Blue sky above a stand of barren trees in winter. Below is grassy wetland.
Trees planned for harvest near Beals Brook. Photo: Leslie Amminson

Harvest plans are on hold for a 24-hectare plot of forest in Annapolis County where protestors have been camped out since December.

On January 21, the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) placed a temporary halt on an approved cut near Beals Brook off Highway 10 after being alerted to the presence of three rare species of lichen on the site.

Protestors became aware of the species after a lichen enthusiast visited the camp earlier this month and reported his findings to the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre.

“It’s confirmation that this forest is an important ecological forest,” said Nina Newington, a protestor with the group that calls itself Forest Protectors, which has been camping out on the cut-block on a rotating basis since December 2.

“What it really tells us is there’s not very much monitoring going on before they go in and cut because if we weren’t camped here, this would already have been cut.”

A tent in the snow. Propped against it, signs saying "Lahey Now" and "Expect Resistance." In the background, protestors huddle around a fire.
The protest camp near Beals Brook. Protestors have been on site since December 3. They hope to ultimately stop the planned harvest in the area and will stay on site even as the cut is put on hold.  Photo: Leslie Amminson

This past summer, the province gave approval to WestFor — a consortium of mills managing publicly owned Crown land in southwestern Nova Scotia — to cut 30% of the trees on the site. Protestors camping on the site say they have yet to hear directly from WestFor or DNRR about their harvest plans.

Aside from the newly-discovered lichen, protestors say the site is an important habitat and wildlife corridor for endangered species such as the pine marten, wood turtle, and mainland moose. There are mostly pine and oak trees on the land. A number of previous harvests have taken place in the area around the site, reducing the area where wildlife can live and migrate safely.

The three species of lichen identified there — wrinkled shingle lichen, frosted glass-whiskers, and black-foam lichen — are all designated as species at risk. Lichens, which are composite organisms made up of fungus and algae, are key indicators of forest health and biodiversity, according to the Canadian Forest Service.

Earlier this month, the Examiner had reached out to DNRR to see if the province might amend harvest plans on the site in response to the protests. At the time, DNRR spokesperson Steven Stewart emailed this response:

In 2020, this plan was reviewed by the regional biologist responsible for proposed Crown lands forest harvest plans in this area. The biologist did not identify any biodiversity related concerns requiring mitigation for the site and recommended the harvest plan proceed. The plan was then re-reviewed by another regional biologist in Fall 2021 after public concerns were raised. The review also found no biodiversity concerns and recommended the harvest proceed.

On Thursday, in light of the discovery of the at-risk lichen, the Examiner contacted DNRR again. In another email, Stewart said DNRR had been made aware of the presence of rare lichen in the area, and a lichenologist will visit the site within the next week to confirm the presence of lichen there and in the surrounding area. The harvest will remain on hold until the review is completed.

“The department will take necessary steps to protect and conserve species at risk,” Stewart wrote. “Buffer zones will be applied to any confirmed occurrences of lichen, in accordance with Special Management Practices.”

These buffer zones would need to be placed 100 metres between any identified lichen and the planned harvest.

Newington said she’s concerned the amount of snow on the ground right now will make it more difficult to thoroughly review the base of trees in the area for the lichen report DNRR is commissioning.

With files from Jennifer Henderson

Note: this article originally stated protestors had been camped out since Dec. 3. Additionally, it originally said the presence of lichen was reported to the province by protestors. The lichen enthusiast who identified and reported the lichen is not affiliated with the protestors.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

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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  1. One has to wonder how much else has been “missed” by DNRR during the approval process for this forest. Now we know there are rare species of Lichens. We had already been told by knowledgeable local hunters, trappers ad woodsment that the area is frequented by Mainland Moose. That Wood Turtle were spotted at that site. There there have been Pine Marten in that area. What else could be there? Could there be some of the endangered Black Ash growing in the wetland areas. How about Canada Warblers, Rusty Blackbirds and Olive-sided Flycatchers – all three of which are SAR-listed species that nest in forested wetlands such as found at Beal’s Meadow.

    The fact of the matter is that, when a forest is allocated for harvesting, it is not like a team of biologists are sent out to survey the site, carefully checking for endangered species. No. It turns out that it’s pretty much and exercise in checking off some boxes on a form signalling that there are no known records of any significant species at that location according to the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre database.

    How many forests have gone down under the saw without being carefully surveyed? This is the stuff of nightmares to those of us who actually care about protecting the high conservation value forests of Nova Scotia. In a time when biodiversity is critically threatened, DNRR’s lackadaisical approach to harvest approvals has got to stop.

  2. The article correctly states that a lichen enthusiast found the lichen but the headline incorrectly states that it was found by the protesters