What it was all about

Post on Extinction Rebellion Mi’kma’ki / Nova Scotia, July 7, 2022

What was the Last Hope camp, what did we achieve, and what now?

The short version:

“Where government is failing to protect the natural world we all rely on, citizens are stepping up. That is the big message of our Last Hope camp. Government biologists sit behind their desks, signing off on harvests. Ministers hand off decisions to industry. But citizens, working with Indigenous traditional government, are saying no, we do not consent to the ongoing destruction of nature. There is a better way.” – Nina Newington, Forest Protector

On June 21, 2022, after 202 days camped out on a logging road in Annapolis County, Last Hope camp declared a win. None of the proposed cut block has been logged. Thanks to the identification of Species at Risk lichens on the site by campers and others, 60% of it is off limits to any cutting. The remaining 40% is harder to access and uneconomical to harvest. We will continue to monitor this forest. If necessary, we’ll be back.

What now?

The Last Hope camp has segued into the Last Hope campaign. The government has pledged to protect 20% of Nova Scotia’s lands and waters by 2030. At the same time they claim to be ushering in a new era of ecological forestry on ‘crown’ lands. But they have not done the landscape level planning recommended by Lahey to identify what areas should be off limits to any harvesting. Instead they are approving cuts in the very forests we need to protect the most. Forests like Last Hope, forests 80 years old and older.
It is time for people across the province to say no, we want our most ecologically valuable forests protected now, not after they have been cut. We are committed to working with individuals and groups to build the skills necessary to identify and protect these forests. Our small success shows that it is not too late to save what we can. If we want a liveable planet, we can’t wait for the government to act.

The back story:
In November 2021, flagging went up around an 80 year old forest by Beal’s Brook off Highway 10 in southwest Nova Scotia. Local residents knew what that flagging meant. 20 years earlier, Randy Neily, a hunter, trapper and farmer, had persuaded Bowater Mersey, the pulp mill that owned the land at the time, not to cut this forest because of its value to wildlife. Nova Scotians bought back the land when the mill went bankrupt. But now, obviously, the government had given WestFor the go ahead to cut the forest. (WestFor is a consortium of mills that currently holds the main license to cut on ‘crown’ land in western Nova Scotia.)

Residents protested that the forest provides crucial habitat and connectivity to wildlife. It is surrounded by a sea of clearcuts. Three endangered species were known to be in the area: Wood turtle, Mainland moose and American Martin. The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables was quick to point out that the American marten was only officially at risk in Cape Breton. (It is about to be listed as at risk for the whole of Nova Scotia.) Besides, they said, not to worry, their biologists had reviewed the site twice and there were no Species at Risk concerns. And anyway, it was too late, the harvest had been approved. Residents should talk to WestFor. WestFor told Randy Neily it was too late, the cut would begin in a week or two.

It didn’t. Why? Because on December 2, 2021, Forest Protectors and members of Extinction Rebellion set up camp on the logging road. We stayed there through a rugged winter. In January a lichen enthusiast came to take a look in the forest. He found three lichens listed as Species at Risk (SAR): Frosted glass whiskers; Wrinkled shingle and Black foam lichen, with 5 specimens altogether. Each required a 100m buffer. DNRR put the proposed harvest on hold until the lichenologist they hired could survey the whole cut block. He came out in February, confirmed the finds and added two more occurrences. In March the Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables said that was good enough, added buffers for the 7 lichens and allowed the harvest to go ahead.

It didn’t because we stayed put. In April, when two and a half feet of snow had finally melted, we organized our first Lichen Identification session with lichenologist and author Frances Anderson. Participants found two more occurrences of Species at Risk lichens. Over the next two months, with another Lichen ID session to train more people, campers and friends identified a total of 10 more SAR lichens. All were reported to DNRR and to the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Center (accdc.com).

We also organised other workshops on bird and tree identification as well as doing bioblitzes of the area. Four Species at Risk birds were recorded in and next to the cut block: the Canada Warbler; Olive-sided flycatcher; Eastern wood peewee and Chimney swift. On April 23rd, an American marten was seen crossing one of the two bridges close to camp. All were reported to DNRR.

The Minister’s response? He told local MLA Carman Kerr that the decision about whether to cut the forest or not was in WestFor’s hands.

We asked a brilliant mapper friend to make us a map showing the 100m buffers for all 17 SAR lichens. It was obvious that 60% of the 24 hectare forest was now off limits and access to the remaining 40% was much harder. At that point we realised we had won. Not perfectly but in effect.

DNRR has officially acknowledged that only 10 hectares of the original cut block is available for cutting. Still, as far as they are concerned, the harvest can proceed. It is, in bureaucrat-speak, ‘at the licensee’s scheduling discretion.’ The planned cut seems to have changed from the original ‘Uniform Shelterwood’ to a ‘High Retention Gap Irregular Shelterwood with the goal of creating and restoring multi aged forest conditions in this white pine/red oak dominated forest through targeted retention of these species.’
The original prescription was touted as a fine example of ecological forestry. This new version must be extra ecological. After all, doesn’t it sound as if they would be doing the forest a favour by cutting it?

To be clear, forests do not need forestry. What this forest needs is to be left alone. We will do our best to make sure it is. We do, after all, know the way. We can be back at the drop of a hat – or the clank of a machine. There are lots of eyes on the ground.
So was it worth it? What a lot to go through to protect such a small area.

In mid-January the District Chief of Kespukwitk, district one of the seven traditional districts of Mi’kma’ki, came to camp. She presented us with the flag of the seven districts to fly. The flag represents both an invitation to be on this unceded territory and thanks for our sacrifices in protecting the land and water and the creatures that live there.

It feels good to be building relationships with the original people of this land. It feels good to be on the frontlines, protecting nature. Indigenous people should not be left to carry the weight of this work alone.

We were willing to do something difficult in order to protect this particular forest but also to send a very clear message: We do not consent to the ongoing destruction of our forests.

Just to be clear, the Mi’kmaw people never consented. They never signed any treaty handing over the lands of Mi’kma’ki to the Crown. These are stolen lands. Before colonisation, best estimates are that over half of the forests here were old growth, meaning at least 125 years old. Now that figure is 0.15%. To put it mildly, provincial management of so-called ‘crown land’ has been disastrous. It is past time for a change.

Our action revealed in technicolour quite how badly the government is failing to do its job. It says it protects endangered species. It says we should leave forestry decisions to DNRR. It says we can count on it to address the climate and nature crisis. But we can’t.

Over the six and a half months of the camp so many people stepped up. Campers, yes, 46 of us, and the many visitors who braved the sometimes daunting road to bring food and company and firewood, and the scheduler and the communicator and the workshop organizer, but also all the people who generously donated money and goods, from fire cider to pastries to pottery, and the many people who wrote to politicians on our behalf. It felt really good to come together for a common purpose.

The other big message of the Last Hope camp is for the many Nova Scotians who despair, looking at the devastation inflicted by industrial forestry, not to mention other forms of ruthless resource extraction. DNRR said it was too late to save this forest. But it wasn’t. It isn’t. We can make a difference. Together we must save what we can.