Thank you for the opportunity to comment on An Old-Growth Forest Policy for Nova Scotia: Version 8, 2021-10-14.
If I am reading this correctly, it seems like we should have more area and older ages of old growth forest in NS under this new policy than we did under the old policy. If this is an accurate interpretation, then I am all for it (with the following suggested revisions). If not, something is wrong and I am against it.
A few recommended refinements for your consideration follow. These are intended to strengthen the provisions for more effective conservation management and outcomes, and therefore I urge their incorporation into the policy.
Area-based targets: Although the policy aims to increase the area of old-growth forest areas and restoration, no area-based target seems to be specified. In terms of commitment, accountability and transparency, I think a new specified minimum target is warranted. Recommendations in the Lahey (2018) report, which were accepted by the Provincial Government, call for strengthened old growth forest targets (e.g., see recommendation 72). If the target is exceeded, that is great, as they are intended to be ‘minimum,’ not ‘maximum,’ targets. Measurable targets work and are crucial to good governance and management. Perhaps the target is specified under a different act or policy, and if so it should be at least mentioned herein.
Actual old growth: All old growth forests should be protected or conserved, regardless of whether or not the minimum target of 8% has been met for the ecodistrict. It is a ‘minimum’ target, after all, not a maximum. I find it difficult to decipher from reading the policy whether all actual old growth forests are currently or soon will be protected or conserved. It reads as though perhaps it is. If this is not the case, it should be, and the policy should be revised accordingly. Since the area of actual old growth forest is currently so reduced due to human activities, every bit of it should be protected or conserved. None should be cut, not even selectively. If all of the existing old growth forest is now protected, that is wonderful, and we can focus on growing some more, such as through the restoration provisions provided herein.
Section 4.0: I am disturbed by the comment that “ no forest areas that have received a silvicultural treatment or timber harvest within 30 years of the date of approval of this Policy will be designated to be protected, provided there is documentation of the treatment.” I urge that this statement be deleted. It offers a tremendous loophole and therefore represents a major weakness of the policy. It seems likely that most old forests will arguably have had some sort of silvicultural treatment or timber harvest within 30 years, and yet many may still be “characterized by relatively little recent human disturbance,” and thus important to old growth
Section 5.3: In subsection 5.3.2 Old-Growth Restoration Opportunities, it is stated that “If any of these circumstances prevails, the Regional Resource Manager and the IRM Team, in consultation with the Old-Growth Forest Coordinator, will search and seek protection for suitable replacement areas such that there is no net loss of old-growth restoration opportunity area in the Old Forest Policy Layer.” Does this statement apply only to those circumstances indicated in 5.3.2, or do they also apply to the circumstances indicated in 5.3.1 (a)? They should pertain to the entire section 5.3 (including 5.3.1 (a)), and not solely to 5.3.2.
Section 5.3: In considering trade or replacement of old-growth forest areas and restoration opportunities, strong consideration should be also given to the location, size and shape of the area in terms of contiguity and connectivity of areas of old growth habitat for old growth dependent species and processes. While representing the various types of old-growth forests and ecodistricts is important, so is consideration of landscape characteristics such large patch sizes, shapes that minimum edge-to-interior ratio, short interpatch distances, connectivity between patches, compatibility of adjacent land uses, etc. Ecological connectivity of old-growth forest is and should be embedded within the policy as an important conservation and restoration criterion. The policy’s aim should extend beyond representative distribution of patches of old growth.
Section 5.4 The following provision is too weak: “Activities proposed to take place on Crown land within 100 m from the edge of an old-growth forest area or old-growth restoration opportunity and that may adversely affect said areas will be assessed by the Regional Resource Manager, in consultation with the IRM Team and the Old-Growth Forest Coordinator, prior to a decision on approval.”
First, no activities that may impact old-growth forest area or old-growth restoration opportunity should be permitted on Crown lands within 100 m of said areas. Although it will be up to the Regional Resource Manager, in consultation with the IRM Team and the Old-Growth Forest Coordinator, to make decisions on this, the policy should be clear that any activities that may impact said areas should not be permitted.
Second, a 100-m buffer is insufficient. Many edge effects and zones of influence extend well beyond 100 m. I recommend a minimum of 300 m to apply to this provision.
Section 5.5: It is stated that the Department “will account for the conservation of known old-growth forest areas on private land in the reporting of old-growth forest conditions by ecodistrict across the province.” Further detail is required to indicate what will be accepted as evidence of adequate “conservation.” What constitutes ‘conservation’ in this provision?
Section 5.6: In identifying “specific, readily accessible areas of old-growth forest across Nova Scotia … for use by members of the public who might wish to visit such areas for recreational and learning opportunities,” cares should be taken to avoid interior forest areas. No new access should be provided into interior forest. Recreational activities have impacts on old growth values such as old-growth interior and sensitive species. Trails and roadways have direct and indirect impacts on species, not the least of which are associated with human access. Care must also be taken to not impact Indigenous Mi’Kmaw spiritual and cultural values and usage of these areas.
Section 6: While monitoring and reporting provisions are noted, they are vague and no mention is made of enforcements or penalties. In 6.1, what are the penalties or other provisions in response to detected violations? In 6.2, what is the recurring timeframe for periodic reporting on implementation?
Roads: I see no mention of roads. Roads within old-growth forest areas and restoration areas should be decommissioned where possible, and gated where decommissioning is not possible. Culverts, dikes, dams and bridges should be removed and land restored to natural grades to allow for natural hydrologic and riparian processes. No new roads should be built into these areas. Where roads exist that cannot be decommissioned, oversized or box culverts, bridges, and other appropriately sized passageways should be installed or upgraded and maintained to restore hydrologic and species flows. Any lights should be removed. Similar provisions pertain to trails, such as indicated in my comment on Section 5.6.