A bid to save an aging forest south of Bridgetown, by turning it over to Annapolis County to manage as a climate forest and new economic model, was turned down by Department of Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin June 11.
Annapolis County wanted the province to hand over a swath of Crown forest so the municipality could develop and manage the climate forest and demonstrate that a new economic model based on ecological forestry management could increase local jobs, community recreation, and tourism.
“We weren’t going to request an immediate decision from the department because that would be a little unfair to say you must decide right now,” said Annapolis County Warden Timothy Habinski minutes after a Tuesday afternoon meeting with the minister.
“But we were asking that any cutting be deferred pending the consideration of our proposal. And we did ask the department make it a high priority to consider it in all its complexities.”
He said the county indicated that it was very interested in collaborating and partnering with the province on this.
“We also indicated that if there were financial penalties incurred for the adjustment of WestFor contracts with regard to this particular parcel, that we would be willing to partner in dealing with the brunt of that as well,” Habinski said.
Municipal council passed a motion May 21 and drafted a letter to Rankin with the request. Currently WestFor Management Inc. has the option to harvest the forest in question and some of that work began last year.
The land in question is about 85 hectares, making up the small peninsula between Dalhousie and Corbett lakes a few kilometres off Morse Road that runs from Bridgetown south to West Dalhousie.
“The department indicated interest – we had a fairly long meeting, about an hour – they indicated interest in our proposal,” Habinski said of his meeting with Rankin. “However, when we got close to the end of the meeting we asked the minister if he was interested in perhaps issuing a joint press release that we were going to be discussing our larger proposal for a climate forest.”
At that point, Habinski said Rankin said he didn’t see any reason to issue a joint press release because before Habinski had arrived for the meeting Rankin had already made a statement to the press and he didn’t intend to change it.
“The final note of the meeting was he indicated to us the permit for this particular cut’s already in place and they have no intention of revoking it,” the warden said.
Naturalist Bev Wigney, who has spearheaded a movement to halt harvesting of the Crown forest between Corbett and Dalhousie lakes, wasn’t flattering to Rankin in her reaction to his decision.
“Of course I'm disappointed that Minister Rankin doesn't see the rather obvious value in preserving the unique biodiversity of the Corbett-Dalhousie Lake hardwood forest,” she said. “Unfortunately, many in the forest industry still tend to regard forests solely for their value as ‘fibre’ - thus, we still find them thinking of and referring to southwest Nova Scotia as the "fibre basket of the province."
She said those who actually know more about biodiversity and ecology understand that there is a lot more going on in a forest than the trees.
“It's just unfortunate that the Minister and certain individuals in the industry don't make more of an effort to educate themselves about ecology,” Wigney said. “In fact, it's sad that those without an adequate understanding of biodiversity are the ones who wield the power to destroy it.”
In a May 22 interview, Habinski said the county was not asking the province to choose between economic development and preservation of that area.
“We’re saying that we think there’s actually a better way, there’s a better economic model that could be applied there and we would like an opportunity to test that theory,” Habinski said.
Now Habinski is taking the bad news back to council.
“We certainly have no intention of abandoning the overall project of a climate forest,” Habinski said after the meeting with Rankin. “We intend to pursue that. It’s clearly what our constituents want. The concerns of our constituents matters to us, and frankly the preservation of this resource in a way that will be financially beneficial, socially beneficial, and environmentally beneficial for our descendants, matters to us profoundly. So we have no intention of stopping.”
As for the old forest that goes under the axe this summer, Habinski’s not sure what council can do.
“This particular parcel – we don’t have any direct jurisdiction,” he said. “We can’t compel the province in any way. He’s evidently made his decision.”
Habinski said he couldn’t say more without getting the wishes of council.
“I know that council is committed to a course of action on the issue of forestry and the issue of the development of this new economic model of forestry that we just think makes better sense for the municipality, and I think for the province at large” he said. “We fully intend to proceed with that. Whether there are further steps for us to take in reference to these two particular parcels of land, council will have to discuss it.”
Annapolis County resident Nina Newington, with Extinction Rebellion Forest Protectors, lead a protest at the Corbett Lake site early on June 9, the day harvesting between the lakes was expected to start. They blocked off the end of a logging road that runs the length of the Crown forest land from 8 to 11 a.m.
“We weren’t sure if WestFor would really begin work on the ninth,” Newington said. “That was the start date for the posting they put up. If they were there we would have tried to, through non-violent direct action, stop them cutting. If they weren’t there then we wanted to have people there and send them the message that there are a lot of people really concerned about this forest. We don’t want them going in there and cutting trees right now.”
There were banners and signs, biologists, environmentalists, and all sorts of ordinary folk at the protest. About 50 people altogether.
“It was an amazing turnout. I think it says two things. It says that people really care about this particular forest, because it’s close by, because it’s precious and rare to have a piece of old forest like that, and it’s very diverse, and because the county council has stepped in and made a good proposal.”
“But it also says in a bigger picture way, and I know this to be true from talking to people, people are very tired of being given the run-around by successive provincial governments on forestry. Over and over people have been asked ‘What do you want to do about forestry’ and people say ‘Stop clear-cutting. We want to protect the forests. We can’t go on treating them the way they’ve been treated.’ And governments basically keep on doing it.”
Many locals refer to the forest in question as 'old growth.' Department of Lands and Forestry media relations advisor Lisa Jarrett said that although it does contain some old trees, as was discussed with representatives from the municipality, it isn't old growth.
"We use the old forest policy to define what is considered old growth, which was aplied to this site," she said.
Under department terminology, old growth is: "A forest stand where 30 per cent of the basal area is in trees 125 years or older, at least half of the basal area is composed of climax species, and total crown closure is a minimum of 30 per cent."
Wigney understands the description but disagrees with the premise. In a previous interview she referred to the Bill Lahey Report.
“In the Lahey Report, we are told more than once, that we are losing our Old Growth forests -- because we don't identify them, and we don't retain them,” Wigney said. “Also, we will never have Old Growth forests if we don't allow some of our ‘Old Forests’ to continue maturing in a natural way.”
She said Rankin, who visited the area on Feb. 1, has stated that Corbett-Dalhousie doesn't qualify as an Old Growth forest in spite of all the eight-foot circumference trees. It doesn't meet enough of the criteria to be classified as Old Growth.
“As we now know, almost no remaining forests in Nova Scotia can meet that criteria for preservation as Old Growth - something like less than one per cent,” Wigney said. “Doesn't it make sense to preserve a forest that is ‘almost’ an Old Growth forest -- one of the few remaining in this county that had any chance to become one?”
She said that instead, most of it will be cut down except for the oldest, largest ‘token trees.’
“How on earth does anyone expect to have Old Growth forests again if we just keep cutting everything down that doesn't ‘quite’ qualify? It boggles my mind that this isn't as plain as day to
NOTE: This story has been updated with the definition of 'old growth' and comments about 'old growth' forests.