Helga Guderley on the proposed Old growth Forest Policy

Received from Helga Guderley, Dec 7, 2021:

Old Forest Policy

The recently released update on the Old Growth Forest Policy aims to protect the little old growth forest that remains in Nova Scotia, but there are many aspects that need improvement for the policy to effectively protect our old forests. In the following, I identify overall questions that I believe need modification as well as specific points of the policy that should be changed,

General concerns:

Old growth forests are crucial areas for biodiversity. The protection and restoration of High Conservation Value Forests need to be explicitly recognized in the Old Forest policy. High Conservation Value Forests harbor a tremendous diversity of species, including many that are endangered due to the drastic decrease in available habitat, i.e. old growth forests. High conservation value forests are currently being clear cut across Southwest Nova Scotia, the primary part of Nova Scotia in which they remain. The Old Forest Policy should facilitate the designation of High Conservation Value Forests, as Old Growth Forests, not make their identification so difficult that they become targets for industrial forestry.

In seeking to obtain a quota of 8% protected Old Forest, the updated policy places a great emphasis on protected areas. By counting all protected areas as part of Nova Scotia’s Old Forest quota, some protected areas in which forests are merely 40 year old become classified as old forests. In the meantime, there are many areas of old growth on Crown lands that are not protected, given the policy’s stringent definition of what is an Old Growth Forest (over 140 years and over 1 ha of area). Old Forests need to be protected on all public lands, not just on protected areas.

I find this lack of transparency in the Old Forest Policy troubling. To exclude forests that are 100 years old on some lands and include others that are 40 years old on other lands is serving the interests of industrial forestry. It is not serving the interests of the organisms, like ourselves but more importantly like all the inhabitants that rely on the habitat and ecosystem services these forests provide. This sleight of hand is more than worrisome. It is indicative of a system that is serving one master while paying lip service to another. It is bordering on fraudulent. There is an inherent conflict of interest when the department that manages harvest activity is responsible for protecting old forests. This conflict must be eiminated. One possibility is to have another department (Environment and Climate Change) administer this the old growth forest policy another is to have an independent third party identify and map the old forests.

Finally Old Growth Forests need to be accessible to the public and not tucked away in inaccessible protected lands. If the public comes to think that 40 year old stands are old forests and accepts this version of reality, protection of biodiversity is doomed. When people encounter forests over 100 years old, they are exposed to a totally different reality than scrubby younger forests. Old Growth Forests could be maintained in Wilderness Areas.

Specific concerns:

As with many policies, the devil is in the details.

1) As noted above, by stipulating that the minimum age of old forests be 140 years and that the minimum area be 1 ha, the policy will miss high quality old forests that are scattered in the mosaic of forest types resulting from centuries of human use. The minimum age should be 100 years and smaller patches should be protected.

2) As currently formulated, if an area of Crown land has been deemed a working forest it is excluded from consideration as a potential old forest, even though uncut sections of this “working forest” may contain old growth. This should be changed.

3) Given that the guides for establishing harvest prescriptions on Crown land are changing with the implementation of ecological forestry, the pertinent portions of these guides should be included with the Old Growth Forest policy.

4) Ministerial powers are too great. In its current formulation the policy allows Ministers to remove the old forest designation from any tract of land if some development is proposed. This speaks of sleazy backroom deals and should be changed.

5) The policy should stipulate repercussions if it is not followed.

6) Protection of Old Forests should be law not policy. Policies can be changed at the whim of a government. Even though the government’s performance at obeying laws protecting biodiversity is spotty at best, at least the courts can shame the government and hopefully prod them into action if needed.