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About Hardwood Hill - Warden Habinski asks province to hold off on harvest plans for 20-hectare Acadian forest


TUPPERVILLE, N.S. - The Municipality of Annapolis County is asking the province to halt cutting on a 20-hectare piece of crown land near Highway 201 in Tupperville until alternatives are found to its ‘systematic patch cut’ approach that Warden Timothy Habinski says is not viable economically or environmentally.

“We strongly encourage the province to hold on this harvest operation until the interested parties have a chance to explore alternatives that meet the needs of industry, the province, the municipality, and the local residents who live in the shadow of the South Mountain,” Habinski said in a letter to Premier Stephen McNeil and Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin dated Nov. 22.

Habinski’s council has long been concerned about the amount of clear cutting in the county and even prepared its own lengthy report on forestry that came out earlier this year.

County Forestry Advisory Committee chairman Coun. Gregory Heming walked the land in question recently and had a totally different take on Hardwood Hill than the provincial aerial mapping may have concluded.

Wrong Approach

While the proposed harvesting of Hardwood Hill would not be a clear cut, but rather a systematic patch cut, the county doesn’t buy into that approach.

“It’s a very specific forestry management practice,” Heming said in an interview. “If you look at that, you think that’s great. It’s better than a clear cut. The problem I have with it is even though that may be the best of the best practices with the Department of Lands and Forestry, it’s still wholly inadequate for a couple reasons.”

He said the first reason is that aerial mapping the province relies on doesn’t identify what’s on the ground.

“When you get boots on the ground the landscape looks different than it’s mapped out,” he said. “Because there are mushrooms and other sorts of things that aren’t identified. But go out there with a biologist and you can see those. So that’s a problem ecologically.”

Habinski noted observations of ecologists and biologists who have walked the land don’t match the Nova Scotia Forest Inventory. “Of particular importance is the omission in the database of eastern hemlock and American beech,” Habinski said.

Economic Concern

Heming’s other worry is an economic one.

“The end product of that wood that comes out of there – where does it go? What’s the end use? And if there was a different forest practice that was based more on ecological forestry – value-added timber taken from there into local mills - the value of what comes off of there would be far superior than where it’s going now.”

Habinski said in his letter to McNeil that local residents have expressed significant concern and opposition to the proposed harvest and a citizen petition is being signed. Residents are worried about soil erosion and drinking water quality, among other things.

“We expect additional signatures as this project becomes more public in the days and weeks to come,” Habinski said, adding that he’s concerned about the notification, review, and comment process used by the department.

“Due to the high number of residents who expressed surprise at this harvest, we have concluded the department must seriously re-evaluate its protocol,” Habinski said, adding the Harvest Plans Map Viewer needs to provide more precise information of harvest plans with regard to partial cuts, including size of patches, return intervals for future harvests, identification of legacy trees, and the specific volume of trees to be harvested.

The warden said the county is particularly concerned that other environmental, social, and economic values of crown land have been ignored in the proposed Hardwood Hill harvest, noting ever since the 1984 Report of the Nova Scotia Royal Commission on Forestry there has been a move away from ‘forests for industry only’ to a more balanced policy that recognizes the environmental, social, and economic values of crown land.

Halt Cutting

Habinski said it’s noteworthy the proposed harvest would take place on former Bowater lands – 555,000 acres of land recently purchased by the province for $114.4 million.

“Nova Scotians strongly supported the purchase of these lands with a clear vision that they would be used by the public for a variety of purposes,” Habinski said. “Nova Scotians also envisioned a new kind of forestry would be conducted on these Bowater lands.”

Habinski also quoted the recently release 2018 Independent Review of Forestry Practices in Nova Scotia by Bill Lahey that said “protecting ecosystems and biodiversity should not be balanced against other objectives or values. Instead, protecting and enhancing ecosystems should be the objective (the outcome) of how we balance environmental, social, and economic objectives and values in practicing forestry in Nova Scotia.”

The government's response to Lahey's forest practices review was to be released on Dec. 3.

“What we’re hoping to do, and what we’ve asked the province to do, is withhold any cutting until we can wrap our minds around the value-added potential and what the loss is if the province keeps doing what they’re doing,” said Heming. “Even at the best of their land use practices, they’re still destructive for local job creation, the local environment. That’s the piece that we don’t have the answer to, so we need to try to hold up the cut until we can open a dialogue about local economy and ecological forestry.”

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