(This is the second of a 2-part series. See Part 1 here.) 

It was an unseasonably warm day in February when I met up with Mike Lancaster to walk part of the new Ingram Access Road — a clearcut 100 metres wide in places — which he and other conservationists say cut out part of an old growth forest (OGF) in the community-proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area (IRWA).

As I reported in Part 1 of this series, Lancaster is the Stewardship Coordinator of the St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association (SMBSA) and he came upon the cut swath unexpectedly when he was doing a biodiversity assessment in the proposed protected area, which as he understood it, was under a clearcutting moratorium.

When Lancaster confronted Department of Lands and Forestry (DLF) Minister Iain Rankin about the clearcut, he was told the cut was needed for the highway 103 twinning project, and that the moratorium did not include any cutting related to that.

But documents obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) revealed otherwise. The decision to build the Ingram Access Road was made to reduce transportation and other costs for Scotian Materials — a mobile asphalt plant and quarry now poised perfectly to win the bid for paving the new and improved highway — and to increase access to crown land for WestFor, a consortium of 13 forestry companies, including Freeman Lumber, Great Northern Timber, and Northern Pulp.

As Lancaster and I stood on the clearcut ridge, he pointed to a concentration of old stumps — at least 10 of them, over 125 years old. Some were between 160 and 180 years old. He pointed out that it’s often on ridges like this one, that you find the old trees.

“It’s too difficult for forest companies to get to these trees and that’s why they are often not felled in the past — it’s too extreme an area.”

“This is one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive red spruce stands I’ve seen in Nova Scotia… We don’t have many forests like this [here] anymore.”

Mike Lancaster stands by a newly cut stump in the Ingram Access Road. He says it was once a 160-year-old red spruce. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Keeping score

As previously reported, after Lancaster confronted Minister Rankin about the clearcut, Provincial Forester Peter Bush visited the site with two others, and using the department’s “old forest scoresheet” concluded the stand did not meet the criteria for old growth. Bush said that based on his randomly sampled plots, the stand had an average age of 109 years, making it a “mature climax forest,” not old growth, which according to the DLF definition, has to average at least 125 years.

Lancaster returned to the clearcut to collect more data and sent it to the DLF who ran it through the assessment tool, but it did not meet the criteria for old growth. Lancaster’s data was showing the average age of the stand to be 113 years.

Still convinced otherwise, the SMBSA hired Colin Gray of the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI) to do an independent scoring of the stand in question. That organization has been assessing old forests for more than a decade. According to Gray’s scoring — using the provincial score sheet — the stand met the definition for old growth. His random plots indicated that the average age was 133 years old.

I have to admit, it’s been hard for someone like me, with little technical expertise in this area, to wrap my head around the intricacies of “scoring” an old growth forest. For one, it feels too much like math, involving the use of instruments and formulas and technical know-how, which I simply don’t have. It also feels too much like reductionism — where a complex, highly developed and interconnected ecosystem is described, and measured, in terms of its various components.

But the discrepancies between the conclusions drawn by Bush, Gray, and Lancaster were troubling, especially given how little old growth forest we have left and how important it is to identify and protect it. So I decided to leave my comfort zone for a while and enter into the world of resource management, where forests are inventory, trees are fibre, and a lot seems to boil down to one thing: volume.

A moss- and lichen-covered old tree in the community-proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area, just up from the clearcut for the Ingram Access Road. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Up until quite recently in Nova Scotia — and certainly during the careers of many bureaucrats within the department’s forest resources branch — the term “overmature” was used to describe what we now call “old growth.” The economic concept was developed from a timber-utilization perspective and never had anything to do with ecology, the stage of forest development, or the average longevity of a tree species. [1]This is how old forests were defined in nearly all the provinces “historic” forest inventory reports dating back between 1965-1991.

For instance, rotation periods, or the time allotted between clearcuts, might be 50 years, with the goal to maximize fibre yield. But many tree species in the Acadian forest — particularly shade-tolerant species such as eastern hemlock, red spruce, sugar maple, yellow birch, and white pine — haven’t even reached maturity at that age, and can live up to 400 years, if left alone. In fact, if nothing stops it, an old growth forest — which is a living, breathing system—can persist for millennia.

In 2003, federal and provincial government scientists estimated, based on a number of factors including the geologic record, that prior to European settlement, as much as 50% of the forested landscape in the Maritimes was occupied by old growth forest. But that after several hundred years of land clearing for agriculture and timber harvesting, most of the old-growth had been eliminated, and that what remained was “largely restricted to small, isolated stands, often associated with steep gorges that were inaccessible to harvesting or areas that were otherwise protected or avoided being harvested.” [2]A. Mosseler, J.A. Lynds, and J.E. Major. 2003. “Old-growth forests of the Acadian Forest Region.” Environmental Reviews.

By the early 2000s in Nova Scotia, provincial forest inventories were showing that old growth had nearly disappeared: only 0.3% of forests greater than 105 years old were left. [3]While a number of the historic provincial inventories are available on the DLF Web site, the most recent one, which reports on age class using the GIS data (as opposed to PSP sample plot data) from … Continue reading

In fact, provincial inventory data were showing that our forests overall were getting progressively younger. Unfortunately, the ability to ascertain the current “inventory” situation has been stymied by secrecy and a lack of transparency on the part of the government, a topic that The Halifax Examiner has reported on extensively here, here, and here.

Over the last several decades, there has been a growing realization that old forests are extremely valuable from an ecological stand point: as critical habitat for many forest-dependent species — many that are currently at risk — for carbon storage, and as an important reservoir of genetic and biological diversity.

By 2012 the DLF developed the Old Forest Policy (OFP), which aimed to identify the “best old forest restoration opportunities on at least 8 percent of publicly owned forest land in each of the province’s 38 ecodistricts.” In the policy, old growth forest (OGF) is defined as: “A forest stand where 30% or more 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%.”

DLF’s Peter Bush tells me the definition “was developed by the department after a review of several definitions in other jurisdictions, and hundreds of field assessments in Nova Scotia.” Unlike most of the department’s so-called science[4]In the 2018 independent review of forest practices, William Lahey laid bare for all of us to see how the Department uses the term “science” to support forestry practices that have no actual basis … Continue reading, the OGF definition and old forest scoring system was published in a peer-reviewed scientific article in 2003.

As part of the overall assessment, there’s a scoring tool, based on a 100-point system that measures six stand “attributes” or characteristics including age, “primal value” or degree of human disturbance, occurrence of large-diameter live trees, the amount of large-diameter dead wood, canopy gaps, and the understory development, with the heaviest weighting given to age. According to the aforementioned peer-reviewed paper, overall scores for old growth stands are expected to be high, ranging from 75 to 85 out of 100, but they aren’t always. [5]In DLF’s Lawlor Lake area assessment forests that scored between 50 and 70 using the protocol were declared “old growth,” despite falling short of the normally required 80 score. The DLF scored … Continue reading

Mike Lancaster stands next to an old red spruce, just up from the clearcut for the new Ingram Access Road. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

The technique involved in “scoring” involves some observation — particularly for the primal value score — but mostly it makes use of various instruments that measure age, height, basal area, trunk length, dead wood, and crown closure.

According to Lancaster, the scoring protocol itself is an “insurmountable hurdle” when it comes to conserving old growth forest in the province.

Old trees are not necessarily big trees

“In general, old forests are going to be larger but I’ve cored an eastern hemlock that I can almost fit my hands around that was 236 years old,” explains Lancaster. He says that since diameter is what usually triggers an old forest assessment, some forests just wouldn’t be assessed, even though they would likely meet the criteria for old growth.

Lancaster says another issue is that it’s the larger trees that dictate which one you core to determine age, so you could end up assessing a forest where the extremely old trees have small diameter and the bigger trees are only 100 years old — which are not considered old growth.

“It’s not a system that always works for shade-tolerant species,” says Lancaster. “For species that can spend the first 50 years of their life so small that you can wrap your hand around them potentially, the [scoring] system doesn’t work… It’s not robust enough of a system to apply to every forest type.”

But according to Bush, despite this concern, the scoring protocol is still applied to all forest types across the province. He says that as part of the 2018 Independent Review of Forest Practices, a process that was led by William Lahey, the department is working with students and researchers  from St. Mary’s University and the University of New Brunswick to “better understand the old growth conditions in some forest ecosystems that had gaps in the understanding in Nova Scotia.”

For a good illustration of some of the issues surrounding the use of diameter as a trigger for an old forest scoring we can turn to what happened in 2018 in the Lawlor Lake area in Guysborough County, when concern was raised that Port Hawkesbury Paper (PHP) was cutting down old growth forest. In response, the DLF visited the site and “scored” all 27 forest stands and found that 13 of them were in fact OGF, and some had already been cut down.

The part that’s relevant here is that according to the DLF study, only five of the 13 OGF stands would have been flagged based on diameter.

Prior to the DLF approving a harvest, a forest technician, hired by the forest company, conducts what’s called a pre-treatment assessment (PTA). When a PTA “flag” is raised, old forest scoring is required before the government will grant an approval for the harvest. Tree diameter is what would “flag” a PTA, but apparently this doesn’t always work, since only five of the 13 OGF stands would have been flagged this way through a PTA.

According to Bush, the PTA trigger is now being reviewed as part of the work coming from the Lahey Review, “for improved flagging of possible old growth stands.”

But the study also revealed another relevant and rather scathing admission: that prior to 2017, which is when PHP conducted the PTA, there was no “old forest trigger” included in the process. [6]See page 10 in DLF’s Lawlor Lake area report.  In other words, even though the Old Forest Policy came into effect in 2012, it apparently supplied no mechanism for old growth to be flagged during a PTA in a proposed harvest area.

How many old growth forest stands were lost in that five-year period, as a result of this omission?

As previously mentioned, in the case of the Ingram Access Road, diameter never triggered an old forest scoring because a PTA was not required because it was a road and not a harvest. The only thing that was apparently required was an Integrated Resource Management Review (IRM), and that found established moose patches within 2 kilometres of the project, identified nine species at risk within the project area, and found there was high potential for the endangered boreal felt lichen in part of project area. Staff also consulted the GIS Forest Inventory database to determine the age of the forest and concluded it was mature red spruce. But the inventory was not verified on the ground, despite the proximity to known old growth forests in the area — forests that have met the province’s criteria.

Mike Lancaster says it’s rare to see a yellow birch with this much fissuring and scaling of the bark. While it doesn’t look old in terms of size, it’s likely 100 years old, he says. Near Ingram Access Road. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Randomness is a ‘gamble’

When Lancaster “scored” the Ingram Access Road area, he knew, based on the locations of the three random GIS-generated plots within the perimeter of the DLF-defined “polygon” — that the data was not going to capture the fact that the forest was old growth. And yet, when Colin Gray scored the stand, the random plot points he had to work with, did capture it. When Bush did it, his random plot points didn’t.

Some of the problem here could involve the polygons themselves — the subject of this case study showing how polygons don’t necessarily overlap with the OGF, or are sometimes much bigger than the OGF, making it easy for a random plot to fall outside the OGF, skewing the age score downwards.

“If the intent of the Old Forest Policy is to find, catalogue, and preserve the best old forests, then why do the points need to be random?” Lancaster asks. He says the randomness introduces a “gamble” and could result in an old growth forest not being conserved. He concedes that there needs to be some level of objectivity to the process, but that doing it this way could result in more loss than gain.

But Bush says the use of random plots is akin to the way wildlife studies use sampling, as a way to understand whole populations.

But somehow this analogy doesn’t seem to fit here. I mean, if you’re a wildlife biologist and you’re studying salamanders, say, there’s already a consensus about what a salamander is. No one is trying to figure out whether something is actually a salamander or not. Wildlife biologists may use sampling techniques to determine whether a salamander is present in an area, but this is often just to make sure the salamander did not elude detection.

The identification of OGF seems to be compromised by the sampling system itself.

Lancaster says he’s concerned that the flaws within the scoring system could mean that old growth forests will continue to be missed.

But Bush still stands by it. He says random plots should be “representative of the general species mix and height of the stand,” and if they’re not they “should be avoided and another random point selected.”

Bush also says that the steps taken to choose which tree to measure “favours the selection of larger trees,” and therefore older trees. But as Lancaster points out, larger doesn’t necessarily mean older when it comes to shade tolerant species.

As for the Ingram Access Road, Bush says when you combine the information from all nine random plots (from the three score sheets), the area benefited from much better sampling than most. He says that when all the plots were considered, the “biggest outlier” of the sampling was Colin Gray’s 166-year-old plot, which brought his average age up to 133 years, meeting the OGF criteria. But when all nine are combined, the average age is still less than 125 years.

But according to additional tree data collected by Lancaster, Gray’s 166-year-old tree may not have been an outlier at all. In the area that was clearcut, he located nearly ten trees older than 125 years, many of them in the 160-180-year age range. He also measured seven more standing trees in the nearby forest, all older than 125 years, some as old as 200 years.

I reached out to Gray to find out more about his sense of all this, but apart from confirming the nuts and bolts of his findings, he didn’t want to “offer any opinion,” on the matter. He did say, however, that MTRI has been working for more than a decade collecting data about old forests, mostly on crown land in the western end of the province, and were funding by Environment Canada through the Atlantic Ecosystems Initiative. Many of the “outstanding areas of old forest” are highlighted in the “special places” section of the website oldforests.ca, which is down at the moment, but is archived here.

Gray says they visited more than 80 sites in the three Maritime provinces, scoring the sites using the DLF’s system and submitted all their Nova Scotia data to the province for inclusion in the “old forest layer” of the Provincial Landscape Viewer. According to the DLF, to date the province has approved seven of the stands (89 ha) that MTRI has identified as OGF, and will add them to the old forest layer. The rest are still under review by IRM teams.

Gray clearly has a good handle on using the scoresheet and identifying old growth forests. His opinion about the Ingram Access Road clearcut would have been enlightening. The reason behind his reticence to “take a stand” on this issue could be that he’s second-guessing his conclusion or it could be that he doesn’t want to publicly contradict Peter Bush. If it’s the latter, that might be related to MTRI’s dependence on funds from the province, which would put Gray and others at the organization in a tenuous position. [7]According to the DLF, the following is what the department has paid out to MTRI over the last five years: 2018/19 – $80,795.76; 2017/18 – $108,598.10; 2016/17 – $107,289.50; … Continue reading

In my experience writing about forestry issues over the last 20 years, fear of reprisal from going “on record” runs rampant among environmentalists, government bureaucrats, woodlot owners, and industry players. In my view, it’s the real scourge, and has led to isolation, self-censorship, secrecy, and ultimately robs people of a sense of empowerment. I’ve wondered if it also may be part of what’s holding back any genuine progress towards ecological forestry.

Core samples showing tree age from three randomly generated plot points, as part of the old forest scoring in the Ingram Access Road area collected by Colin Gray of the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI), November 26, 2019.  Photo courtesy Colin Gray.
Core samples showing tree age from three randomly generated plot points, as part of the old forest scoring in the Ingram Access Road area collected by Colin Gray of the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI), November 26, 2019.  Photo courtesy Colin Gray.

Old Forest Policy flawed

If the Ingram Access Road forest stand has characteristics of an old growth forest — as Bush concedes and as Gray’s scoring and Lancaster’s tree inventory verifies — then there shouldn’t be any question about protecting it.

Recall that the goal of the Old Forest Policy is to maintain at least 8% of crown forest in each of the province’s 32 ecodistricts “as old forest restoration opportunities that allow those forests to grow into old growth.”

What does that actually mean?

Bush says the St. Margaret’s Bay ecodistrict, which includes the proposed IRWA, has more than 12% of crown land designated as “old forest” already — which means the department has met its goal for the area but will add to it if it “finds new stands of forest that are true old growth.”

Bush says the department and Lancaster’s group have assessed several stands in the area and found five stands to be old growth. “All of these stands are being moved into long term conservation under the Old Forest Policy,” he says.

That all sounds well and good, but according to a long time insider in the Department of Environment (DOE), the policy is being implemented in way that undermines protection of these endangered forest types and “falls short of conservation requirements.”

John LeDuc is now retired, but he’s a former manager of DOE’s protected areas branch. Back in 1995, he and Art Lynds co-wrote what became a seminal paper titled, Old Forests of Nova Scotia: background and ecological characteristics.” In forest circles it just became known as “Lynds and LeDuc.”

In March of 2018, LeDuc sent a 34-page submission to Lahey’s Independent Review of Forestry Practices, that included a discussion about old growth forests and the Old Forest Policy. He pointed out that when the 8% goal in an ecodistrict is met, the government is then able to allow cutting in areas that could qualify as old forest. But the problem is that a good portion of the 8% is forest that isn’t old at all.

According to LeDuc, most of the 8% target in each ecodistrict was achieved by conserving stands greater than 40 years of age in protected areas — what Bush refers to above as “old forest restoration opportunities.” The rest are mostly mature forests between 80-125 years.

A three-century-old yellow birch in Annapolis County. Photo from John LeDuc’s submission to the Lahey Review.

LeDuc says the department failed to properly search for old growth on crown land, a decision made early on that “had the effect of playing down the existence of potential old forests,” he wrote. He went on to say that this “effectively provided DNR with the rationale or cover to meet the 8% policy directive by counting younger forests in protected areas…[and] the result is that many of the old forests on crown land have been lost.”

LeDuc says that because the 8% target could be met by including restoration forests (>40 years in protected areas), “the pressure was off DNR to include many sites in the 80-125 year category as potential old forests thus keeping them available for wood supply.”

The Old Forest Policy, with its “good intentions,” has become another example of “the fox guarding the hen house,” he wrote.

LeDuc recommended that all remaining OGF greater than 125 years on crown land be “reserved and protected” from harvesting. He says these forests are “reservoirs of invaluable and untapped scientific knowledge.” He also says “large ancient legacy trees” — between 200 and 400 years old — scattered through younger forest stands should be protected to help maintain “age diversity, structure, carbon storage, and biodiversity elements in the stand.” These trees are “genetic storehouses and treasures of forest resilience surviving storms, hurricanes and insects over centuries.”

If it quacks like a duck

Lancaster says the system is entirely geared toward a forestry-based system, when it should be ecology-based. In other words, less attention should be paid to volume-based measurements and more to ecosystem values and indicator species.

For instance, “there’s a direct correlation between old forests and various species of lichen,” he explains. One that is fairly common in these forest types is the northern coral lichen.

“I have seen coral lichen in literally every coniferous old growth forest that I have seen and never have I cored a tree that had the lichen on it that wasn’t over 125 years old, and that’s from samples of hundreds,” he explains. “When something is directly correlated with old growth forests the way some lichens and some bird species are, why wouldn’t they be included in the old growth scoring?”

Bush agrees that lichens can be a potential indicator of “ecological continuity” but he says stands with this kind of long and uninterrupted development “might be an even smaller subset of old growth forests.” But Lancaster doesn’t see this an argument against including a lichen inventory in the old growth scoresheet.

Bush adds that lichens are “very difficult to identify in the field and only a handful of people are trained” to do so. “In spite of this limitation, Nova Scotia does have rigorous programs to survey for species at risk and rare lichens in all potential lichen habitat areas prior to forest management harvesting.”

This, however, may result in a buffer zone around the lichen, but rarely, if ever, results in a whole forest stand being saved.

The northern coral lichen is a good indicator of an old growth forest. Within the proposed IRWA. Courtesy Mike Lancaster.

Old growth insurance policy

“Nova Scotia has got the smallest old growth percentage in Canada, and the majority of that is hemlock dominant, so not only do we have the smallest base to begin with, it’s also extremely imperiled.”

Lancaster is referring to the growing and worrying presence of the hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA), an aphid-like insect that attacks and kills hemlock trees of all ages. Its egg sacs, which look like cotton balls or clumps of snow, can be found at the base of needles and can be spread by wind, animals, as well as by the movement of logs, and other wood products including firewood.

“The little tiny bit of old growth we have left is probably going to be cut in half in the next 20 to 30 years unless we can find some kind of adequate control measure for the HWA,” explains Lancaster. [8]Many argue there is little stopping the HWA without using chemical or biological control.

That’s why we should be conserving forests that are not hemlock dominant and especially forests that are clearly meeting the [old growth] definition, but even those that are just close… we have to bump up stands otherwise that number is just going to drop, because we’re going to lose a significant amount of what we have left.

Lancaster suggests that forests between 100 and 125 years that are not eastern hemlock dominant should be conserved as a buffer, as an insurance policy, “to ensure the legacy and continuation of old forest values in Nova Scotia.”

When I asked Bush about whether his department was taking any proactive steps to increase the protection of old growth forest-types to account for the possible demise of hemlock forests, he basically said the Old Forest Policy is “designed” to have representation of different forest types and specifically recognizes that [it’s] conserving a “forest condition” that “may not last forever.”

“This is one of the reasons why it is important to pick large old forest patches of many stands which are more resilient to disturbance,” he says.

In addition to working on a number of collaborative projects looking at how to deal with HWA, Bush says the department is also working with the National Seed Centre and Acadia’s Harriet Irving Herbarium to collect hemlock seed from representative Nova Scotia ecosystems with the goal to “conserve the gene pool and maintain sufficient seed in long-term storage to be available” in case “restoration initiatives” are required.

Twelve years and waiting

The most recent data from the National Forestry Database (NFD) indicates that clearcutting is still the predominant method of cutting in the province, with 82% of crown land harvested in 2017 being clearcut, up from 80 percent the year before. [9]The term clearcutting here is synonymous with even-aged management, so includes seed tree and shelterwood harvests. When we include private land, 80% overall was clearcut in 2017, down from 86% the year before, indicating more private lands are being selectively cut.

The data also show that harvesting on crown land decreased from 11,582 ha in 2016 to 9,723 ha in 2017, but still remains well above the average annual level of cutting on public land since 1990.

According to the province’s annual Registry of buyers, harvest volumes overall are down significantly, from a peak in 1997—when nearly 7 million cubic metres were cut in the province — to 3.3 million cubic metres in 2017. However, there has been a notable shift in the proportion of this volume coming from public lands, a shift that might help explain the crescendo of public outcry over the last several years. In 1997, the peak year, only 9% of the harvested wood came from crown land, compared to nearly 30% in 2017.

If change is happening, it’s slower than molasses in January.

As previously mentioned, in 2018 the government released the Lahey Review — an independent review of forestry practices. But Lahey’s wasn’t the first. In 2008 there was another review,  coupled with extensive public consultation, which culminated in the Natural Resources Strategy, which included a number of citizen-led targets that would have transformed the industry and aligned it with the value that Nova Scotians place on intact forests. But the strategy was abandoned by the McNeil government.

In his review, Lahey exposed the dysfunctional culture that exists in the department and noted “a significant gap” between what the department says it’s doing to manage forestry on crown land and “how it’s actually managing forestry on crown land.” He also weighed in on the issues involving the province’s old growth forests.

Lahey wrote:

Defining what is and what is not an old‐growth forest is difficult. But it is clear that, however defined, there is currently little of it in Nova Scotia’s forests outside of ecological reserves: as little as 0.9 per cent of the wider forest, according to the most recent State of the Forest Report. In my view, it is also clear that DNR “targets” for the protection and restoration of old‐growth forest conditions outside of those reserves are not ambitious enough.

Lahey’s recommendations included that the department implement ecological forestry, “with an emphasis on long-rotation stand development and multi-aged stand structures,” as well as “accelerated and improved data collection on the existence of old forests across all unprotected crown lands.”

According to DLF, as part of the Lahey Review of Forestry Practices, Peter Duinker of Dalhousie University, is completing a review of the province’s old forest policies, including a scan of what other jurisdictions are doing and to take best practices into account. He’ll also be discussing options for pre-treatment assessment triggers. The review is expected in the summer of 2020, and public consultations on an updated draft of the Policy is anticipated to begin later this year.

Mike Lancaster holds his increment board, an instrument used to take a core sample to measure the tree’s age, but his increment board was too small. Lancaster estimated this red spruce to be between 250 and 350 years old. This is within the IRWA. Courtesy: Mike Lancaster

Holy grail of forest management

It’s hard to pin point when exactly, but sometime in recent history the pressure to feed the machines and the mills and pay down increasing levels of debt required that our forests be “managed” and reduced from an assemblage of trees, mosses, shrubs, soil, and wildlife, to fibre allocations. With this economic shift, our language shifted too, from forests to standing inventory.

“We need a paradigm shift to look at forests through a different lens. We can’t be assessing the ecological value of a forest through a forestry lens,” says Lancaster.

As we stood in what still remained of the old growth stand near the new Ingram Access Road, Lancaster’s deep sense of appreciation for the forest was rubbing off on me. I noticed how it looked and felt a lot different than what I’ve grown accustomed to since I moved to Nova Scotia more than 20 years ago. You know, those scrubby, spindly, claustrophobic stands of trees that have come back after clearcuts.

This was nothing like that.

At the risk of sounding corny, I felt like I was standing in a self-willed land, a place that hadn’t been noticeably tampered with. There was a spaciousness created by the scattering of tall, wide trees, and an overwhelming sense that the moss, the jumble of woody debris, the standing deadwood, and the myriad of creatures, were all connected and part of a larger, living organism — one that is sadly disappearing before our eyes.

“You don’t have to have a background in forest ecology to go to a forest like this and know it’s unique and it’s a special place,” says Lancaster.

“You don’t need to know the lichens, or know how to use an increment board, or know how to use this old growth protocol to appreciate the inherent value old growth forests. I’ve always maintained that one of the biggest challenges to forest advocacy in this province is that most Nova Scotians just don’t know what they’re missing.”

Cover photo: A stand within the community-proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area (IRWA). It contains a 400-year plus eastern hemlock. Photo courtesy Mike Lancaster

Linda Pannozzo is an award-winning author and freelance journalist. She is based in Nova Scotia, surrounded by trees. 


1 This is how old forests were defined in nearly all the provinces “historic” forest inventory reports dating back between 1965-1991.
2 A. Mosseler, J.A. Lynds, and J.E. Major. 2003. “Old-growth forests of the Acadian Forest Region.” Environmental Reviews.
3 While a number of the historic provincial inventories are available on the DLF Web site, the most recent one, which reports on age class using the GIS data (as opposed to PSP sample plot data) from 1999-2003, is not available. However, some of the age class data with regards to old growth from that inventory is presented here. I’ve written extensively on this topic for The Halifax Examiner, but will reiterate here that over the last decade, the DLF has become quite inventive when it comes to hiding historical age class trend lines: the department has removed inventory reports from public view, changed the data source that’s used to measure age class — creating a break in the series — and stopped publicly reporting age class. GIS data continues to be collected for their own internal purposes (ie. IRM review) but is not made public.
4 In the 2018 independent review of forest practices, William Lahey laid bare for all of us to see how the Department uses the term “science” to support forestry practices that have no actual basis in any scientific field, but instead uses its own version of “in‐house” science, “with limited resources, without engagement with external academic experts, including through the peer review process.”
5 In DLF’s Lawlor Lake area assessment forests that scored between 50 and 70 using the protocol were declared “old growth,” despite falling short of the normally required 80 score. The DLF scored the Ingram Access Road area giving it 75 points, but this forest fell short of the old growth criteria because it didn’t exceed an average age of 125 years. Peter Bush says the overall score “is not used to determine if a forest is old growth… it is only defined by the definition.” Mike Lancaster counters that “volume-based assessments [like the old forest protocol] is not ideal to determine ecological values.”
6 See page 10 in DLF’s Lawlor Lake area report. 
7 According to the DLF, the following is what the department has paid out to MTRI over the last five years: 2018/19 – $80,795.76; 2017/18 – $108,598.10; 2016/17 – $107,289.50; 2015/16 – $77,600.34; and 2014/15 – $81,493.26.
8 Many argue there is little stopping the HWA without using chemical or biological control.
9 The term clearcutting here is synonymous with even-aged management, so includes seed tree and shelterwood harvests.

Linda Pannozzo is an award-winning author and freelance journalist based in Nova Scotia. email: linda@halifaxexaminer.ca; Website: lindapannozzo.ca

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  1. Allowing a forest company to hire the technician who will determine whether a stand should be flagged as old growth or not seems like a practice that might be called “not at arm’s length.”
    Whenever greed is the dominating factor in people’s decision making there will never be fairness. This is industry which seems determined to exploit a common resource for the benefit of a few until it is entirely gone.

  2. Man, would I love to stand in that old growth forest! Given that Lancaster says “that one of the biggest challenges to forest advocacy in this province is that most Nova Scotians just don’t know what they’re missing,” I wonder if he or any others offer guided tours of the province’s old growth forests. I’d sign up for that in a heartbeat! Would be a great way to build forest advocates.

    Thanks for the reportage, Linda.

  3. It is so sad to read that these special forests have no voice inside the ‘system.’ – That in fact, their voice/our voice – is being discredited and disregarded by the Department of Lands and Forestry as was done to Mike Lancaster in other articles written about this incident when it happened – using Peter Bush’s incorrect data.

    Danny George, who is also involved in forestry – tried so hard to raise a red flag to the Department about an old growth forest that was slated to be cut down near Loon Lake, Guysborough County. LAF staff laughed at him. It wasn’t until media became involved – did the cut – that had already started – was stopped. It was later determined to be old growth. What was cut was sadly burnt up in the Nova Scotia Biomass Plant. Can it get much worse?

    Burning old growth – Cutting roads through old growth?

    Well – Right now there is a proposed cut near Molega Lake, Lunenburg County that – just looking at the photos – draws you in and makes you want to take a walk through that forest. Several people took the initiative and contacted the department asking about old growth and they have responded that they are going to check and if there is old growth that it will be taken ‘out of the harvest’ which means that they get to cut around the old growth areas with clearcuts and even-aged treatments.

    Is that a fair solution? Is that ecological forestry?

    The deadline for comment on June 9th, 2020.

    When you start clearcutting some parts of such forests – you subjecting other trees to windfall – and what about removing habitat for wildlife? Our fear is that once you build that 2km road into that forest, and this area is opened up, trees will blow down and the forest ‘as a system’ will be severely harmed.

    HARVEST PLAN ID: LU068584C and LU099959B

    As pointed out in this article, Lahey recommended setting aside OLD FORESTS so that they could have the CHANCE to grow into OLD GROWTH.

    He also made recommendations to change the OLD GROWTH CRITERIA. (It is set up for CORPORATE INTERESTS)

    He stated that WILDLIFE need to be part of the Pre-Treatment Assessment.

    AND that the Species at Risk Act needed to be fully implemented.

    So what is happening on the ground?

    I feel that the Department of Lands and Forestry is taking advantage – and pushing these types of harvests through the system that most do not pay attention to anymore because that is also flawed and hidden from the public. Also, these proposals are at a time when it is challenging for us to ‘go see’ and investigate what is on the chopping block.

    So private forestry companies not only want 822,861 acres for High Production Forestry (tree plantations or growing trees as a crop) which will include clearcuts – spraying – fertilizer – short rotations projected to be 30-45 years…they are going after the forests that need to be set aside for ‘light forestry’ (Irregular shelterwood cuts) and are proposing 80% removal and shelterwood cuts that will destroy the integrity of these last remaining forests that we have left.


    Notes from a group of concerned individuals about Lunenburg proposed cut:

    We visited this forest where Westfor will be cutting. The 2 photos of the hemlock and spruce is what they will cutting. There is many cavity trees, bird nests and wildlife trails throughout this forest. There are massive Beech trees, beech nuts everywhere and you can see where the animals are scratching through leaves to forage for the nuts. This piece of land has the most and the largest Hardwood trees I’ve ever seen.

    You can see the trails lead to the big softwood stand where the animals bed down for cover and come out to the hardwoods to forage. Westfor plans on taking all the softwood that the animals are using for cover and leaving some of the hardwoods. If you look on the Harvest Plan Map you will see these parcels on the north east side of Molega Lake area.

    3 blocks of land totaling about 400 acres

    (I supplied him with a map of where I thought it was)
    that’s the spot, this was Bowater Land purchased by the Province. In the mid 1990’s Bowater supplied timber from this land for the rebuild of the Bluenose ll

    This will have a detrimental effect of wind damage on the hardwood cavity trees and wildlife refuge in the softwood forest.


    So the most difficult question is:

    How do we stop this in a fake consultation process?

    How do we stop approvals with the current flawed old growth analysis? .

    Who do we sent comments and concerns to when no one is listening?

    Do we write letters to Premier McNeil and Minister Iain Rankin who respond saying that everything is fine? When we know the truth…

    And at what point do we – the local people create a system that works for us so we have a voice – and nature has a voice?

    Do we need the Ministerial Advisory involved with a review of proposed cuts?

    How do we get this mess on track?

    In 2019, the department proposed and is in the process of approving 25.106 acres of clearcuts. That’s 19,020 football fields of forest. What’s ecological about that?

    Forests like these matter to us.

    Nature needs rights. We need to find a way to create a voice for both.

    You can look up proposed cuts here: https://nsgi.novascotia.ca/hpmv/
    You can sign up to receive notifications of proposed harvests on Crown land here: https://novascotia.ca/natr/forestry/fibre-allocation/map-signup.asp

    This is the Department of Lands and Forestry e-mail address to make comment: forestryMaps@novascotia.ca

    Here is the Premier’s e-mail: premier@gov.ns.ca
    Minister Iain Rankin: MINDNR@novascotia.ca
    Professor William Lahey (at Kings College): william.lahey@ukings.ca