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Wendy Elliott: clearcutting too much, too fast and for too long

Published on September 6, 2017

This protest sign can be seen from Highway 12 near New Ross.

©Wendy Elliott

Back in 1911, a hunting and fishing lodge called Birchdale was constructed in rural Yarmouth County. Then in 1972, the Spiritual Life Institute purchased Birchdale for use as the site of a hermitage, which was called Nova Nada. A group of monks moved into Carmelite hermitages without electricity or running water.

Wendy Elliott Column

The hunting lodge was located on 58 acres, but it was situated 11 kilometres down a rough dirt road and there were thousands of acres of forest all around. For almost 25 years the monks lived at Nova Nada in peace and mostly solitude.
Then in 1994, J. D. Irving Ltd. bought the land around the monastery from another forestry company, Bowater Mersey. Two years later harvesting operations began and the silence that the monks depended on was shattered by the noise of clear-cutting and road construction. A two-mile buffer was requested by the monks, but no agreement could be brokered. So the monks departed Nova Nada in 1998.
Twenty years ago a monastery I never visited crystallized in my mind the conflict between spirituality and corporate greed. Driving through rural Nova Scotia today and the clear-cutting one glimpses sets up the same conflict.
Go back to Nova Scotia Power’s Methall’s dam on the Black River Lake system or up through the Wentworth Valley and take a look at the grim deserts created by clear-cutting. Drive through New Ross where independent forestry companies have put up signs protesting the consortium of 13 companies called Westfor.
I simply do not understand how Crown lands are not considered by the provincial government for their highest and best use as opposed to short-term gain. All Nova Scotians should have a voice when it comes to our resources.
Retired government biologist Bob Bancroft, who is highly respected for his independent voice, was on an expert panel that fed into the Nova Scotia Natural Resources Strategy in 2010. Then NDP minister of natural resources, John MacDonell committed to reduce clear-cutting to no more than 50 per cent of all forested lands over five years.
Unfortunately MacDonell was moved into a different department by then Premier Darrell Dexter and a more industrial forestry approach got the nod — just as the definition of clear-cutting kept morphing into more deserts.
Forest ecologist Donna Crossland, who worked with Bancroft on the panel, says flat out clear-cutting is ruining Nova Scotia forests. She has stated clear-cutting must stop if our forests are to survive and support healthy wildlife populations.
The old-growth, hardwood trees are nearly gone, she told a group in Tupperville earlier this year. Crown lands could be unable to survive the current cutting regime and short harvest rotations.
Furthermore, Crossland has pointed out that clear-cutting also contributes to the depletion of carbon in Nova Scotia soils. Around 60 per cent of soils in the province are nutrient depleted, according to her research, making them among the worst soils in North America.
Crossland has also noted that a number of top DNR staff are previous Bowater employees. These men approach Crown forests from an economic perspective rather than an ecological stance in her mind. How can that be right?
Now University of King’s College president William Lahey has been given six months by Premier Stephen MacNeil’s government to review forestry practices and evaluate market access for private forest owners. Lahey is an associate law professor and a former deputy minister of environment.
I’m not sure how a legal beagle can review existing forest harvest practices on Crown land, but it appears the expertise of individuals like Bancroft and Crossland is unjustly under valued. Not only that, the Natural Resources Strategy, published six years ago, was bolstered by input from thousands of Nova Scotians who participated in the voluntary planning process. Do those voices count for nothing?
How can we hold our government accountable in this and other environment travesties, like allowing the Lafarge Canada plant to burn 40,000 used tires in Brookfield?
Environmental elder Silver Donald Cameron has stated that the optimum way for communities to guard against unwanted industrial activity is to democratically take matters into their own hands. That is the challenge we face.