Natural Disturbance Regimes

From the Project Objective (June 25, 2019):

To establish and implement an approach for publication of a peer-reviewed scientific paper on Nova Scotia natural disturbance agents (fire, insects, wind), to subsequently inform a second peer-reviewed scientific paper on the methodology used to map Nova Scotia’s natural disturbance regimes

Project Team Lead
Mark Pulsifer, MSc (Biology), Project Manager, Lands and Forestry (L&F)
Experts Involved
• Dr. David MacLean, PhD, emeritus professor, Forestry and Environmental Management, University of New Brunswick
• Dr. Anthony Taylor, PhD (Forest Ecology), MSc (Forestry), BSc (Environmental Biology), Forest Ecologist, Atlantic Forestry Centre, New Brunswick

There was no stakeholder consultation on this project.  It was completed pretty well on schedule with the publication of two peer-reviewed scientific papers:

A review of natural disturbances to inform implementation of ecological forestry in Nova Scotia, Canada
by Anthony R. Taylor, David A. MacLean, Peter D. Neily, Bruce Stewart, Eugene Quigley, Sean P. Basquill, Celia K. Boone, Derek Gilby, Mark Pulsifer’ Published on the web in Environmental Reviews Aug. 18, 2020

Natural disturbance regimes for implementation of ecological forestry: a review and case study from Nova Scotia, Canada
by David A. MacLean Maclean, Anthony R. Taylor, Peter D. Neily, James W.N. Steenberg, Sean P. Basquill, Eugene Quigley, Celia K. Boone, Morgan Oikle, Peter Bush, and Bruce Stewart in : Environmental Reviews 4 August 2021 (open access)

For some comment on each of these papers,  see these subpages:

The Natural Disturbance Papers -1

The Natural Disturbance Papers -2

The two senior authors of these papers are A.R. Taylor and D.R. MacLean, who were the Expert Advisers to the project.  Taylor is with the Canadian Forest Service/Natural Resources Canada where he heads a very active research unit, the Forest Stand Dynamics Laboratory; he is also an Adjunct Professor at UNB Forestry. MacLean is a Prof & Dean Emeritus  (2018) in Forestry and Environmental Management, his area is cited as Forest Ecology; he is  well recognized as a researcher. The other authors are all cited as being with the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry. James Steenberg apparently replaced Mark Pulsifer  as the project lead for the NDR project after the latter retired.

Some Background

The Natural Disturbance Regimes project was a response to a Lahey’s Recommendation, # 7 (p 22).

7. DNR should
a. transparently acknowledge and address, with peer‐reviewed science, the concerns and critiques that have been raised with DNR’s mapping of natural disturbance regimes in Nova Scotia and align its ecosystem‐based management framework for forestry on Crown lands with its revised and peer‐reviewed mapping of Nova Scotia’s natural disturbance regimes
b. align its ecosystem‐based management framework for forestry on Crown lands with its revised and peer‐reviewed mapping of Nova Scotia’s natural disturbance regimes

DNR/L&F’s previous interpretation of Natural Disturbance Regimes (NDR) had been highly criticized and a full revision was considered essential for the application of Ecological Forestry and Ecosystem Based Management (EMB) in NS (see Lahey Conclusion #’s 48-50 & Recommendation #7).

For some comment on NSDNR’s  previous interpretation of Nova Scotia’s Natural Disturbance Regimes, see NSDNR’s nature-based forestry (page on this website).

We have now developed tools that ensure that all harvest treatments are aligned with the nature-based requirements of Nova Scotia’s lands.” – Statement under Goal 13 in the Five-year Progress Report on the 2011-2020 Natural Resources Strategy released Aug 16, 2016 by NSDNR.

It could be noted that the confidence expressed this statement is not reflected in the introductory comment of Taylor et al., 2020)

…while previous efforts to determine natural disturbance regimes in Nova Scotia have been conducted (e.g., Neily et al. 2008), to date, no comprehensive synthesis of existing literature and data has been undertaken to document and interpret Nova Scotia’s natural disturbance regimes. This limits the provincial government’s ability to implement natural disturbance emulation and ecological forestry.

That’s a little bit of ‘re-writing history’. In fact, the Neily et al. 2008 document does include some extensive (for the time) “synthesis of existing literature and data”. Drafts of that document were heavily critiqued within the department and outside of it, but they clung to their interpretation of Natural Disturbance Regimes and published the 2008 document without substantial revision. Particularly contested was this claim, which was used to justify a high proportion of clearcutting/even-aged management on Crown lands:

“Frequent disturbance regimes are dominant on 43% of the landbase and develop forest associations of balsam fir, black spruce, white spruce, jack pine, red pine, white pine, white birch, and red maple. Whether due to edaphic site conditions or disturbances (fire, insects, wind) these forests are predominantly even-aged and unlikely to succeed to longer-lived late successional associations of the Acadian Forest. The remaining six per cent of the landbase has edaphic site conditions that severely limit tree growth and develop the open seral vegetation communities associated with barrens, sparsely treed bogs and swamps, rockland, and severely exposed sites.”

In my view, the reticence to clearly acknowledge what was scientifically wrong with the 2008 interpretation of Natural Disturbance Regimes – i.e., what has not stood up though the course of developing these two papers – is unfortunate and has led to some further muddying of the waters in these two scientific papers… (more to follow on just how at some point). There is nothing wrong, in fact there is everything right in acknowledging errors and misinterpretation in scientific papers; that’s what science is all about. – dp