A tent in the snow. Propped against it, signs saying "Lahey Now" and "Expect Resistance." In the background, protestors huddle around a fire.
Protestors are currently camped out at a planned harvest site between McEwan and Eel Weir Lakes in Annapolis County. Photo: Leslie Amminson

It’s the “type of forestry that the public’s been asking for,” says the province, but a group of protestors, a local MLA, and biologists disagree.

Since Friday, a small, rotating group of protestors have been camped out on a small parcel of land in Annapolis County, trying to convince the province to stop a planned cut near Beals Brook. The protestors, who call themselves Forest Protectors, say the land is a wildlife corridor where locals have seen evidence of endangered species. They believe the planned cut is a threat to the habitat of these species and the area’s biodiversity. 

It should never have been approved to begin with, they say.

“This [cutting] can’t just go on and on until it’s all gone,” Nina Newington told the Examiner Friday. “It’s what all of us have been afraid of, feeling so frustrated that, you know, some of us have been willing to camp in the winter and get arrested and not get to live our regular lives. Because somebody needs to get in the way of this.”

The Beals Brook site, where protestors are camping, is just off Highway 10. The 24-hectare plot of forest (mostly pine and oak), wetland, and streams is part of the former Bowater-Mersey lands the province bought back in 2012.

Those new Crown lands were subsequently leased to be managed by WestFor, a consortium of 12 mills. Following a provincial review and public consultation, WestFor was given approval this summer to cut 30% of the trees on the site.

Randy Neily has a cabin on private land bordering the planned cut. His family has lived in the area for generations and he’s used the nearby cabin for years to fish and hunt. He told the Examiner this isn’t the first time a company’s considered the land for cutting. It’s not the first time he’s opposed it, either. He said Bowater-Mersey almost cut the area 20 years ago when they owned the land. The land is no longer privately owned, so he wants the province to step in this time.

“Hopefully they’ll will do the right thing and reverse their decision and withdrawal that license from WestFor,” Neily said Friday. Like the protestors, he believes the small piece of forest in its current state serves as a corridor for wildlife.

“I’m not going to say that they’ve got to withdraw all the licenses [on Crown land], but this little block here, in my opinion, it has more ecological value than it does economical. To take 30-tonne machine or more in there to harvest that little bit … that’s nuts.”

A middle aged, moustachioed man in outdoor camouflaged gear sits in the corner of his simple cabin, drinking tea.
Randy Neilly sits in his cabin near the planned harvest site by Beals Brook in Annapolis County. He and his MLA Carman Kerr met with DNRR reps last week asking for the planned cut to be stopped. Photo: Leslie Amminson

Neily learned about the planned cut last month. He’s the one who alerted the Forest Protectors. Some of them, like Nina Newington, had been involved in the blockade at the Rocky Point Lake logging road last year.

Neily said he’s seen evidence of pine martens and wood turtles around the land. He also used to see moose in the area from time to time, though it’s been more than 20 years since he last saw signs of them. The pine marten and mainland moose are both endangered; the wood turtle is a threatened species in Nova Scotia.

He’s concerned cutting will harm their habitat, and reduce food supply and shelter for other animals in the area.

Before alerting the protestors, he went to his MLA, Carman Kerr, who is the provincial Opposition critic for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR).

The two met with representatives of DNRR to ask if the cut could be stopped, but were told it had been approved and the decision would not be reversed. They then spoke with a WestFor representative, said Neily, who told them the cut would begin any day. That’s when the protestors got involved.

In an email to the Examiner, Kerr said he’s since heard from a number of his constituents, and other Nova Scotians, saying they oppose the cut.

“The common argument against this harvest,” he wrote, “is that because the parcel consists of relatively mature forest situated near three important wetlands in an area where there has been significant forestry activity, that it provides critically important habitat for a variety of wildlife species.”

“In light of the current climate and biodiversity crises, I too believe that this cut should not happen, at least not until the Lahey Report recommendations can be fully implemented and the department can determine where this parcel best fits into the new triad model.”

The triad model would designate areas of forests one of three ways: protected from all cutting; protected from some cutting; or designated for “high production,” like clearcutting. On Nov. 30, William Lahey released a progress report on his 2018 independent review of forestry practices, saying very little had been done to implement its recommendations since it was published over three years ago.

Province says cut is in line with push for more ecological forestry practices, but biologists disagree

Despite the backlash, the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables is standing by the approved cut.

Ryan McIntyre, a registered professional forester and resource manager for Crown lands in the province’s western region, calls it a “benchmark” of future forestry practices.

“It went through a rigorous [review] process,” he said in an interview. “And it does align with where we’re going with ecological forestry. It’s a light touch harvest that retains long-lived trees — like pine and oak on this particular one — and creates natural openings, and allows for natural regeneration and multiple age class and diversity.”

The approved plan is a shelterwood cut. WestFor would remove 30% of trees, leaving enough behind to provide shelter and food for local animals.

The site is also located outside the core habitat for moose recently identified by the province in its Mainland Moose Recovery Plan.

map showing small boundary of Beals Brook cut, surrounded by approved cuts and revious cuts
The red line is the boundary of the planned cut where protestors are camped. Light yellow lines mark other approved cuts. Bare patches show where previous cuts occurred. Photo: Harvest Plan Map

Ultimately, the plan has been reviewed, put to public consultation on the Harvest Plan Map, and approved under current interim regulations. The DNRR has no plans to change its decision, said McIntyre.

“I just think it’s important to recognize that the harvest here does align with the new SGEM [Silvicultural Guide for the Ecological Matrix, which has yet to be implemented] and where we’re going with ecological forestry. I mean, this should be shown as one of these sites that is the type of forestry that the public’s been asking for.”

But protestors and biologists are concerned that WestFor might be taking more than 30%, that the trees left behind will be harvested later (as is often the case with shelterwood cuts), and that the site was approved for harvest without considering the context of the surrounding land.

“They didn’t approve this harvest within the bigger picture of the surrounding cuts and habitat,” said biologist Bob Bancroft in an interview. “There are a sea of clear cuts in Annapolis County.”

Trees lie cut in a large space behind the protestor's camp, surrounded by a thin stand of living trees
A short distance away from the protestors’ camp and the planned harvest site. Photo: Leslie Amminson

Bancroft used to work in government and helped prepare the forest section of the province’s 2011 Natural Resources Strategy, a precursor to William Lahey’s 2018 independent review of forestry practices in Nova Scotia.

“I think they’ve been doing too much damage all around that 24 hectares. And they should just bloody well leave it alone. And I don’t know how many animals are going to be able to survive on that small amount. But the solution is not to turn around and cut more.”

Biologist Donna Crossland, who also worked on the Natural Resources Strategy, agrees. She doesn’t feel this cut is in line with the ecological forestry practices recommended in the Lahey Report.

“First of all,” she told the Examiner, “Lahey wanted landscape level planning to be looked at. And they haven’t done that. They evaluate each tiny harvest block in isolation of the greater landscape. And so they do not look at cumulative effects. They did not look at how much of the landscape’s already been heavily harvested all around it.”

She said the area can’t handle much more cutting, even if it’s a lighter approach. When trees are removed from the area, even a small amount, they never get a chance to decompose and return nutrients to the soil. And the soil around cuts, she said, is nutrient-poor.

Crossland is also doubtful that WestFor will stick to a 30% cut, as she believes they’ll have to clear additional trees to widen the main road and create others so machines can get in.

Both biologists are also worried that not enough forest will be left along the wetlands in the area to provide connected shelter and protection for travelling animals looking for water. Under current regulations, tree harvests must leave a buffer of 20 metres of untouched forest next to these water sources. The science, they said, doesn’t back up that number. Bancroft said closer to 50- or-60-metre strips of forest should be left beside bodies of water to be adequate for wildlife.

Blue sky above a stand of barren trees in winter. Below is grassy wetland.
Trees planned for harvest near Beals Brook surround wetlands. Under current regulations, a buffer zone of 20 metres must remain between cutting and wetlands. Some biologists believe that buffer should be larger to accommodate moose habitat. Photo: Leslie Amminson

Protest continues

So, protestors remain at the camp. They have a main tent set up with a stove to stay warm and plan to stay until the province reverses its approval of WestFor’s harvest. 

“[We] just try to be a presence here and monitor what’s happening,” said Nina Newington. “It’s not really acceptable for the government to say, ‘Oh, too late: we’ve already approved these harvests.’”

As of Tuesday night, they had yet to hear from the province or see any machinery come in from WestFor.

The Examiner reached out to WestFor for comment on the protest and planned cut, as well as information on when cutting was scheduled to start. The consortium had not replied by time of publication.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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