SB comments on WestFor 17Dec2020

Woods and Waters Nova Scotia
Re: “Mainland moose, forestry can co-exist, thrive,” Dec. 15.
To pre-empt the bad press that will inevitably result from the forcible removal of the encampment blockade, Marcus Zwicker, manager of WestFor Management Inc., published an official statement in this newspaper which defended the clearcutting of critically endangered mainland moose habitat as ecologically benign. The statement was at best disingenuous and at worst deliberately misleading. As someone with a master’s degree in landscape ecology who has been aggressively engaging with these issues, I feel a responsibility to set the record straight for the public.
(1) Zwicker claims WestFor harvests are conducted in line with mainland moose special management practices (SMPs). I’m sure that’s true. Given the massive spotlight that is shining on the debacle in Digby County right now, I have no doubt WestFor follows those practices to the letter.
Conveniently, Zwicker’s statement excluded any details about precisely what regulations are mandated under the SMPs. I am not surprised by the omission, as any reasonable reader would find them laughable (as wildlife biologists do) and grossly insufficient if one is actually serious about protecting the critically endangered mainland moose.
In practice, the only thing the SMPs achieve is provide reputational cover for clearcutting. They allow companies like those that comprise WestFor to devastate entire ecosystems with industrial logging equipment, so long as tiny clumps of trees (0.001 km2) are spared. When trying to protect wide-ranging species like the mainland moose (home-range size in SWNS: ~55km2), “retention patches” of 0.001 km2 are not a serious, good-faith conservation measure. They are a joke.
(2) Equally egregious is what Zwicker’s statement did not say. It did not mention the fact that the provincial government is required by law to designate “core moose habitat” (in which even-aged forest harvests, such as those almost universally employed by WestFor, would be forbidden). It did not mention that, from 2003 (when the moose was first listed as endangered) to this day, the government has refused. It also did not mention the fact that the government (and, I presume, WestFor) has been provided with strong evidence of regular moose presence in the area (photos of tracks + a map of recent sightings), and has chosen to ignore it.
(3) Zwicker’s statement claims that the mainland moose issue is complex and includes many pressing threats, including brain-worm, winter tick and poaching.
The single gravest threat to the mainland moose is habitat fragmentation and loss. Full stop. The same is true of many at-risk species that depend on contiguous, mature forest like the ones WestFor is clear-cutting in Digby.
Zwicker is not wrong to claim that parasites and poaching also pose major problems to moose, but it fails to mention that the continual construction of logging roads through moose habitat, as WestFor is doing, makes these same problems much more severe.
(4) Zwicker’s statement further says, “The media (has portrayed the area) as intact old growth forests, when in fact the area has been sustainably managed since the late 1800’s.” That Zwicker accuses the media of being disingenuous in the same sentence that it tries to convince the public that modern forestry is akin to that practiced in the late 1800s is particularly galling. As Zwicker and WestFor well know, mechanized logging equipment wasn’t invented until the second half of the 20th century, and industrial-scale forestry, like that practiced by their consortium, is an even more recent development.
Zwicker concludes by saying that “Forestry and the mainland moose can co-exist here as they do in many other areas across North America.” On its face, the encampment does not disagree with that. However, they (along with tens of thousands of Nova Scotians) do understand that moose cannot co-exist with forestry practices that result in ecosystems being converted to moonscapes. And that is the irreparable travesty that WestFor is committing in Digby as you read this.
Shanni Bale has a bachelor’s degree in ecology and a master’s degree in landscape ecology. She lives in Halifax.