of spark or flame — can easily ignite the debris on the ground. This is a danger to the forests and to all of us. It is also not providing a chance to reestablish plants, mosses, etc. and it is killing soil organisms. Undoubtedly, it is releasing huge amounts of carbon to the atmosphere.

We should not be opening up such huge areas of canopy in our forests — especially if we actually care about the ecology of the forest and wish it to retain its soil organisms, plants, wildlife, and continue to sequester carbon. We are creating what amounts to the forest equivalent of “urban heat islands”. That is both sad and scary.

** My other observation is — if you care *AT ALL* about preserving any recreational value of forests to the communities who live (and pay taxes) around these Crown forests — you will find better ways of harvesting — such as less heavy machine harvesting. They leave the forests in an “unusable” state — actually incredibly treacherous as there are spear-like sapling stumps everywhere, creating a situation much like Punji Stick Traps (if you don’t know what that is, please google it). Between smashed logs and sharp Punji Sticks, one takes their life into their hands to try to hike through these places in summer, or snowshoe or x-country ski through them in winter. After creating massive access roads for harvesting equipment, it is rather ironic that even small foot paths, canoe portages, etc.. cannot be preserved for those who visit our forests for peace and to see and spend time with nature and wildlife.

I comment on these together as they are, in many ways, very related. Currently, Crown land forests are being removed in swaths and patches. Satellite views of heavily harvested areas reveal little landscape level connectivity. Buffers along shorelines of lakes and rivers, are not wide enough to be of much use to wildlife. Some species such as Moose, will not make use of narrow buffers which are really little more than a cosmetic screen so that paddlers and fisherman can’t see the devastation that took place 20 metres in from the shore. Also, for those who walk in the forest on foot, they will find that the ends of extraction lanes on buffers are often piled high with an impenetrable wall of broken trees and slash so that the shore is barely accessible. It is likely that wildlife find it practically as inaccessible as well. When laying out marking of shoreline buffers, the actual 20 metre buffer is often not adhered to if the shoreline is irregular, leading to narrower sections where cutting goes almost to the water’s edge.

A solution to some of this problem — the insufficient shoreline buffer zones and the lack of connectivity in harvest parcels — would be to increase buffer zones to some usable width such as 60 metres. That would help to create wildlife corridors around lakes and along rivers. Smaller brooks should have wider buffers as well. This would help to reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss out of the forests.

There seems to be no place in this guide where road construction is discussed. Although “road construction” isn’t a direct part of silviculture, it cannot be denied that forests are very much altered when a road is constructed through them — especially the very wide logging roads which are being built throughout Crown land forests in this province. Many are being built as durable, long-term roads requiring rock fill, culverts, bridges, etc… They require huge swaths of trees to be cut down to make way for the roads. In the process, legacy trees, wildlife habitat and plant colonies are destroyed. Wet areas are being filled with rock — areas which are providing habitat to amphibians, other wildlife, and certain plants. Or these wet areas are drained to make areas accessible for machine logging.

Further, in the process of building these roads, soil and rocks are scraped away far out to the edges, for use in building up the road bed, or to remove boulders. This creates open, disturbed soil where invasive plants such as Glossy Buckthorn can easily become established and then extend into surrounding forests, aided by wildlife such as Red Squirrels that eat the fruit and disperse the seeds, particularly into Pine forests. Non-native Phragmites can become established in wet ditches created by new roads.
Moving rock from the roadsides to build up or push through roads potentially destroys hibernacula for snakes — and may well be killing any snakes that are overwintering when roads are constructed between autumn and springtime. Other creatures also den in among boulders and they will be disturbed or destroyed while moving and scraping at boulders.

These roads are, almost without exception, fairly permanent and open up forests in ways that are rarely beneficial to anything other than industry.
** They allow human disturbance to the landscape — ATVs and ORVs enter forests and tear up wetlands and trails — and spread invasive plant seeds picked up by mud in their tires. Roads also encourage those who will enter a forest and have party fires and end up starting wild land fires.
** They provide access for poachers who can easily drive far into forests to kill Moose, Deer and, although probably not a problem here YET, capture turtles for certain markets (as happens in other parts of Canada already). It will happen here eventually if not already.
** They provide access to people who use forests as a place to dump their large trash (I saw that in several Crown land forests just this summer while out bioblitzing).
** They provide an easy surface for packs of Coyote to move through forests where, otherwise, snow would be too soft and deep for winter hunting of Moose and Deer.

We should not be building such large, permanent roads — ESPECIALLY into any ecological matrix forest. Any road not in immediate use should be decommissioned. We should not be moving around and disturbing large amounts of soil on the road allowances. We should be taking better stock of the trees being removed to build the roads. What happens to these trees? Who makes the income off of them? They are PART of each forest parcel and should be COUNTED as part of the “loss of trees” in every forest.

I studied the SGEM section on Wind Exposure and then looked for the Wind Exposure GIS Map Layer for Nova Scotia. I then compared some of the very high EX (Exposure) areas with some *already completed* harvests on Crown land in the Cape Breton Highlands region — and on TWO parcels that are going through for approval. Your SGEM is saying that high EX locations should NOT have low variable retentions — and yet, these latest parcels which I just commented on, were *both* high EX areas with a prescription for 10 percent for one, and 20 percent for the other. Both are the very last parcels in their respective locations with trees still standing — and they are both overlooking the Margaree River valley. I mention this, because these bad decisions are still being made right as we speak and really helps to illustrate WHY we should be **re-evaluating** parcels that have been approved over at the very least, the past year.

In any case, Wind Exposure is a serious concern. Forests that are too heavily thinned or logged with be subject to windthrow and end up with damage and salvage harvests. In cases like the parcels on the Margaree River, there were brooks with steep declines flowing through those parcels. The soil must be very thin on the crests of those ridges. Whatever soil is still up there after 90 percent of the forest is removed — is likely to dry out and blow away, or the debris and eroded soil wash down those very steep hillsides into the Margaree River below. To make matters worse, this is in an area known for salmon pools and fishing lodges. This is not ecological use of the land. Nor is it a unique situation. We have seen the like in many areas of this province. This can’t continue.

It is clear that this guide is mainly aimed at silviculture with the end use of forests for timber, pulp or biomass. There should be more emphasis on how to manage a forest for other uses. For example, if one is interested in harvesting Chaga, they should actually retain or even encourage the growth of Paper Birch. There are other uses for it as well — specialty firewood (yes, some people like to burn mainly Birch and rather unbelievably, White Birch logs are even imported from Estonia and sold in American stores such as Home Depot). Birch bark for crafts — yes, people actually want the bark for making things.
Hemlock, even dead or dying, is the host tree of Ganoderma tsugae — known as Reishi by those who use it for medicinal or other health purposes. Likewise, Turkeytail grows best on certain host trees (usually stumps and fallen trees). And, Oak logs and some other logs make good matrix for the growing of Shiitake and other mushrooms.

Balsam Fir branches could be harvested for processing into Balsam Oil. Where I come from in Ontario, there was a Cedar Oil processing plant nearby that bought Eastern White Cedar trimmings by weight. That could be done with Balsam Fir here as well.

Then there is managing for Sugar Maple — ***carefully*** removing other trees while retaining the Sugar Maples — taking care NOT to damage them in any way so that they can become productive trees. Instead, they are getting cut off of Crown land forests shortly before they are of an age ready for tapping. That is a poor use of a valuable resource.
I could go on with other uses, but my point is that there needs to be more emphasis on the multiplicity of tangible uses for trees other than purely as a source of lumber and firewood. In many cases, some of these other uses could be even more profitable than sawing for firewood, lumber. pulp or biomass. Further, in the pursuit of timber, some of these other possible uses are being destroyed for decades.


I’m a life long naturalist — have been studying nature for almost 60 years. I realize this guide is mainly aimed at silviculture, but considering that this is supposed to be applied to “ecological matrix forest”, I was quite disappointed but perhaps not all that surprised that references and recommendations about wildlife were so scant. In my study of PTAs over the past few years, I have noticed that there are almost *never* any wildlife marked on the forms as “observed”. In fact, I don’t actually remember seeing any wildlife ever coded on a form – or if so, probably just once or twice. To me, that’s pretty strange and points to the likelihood that those doing the assessments probably don’t know how to find wildlife — for example, one person who described doing a PTA for some forest in my area, said there were no birds present. He was there in February or March and didn’t see or hear any. Well, one is not going to see or hear *any* migratory birds at that time of year. PTAs should be done at a time of year when there actually is some kind of wildlife activity such as birds on territory. Likewise, winter is *not* the time of year to find snake hibernacula, or Wood Turtles, or vernal pools, etc… Further, there should be an entirely “other” level of assessment on harvest parcels which employs a biologist or knowledgeable ecologist, who can perform an accurate assessment — and not someone from industry (I know of people employed by industry to “look for” cultural sites or wildlife with the hope that they not actually find anything of significance). We need to be doing better ecology that holds biodiversity as the highest value above that of cutting down forests for toilet paper and firewood.

Cavity tree at Corbett-Dalhousie Lakes Forest, June 15, 2019 (NSFN photo)

I also noticed that the silviculture manual just did not have very much about trees for wildlife. Cavity trees were mentioned, but what about large conifers which are used by Bats as summer day roosts and nurseries. It is a common enough thing. A large tree was felled in Halifax a few years ago, wiping out a day roost for dozens of bats. These are the kinds of things that a biologist might assess for — bat detector units are not very costly anymore. With bat populations as threatened as they are, we should be surveying for them — just as we should be surveying for migratory birds AND honouring “Silent Seasons” in our forests during nesting season to comply with the guidelines of the Migratory Birds Convention Act. These are the things that need to be changed in order to preserve biodiversity in this province. At the moment, it is under attack and we aren’t doing much to prevent the destruction.

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