They call themselves “citizen scientists of the Southwest Nova Biosphere,” and they’ve written to Premier Tim Houston asking him to “freeze harvests and road-building immediately in the forests surrounding Goldsmith Lake in Annapolis County.”
This follows the group’s discovery on Oct. 22 of a new logging road near Goldsmith Lake, and information obtained by Annapolis County MLA Carman Kerr that the province has approved harvesting on 1,355 acres of Crown land in the area, part of the 555,000 acres that Nova Scotians bought from Bowater for $117.7 million in 2012.
After it created the WestFor consortium of large mills in 2016, the provincial government under then-Premier Stephen McNeil handed most of those newly purchased Crown lands to WestFor to manage, an arrangement that continues today under the Houston government.
The citizen scientists say they discovered the road near Goldsmith Lake when a dozen of them headed into the forest to do a survey of the area’s biodiversity.
“A group of us planned to do a bioblitz, or ground-truthing, and start exploring the area for species at risk or anything that indicated a mature old forest,” Rob Bright tells the Halifax Examiner.
Bright, the citizen science coordinator and member of the Arlington Forest Protection Society, says they were hiking along a very old logging road that was grown over, when he noticed a “huge clearing” off to his left.
“And it was this massive, 100-foot wide clearcut, about two kilometers long, with a small 20-foot road in the middle of it,” Bright says. “We were quite stunned and appalled at what we saw. And we just knew this area should not have been cut and it should never have been approved to be cut.”
“Goldsmith Lake is quite the jewel for Annapolis County. It’s one of the few spots that hasn’t been destroyed yet. So, in terms of protecting biodiversity, it’s going to be a key, key area to save,” he says.
“So, hearing [Environment and Climate Change] Minister Halman and the premier talk about how 20% of Nova Scotia will be protected by 2030, and then allowing all these precious spots to be cut seems sort of counterintuitive,” Bright adds.
Lisa Proulx, who was also there the day the road was discovered, says last spring members of the group had seen parcels of land around Goldsmith Lake on the Natural Resources and Renewables Harvest Plan Map Viewer. They submitted comments opposing any harvesting in the area, but heard nothing.
Those parcels slated for harvesting extended from Goldsmith Lake to Dalhousie Lake, and comprise 1,355 acres.
Proulx says they had been to the area in July 2022, and then again a few weeks later, and had found no sign of any logging road construction. So, when they suddenly discovered the new logging road in October, Proulx says they were “shocked, disgusted, and sickened.”
“We were all close to tears,” she tells the Examiner.
Requesting protected status
Following the discovery of the logging road, 11 of the citizen scientists wrote a letter to Premier Houston expressing their consternation about the planned harvesting.
“The damage this road alone has done to the ecological value of these forests is chilling,” they wrote.
The letter continued:
Premier, we are happy to do what we can as citizen scientists, including going out and identifying SAR [Species at Risk] habitat on crown land, but will your government listen when we say an area is of such high conservation value it should be placed under consideration for protection?
At Goldsmith Lake we have already identified eight occurrences of species at risk: 6 Frosted Glass Whiskers Lichen; 1 Blue Felt lichen (recently named Nova Scotia’s provincial lichen) and 1 Black Ash/ Wisqoq, an endangered tree of cultural importance to the Mi’kmaq. The lichens, because they will only grow in forests that have been undisturbed for a long period, are regarded as excellent indicators of ecologically valuable old forest habitat.
The letter also reminded Houston that in December, Canada will be hosting COP15 (Conference of the Parties) to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity:
Scientists are clear we must tackle the twin crises of climate change and nature loss together. Here in Nova Scotia your government has given us a way to make a difference: you put into legislation a commitment to protect 20% of our lands and waters by 2030. Now it is time to make sure that the Ministers mandated to implement this plan and act as if we are in an emergency – because we are. Hurricane Fiona has given us a taste of what is to come if we don’t act now.
The citizens’ group also submitted a proposal to both Houston and Environment and Climate Change Minister Timothy Halman arguing for protection of what they deem “three of the best areas left on Crown land in the South Mountain in Annapolis County.” They requested that three protected wilderness areas be created — at Goldsmith / Corbett Lakes, Beals Brook, and Big LaHave Lake.
“We are asking that there be an immediate freeze on harvesting, road-building and development in these proposed wilderness areas until the Protected Areas branch of Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change has had an opportunity to review them,” they wrote in the proposal.
In their November 24 press release, the citizen scientists report on the response they received from Environment and Climate Change Minister Halman:
The Minister informed the group his department is planning to roll out a collaborative strategy by the end of 2023 to identify areas for possible protection under the province’s legal commitment to protect 20% of Nova Scotia’s lands and waters by 2030.
“What will be left to protect by 2030 if they keep cutting the oldest, most ecologically valuable forests?” asks Rob Bright. “We need immediate action to halt biodiversity loss, not plans to talk about plans.”
That’s why we are asking the premier to place an immediate freeze on logging in this area. DNRR [Department of Natural Resources and Renewables] admitted back in February that their predictive modelling for identifying SAR habitat was flawed. That was after citizen scientists found 15 Species At Risk lichens in a cut block at Beals Brook DNRR claimed to have reviewed not once but twice. They even floated the idea of training citizen scientists to identify SAR habitat. Well, that hasn’t happened but we are going ahead and teaching ourselves. I hope groups of citizen scientists will form in other parts of the province too. Somebody has to treat biodiversity loss as an emergency and it doesn’t look as if the government is going to do it.
Proulx tells the Examiner she’s been out to the Goldsmith Lake area every week since they discovered the logging road last month. “One small group of us went out last Friday. We could hear the grader working all day long, doing ditching, and creating new landing areas where they will stock the wood once they cut.”
Proulx says she was at Goldsmith Lake again on November 23, and discovered yet another kind of lichen — green stubble — that she’s never seen before, which is found in mature and undisturbed forest.
“I look at that logging road and I shudder at what any kind of cutting in this forest would do,” she says. “It needs to be protected now, not after they’ve logged in there.”
“It’s just really sad,” says Proulx.
Natural Resources and Renewables responds
The Examiner contacted the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables with detailed questions about the proposed harvests in the area around Goldsmith Lake, and the concerns expressed by the citizen scientist group in their press release and letter to the premier.
This is the statement we received:
The harvests around Goldsmith Lake were approved in May and June 2022 after having gone through the entire review process. The harvest plans include about 343 hectares within 7 blocks. WestFor holds a licence for the harvesting and is responsible for the scheduling and timing. The blocks were posted to the Harvest Plan Map Viewer. The approved harvests follow the Silvicultural Guide for the Ecological Matrix. Months after the whole process concluded and approvals were issued, new information was just reported to the department and we’re looking into it. We’ve directed WestFor to conduct surveys and they are in the process of scheduling them. Operations will not start until we’ve looked into it.
 Although the WestFor Management website no longer contains this information, as recently as November 2020 it stated: “WestFor was established in 2016 by the Provincial Government to increase the efficiency of forest management on Crown Land in Nova Scotia.” At some point, WestFor changed its website, which now states, “WestFor was created in 2016 when 12 mills came together to create a partnership to effectively manage crown lands in western Nova Scotia.”