Environmental groups are pushing back against three proposed cuts in a rural area near Lake Deception north of Shelburne.
The cuts are on Crown land allocated to 13 companies in the WestFor group, which includes Northern Pulp, Louisiana Pacific, Ledwidge Lumber, and Harry Freeman & Sons.
These “variable retention” cuts (a forest industry euphemism for land on which the majority of trees are clearcut) do comply with temporary guidelines the Department of Lands and Forestry issued in the wake of the Lahey report. Where a clearcut is prescribed, a “variable” of 20-30% of trees must remain.
“The logging near Lake Deception is on three tracts of forest totalling 227 acres,” says Shelly Hipson, an activist with People for Ecological Forestry in Southwest Nova Scotia. “That is roughly 171 football fields of woods, with wildlife, that will have 70-80% of the trees removed. WestFor hires contractors who will go in with heavy equipment and cut it down. That remaining 20-30% will most likely blow down. This is counterproductive if government is truly moving towards implementing the Lahey recommendations. The Minister promised that we would see a dramatic reduction in clearcutting. Like when? When all the prime forests on Crown land have been cut?”
The temporary guidelines in the Department of Lands and Forestry Interim Retention Guide state: “In this way, the objectives identified in the Forestry Review (Lahey Report) to increase retention and promote multi-aged and multi-species forests can be supported while waiting for the longer-term changes to the Forest Management Guide framework.”
The problem is these “longer-term changes” could take a long time to implement. Last December, Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin committed to producing revamped Forest Management Guides “by the end of 2019” that would change the way stands of trees get identified and harvested. It’s unclear in this 11th month of the year when the Guides will be ready. The last time stakeholders saw a draft was in August and a meeting scheduled for this month was postponed. Follow-up work on other aspects of the report such as improving biodiversity and appointing a committee to oversee implementation of recommendations is underway. But the pace of change is arguably not the “urgent action” Professor Lahey advised 15 months ago after a year-long study.
Hipson and People with Ecological Forestry in Southwest Nova are challenging the need for these cuts near Lake Deception. Members have written the warden of Shelburne County and the mayors of Shelburne, Barrington, and Lockeport urging them to ask Lands and Forestry to rethink the scale of these cuts.
Mike Lancaster, a trained forester who is a member of a provincial advocacy group called Healthy Forest Coalition, says Lake Deception is an example of “business as usual,” with companies rushing to cut as much as possible before the regulatory landscape changes for good.
Lancaster says clearcutting an area which has already been cut several times in the past 150 years (and where the soil has been identified as thin and nutrient-poor glacial till) will further degrade an already weakened forest that needs more time to regenerate.
“Why are all these large-scale cuts being pushed through?” asks Lancaster. “Shouldn’t we be using the precautionary principle to wait until we identify the best candidates and the best areas for the various uses we are looking to assign before we move forward with cuts of this scale — especially where there are warning signs?”
Under Lahey’s proposed “triad” model of ecological forestry, some Crown land would be zoned as industrial, to allow frequent clearcutting. Other land would be zoned as protected with no cutting, and a third (and yet-to-be-delineated) zone would combine ecological and production goals: what Lahey described as “forestry with a lighter touch and limited clearcutting.”
Fifteen months later, the challenge is that only protected areas have so far been identified.
“With the non-protected legs of the triad unknown, the concern is companies are snapping up areas that are not ideal for industrial forestry — which seems to be the case with the Lake Deception cuts,” suggests Lancaster. “Or, companies are snapping up areas that would be most ideal for ecological forestry, but once that area has been degraded by a clearcut, then it is going to be a long time before it becomes a candidate for ecological forestry.”
Back to Lake “Deception.”
“What is being said by the minister and what is being approved by the department is not lining up with the Lahey Report,” insists Hipson. “When two studies state that we need to do forestry differently, then we should take that information and implement the recommendations. We don’t keep stalling and stockpiling product. To allow massive clearcuts and say you are moving towards ecological forestry doesn’t add up.”