“We were in wonderful moose country now.”

At least this is how Albert Bigelow Paine described the Nova Scotia landscape he and three others journeyed through in his 1908 book The Tent Dwellers. The book tells the true story of a June trout fishing trip led by two guides, Charlie Charlton and Del Thomas, who take Paine and his friend Eddie Breck on a journey that began and ended at Kejimkujik Lake with the ultimate goal of reaching Little Tobeatic Lake.

The four hiked, portaged, and paddled through a chain of lakes — Mountain, Peskowesk, and Peskawa — in what later became Kejimkujik National Park, the Tobeatic Wildlife Management Area, and Tobeatic Wilderness Area. Paine described the “uninvaded wild” and “trackless” bogs and swamps “on the borders of the unknown.”

A lot has changed in a little over 110 years.

It was into some of the same landscape that I recently ventured with Jeff Purdy, the deputy chief of the Acadia First Nation. But instead of portaging and paddling, Purdy navigated his hefty pickup truck over badly potholed logging roads, and instead of describing the Nova Scotia wilderness in contrast to “conventional luxury” and the “comforts of living,” as Paine often did of his trip into the backwoods, Purdy described his relationship to the land in terms its historical and cultural significance.

For Purdy, as we drove over the Mersey River to the western side of Lake Rossignol heading toward the Tobeatic Wildlife Management Area, or “the sanctuary” as he calls it, we were smack dab in the middle of the Mi’kmaq heartland: the beating, life-giving, sylvan domain of his ancestors. Only now, it bears little resemblance to what he remembers as a child.

Today the mainland moose are nearly disappeared, the lakes and rivers are being invaded by chain pickerel — a voracious fish-eating fish that threatens the area’s native aquatic fauna — and the landscape itself — even within the “sanctuary” itself — is mangled and scarred by industrial logging and fragmented by roads.

But it’s not just the ecosystems and species at risk that are threatened by the recent spate of clearcutting on crown land. Purdy believes an untold number of highly significant archaeological sites dating back thousands of years are also at risk of being destroyed.

Crossing the Mersey River near no. 2 dam, heading to the west side of Lake Rossignol. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Landscape and memory

All told, the Mersey snakes nearly 150km through undulating terrain, flowing through a chain of large lakes before gushing into Liverpool Bay. One of those so-called lakes —Lake Rossignol — isn’t really a lake at all. In the 1920s when the Mersey Paper Company dammed the Mersey River 30 kilometres upstream at Indian Gardens to power its pulp and paper mill it flooded an area that included a dozen small lakes and created Rossignol, a reservoir and the largest fresh water body in the province.

Nova Scotia Power maintains six hydroelectric generating stations on the Mersey River. When the pulp mill shut down in 2012, the provincial government bought the company’s lands and many at the time were hopeful that a unique opportunity had finally presented itself: the ecologically sensitive areas could be protected and options for community forests could be explored.

But things didn’t quite turn out that way. When Jonathan Porter — Bowater’s former woodlands manager — took the helm of the government’s forestry division, it would remain business as usual when it came to the newly acquired crown lands.

The government department, now called Lands and Forestry (DLF), handed over much of the land to Westfor, a consortium of 13 forest companies, including Northern Pulp. Clearcutting, industry-style, has been incessant ever since.

But Purdy says the area, including the former Bowater lands, is archaeologically and ecologically sensitive and should be protected. He says “old traditional Mi’kmaq sites” are everywhere. “If you’re destroying it, you’re also destroying potential sites.”

As we cross over the Mersey River not far from Dam No. 2, Purdy says his grandfather told him that back in the 1920s ,when these dams were built, there was a burial site. “He could remember seeing the birch bark and human remains, bones, getting doused up, getting pushed away.”

Purdy motions to the right, in the direction of Ponhook Lake Reserve. “This tiny spot on the end of Lake Rossignol, that would have been a traditional camp site at one time,” he says, “same as over at Wildcat [reserve].” The Acadia First Nation is made up of five Mi’kmaq reserves, all established in the 1800s. In addition to Wildcat, the largest with 465 hectares, and Ponhook (102 ha), there are Gold River (270 ha), Yarmouth (28 ha), and Medway River (5 ha), totalling less than 900 hectares of land.

Purdy unlocks the gate on West Brook. When Bowater owned the land, the company always kept everything gated off. Today it’s crown land, but the gates remain. Access is limited to logging contractors and a few others, including Purdy. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

“I’ve been canoeing up and down the Mersey River and all around Rossignol since I had diapers on,” Purdy tells me. “My grandfather, my great grandfather, my great great grandfather, guided, camped, hunted, fished this whole area.”

Purdy’s great great grandfather was Sam Glode, a decorated Mi’kmaw soldier who served in the first World War with the Royal Canadian Engineers, digging tunnels and carving dugouts at Vimy Ridge and defusing land mines after the war. “For me growing up in this area, I heard all the stories, the Mi’kmaq traditions. They were are all orally passed down.”

Purdy’s father used to work for Bowater Mersey. “Basically he looked after the [logging] contractors — all Bowater’s lands in southwest Nova went through him first.”

Purdy says he remembers his father telling him years ago that he “walked across a chop at one time and picked up an arrowhead.” Purdy says it was probably an area that was hunted by the Mi’kmaq “because there probably would have been moose there, caribou for sure.”

“This whole west side of Rossignol is very culturally sensitive. I know it because I grew up in it and the history has been passed down to me,” says Purdy.

But Purdy also knows it because he saw it with his own two eyes. “The last time Nova Scotia Power drained Rossignol to its original levels, I could remember going up in there and it was like going back in time. You could count the encampments — it was like the Mi’kmaq had just picked up and walked out. There were training beads, musket balls, artifacts, everywhere. It had just been engulfed.”

Purdy is referring to 2005, when Nova Scotia Power had to drop the water levels on the Mersey River while it repaired some of its 70-year-old generating stations. While the riverbed was temporarily exposed, ancient history suddenly revealed itself. Hundreds of Mi’kmaq artifacts — some dating back 8,000 years — appeared in the mud: arrowheads, tools, pottery fragments, spear points, and knives were found around 109 ancient campsites. Once the repair work on the dams was completed the old encampments were submerged once again.

A ‘language of verbs’

Sara Beanlands is an archaeologist with Boreas Heritage. She’s recently been hired by Parks Canada to do excavation work inside Kejimkujik National Park. She says there is no question about the historical and cultural significance of the entire river system.

The Mersey River, like many of the province’s longest river systems, including the LaHave and the Medway, has humble beginnings in the bogs, fens and craggy granite outcroppings around Sandy Bottom Lake, about 25 kilometres from Annapolis Royal. Beanlands says that between Liverpool and these headwaters there are over 300 registered archaeological sites.

“That represents one quarter of all pre-contact archeological sites in the province that are registered. So it is a significant cultural landscape and a significant archaeological resource,” says Beanlands. This area, which she refers to as “the corridor,” includes Lake Rossignol, where most of the sites are submerged. “That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That really helps us protect those sites.”

Beanlands says that Debert is the oldest known archeological site in the province — the artifacts that have been recovered there are 12,000 to 13,000 years old. In southwest Nova Scotia, the oldest artifacts that have been recovered are tentatively dated to the late Paleo-Indian period, so approximately 10,000 years old, she says.

She explains that from Liverpool to the headwaters of the Mersey there are archeological sites that represent all the major time periods throughout history. “There are a lot of artifacts from the Archaic Period — 8,000 to 3,000 years ago, all the way up to the contact period when the Europeans were starting to explore the interior of the province and engaging with Mi’kmaq there, and trading. Then of course there’s archeology that represents the logging era and the sporting era. Every time period is represented along the Mersey River.”

Beanlands tells me the Mi’kmaq word for the Mersey River is Ogômgigiag, which means “a large gap.” She says that when she first learned of the ancient place name she had difficulty understanding what it referred to: “Is it the large gap in the river, is it a gap in population, is it a gap in time, a gap in resources?” But from talking to the Mi’kmaq, Beanlands came to understand that “the Mi’kmaq language is a language of verbs.”

“I was driving over the bridge over Bear River and it just sort of hit me that it’s the large gap through the landscape, through which water moves, through which animals move, people move, life moves.” She says the archaeological evidence shows that for thousands of years, prehistoric people would have been moving through this gap — it was an “ancient path,” a “super-highway…the way they moved through the world.”

Purdy says it would have been “like a 100 series highway for the Mi’kmaq,” a major travel corridor for trading and transport.

Sara Beanlands, at work on the Lower Mersey River. Photo courtesy Sara Beanlands

I ask Beanlands if she is worried that with all the clearcutting going on, and the heavy machinery rutting and compacting the soils, that undiscovered sites could be damaged or disturbed?

“Absolutely,” she responds. “There will undoubtedly be unidentified archeological sites in these areas that we have not identified yet. There is legislation in place to protect archeological resources in Nova Scotia called the Special Places Protection Act which essentially states that you cannot knowingly disturb archaeological sites no matter what.”

But Beanlands explains that while in theory all archaeological resources should be protected under the Act, there is a grey area. When a development requires an environmental assessment, it will typically require an archaeological assessment, she explains.

“You would assess an area before the development takes place to determine the potential for finding archaeological resources and then come up with mitigation measures or recommendations for how do we deal with them.”

Beanlands says the registered sites on the Mersey were identified because there’s been development along the river that has required environmental assessments, “so there’s been the opportunity for archaeologists to go in and generate this data,” she says. “But if there’s no development in an area that’s crown land, then archaeologists haven’t had the opportunity to go in.”

Photo of a map Purdy shows me while we stand next to a clearcut not far from the Mersey River. The map was created by the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO). The red dots are registered archaeological sites. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Purdy agrees. He says the only reason these sites along the Mersey were identified is because Nova Scotia Power had to do dam work on the sites. “There’s just as many sites in other places but they’re not recorded,” he says.

And when it comes to logging activity on crown land, there is no legal requirement in Nova Scotia to assess archaeological potential before the heavy machinery moves in.

Beanlands says that there are other jurisdictions in Canada where forestry work requires an archaeological assessment. “It seems to me that it’s a bit of an anomaly that we don’t have environmental assessment work that’s associated with clearcutting activities.”

Boreas Heritage staff working in Kejimkujik National Park. Photo courtesy Sara Beanlands.

Consultations are ‘flawed’

Other provinces in Canada do seem to take archaeology a lot more seriously than Nova Scotia does.

For instance, in British Columbia there are three laws that deal specifically with forestry operations on crown land that provide direction on how to manage unidentified archaeological resources. [1]According to Dawn Makarowski, the public affairs officer with British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, in addition to the Heritage … Continue reading Essentially, when a forest licensee writes its “forest stewardship plan,” they also have to include a strategy which “typically includes a legal commitment to do further archaeological review prior to harvesting or road building if the area has high potential for archaeological sites.” Archaeological reviews engage qualified professional archaeologists who assesses whether field work is required. If it is, then an Archaeological Impact Assessment (AIA) will be carried out by the licensee, who is also required to adhere to any recommendations provided.

In Ontario, the process that takes place for crown land harvests — outlined in this document — shows there is explicit recognition that unidentified sites are valuable and should also be protected. Basically, the forest licence holder has to ensure that any disturbance to an unidentified archaeological site on crown land is kept to a minimum, and a cancellation of the harvest is one possible outcome of the assessment. [2]For instance, in Ontario, if crown land is deemed to have archaeological potential based on specific landscape elements, proximity to other sites with cultural heritage value, and landform types that … Continue reading

In New Brunswick, the act of protecting artifacts from feller bunchers seems a lot more vague. A spokesperson for that province’s Department of Energy and Resource Development tells me that while it’s “active in protecting archaeological resources during forest management operations,” it’s not able to provide any more details on how it’s actually protecting them. The spokesperson would only say that the concern that forestry operations have the potential to disturb artifacts that may hold cultural significance is an “ongoing and active topic of discussion with our Aboriginal First Nations.”

Ruts created by heavy logging equipment near Sixth Lake Brook. How do you think a prehistoric artifact would hold up to that? Photo: Linda Pannozzo.

As for Nova Scotia, based on what DLF spokesperson Lisa Jarrett tells me, it seems like it’s a bit of a backwater when it comes to protecting unidentified sites of significance from the hazards of logging operations.

Jarrett says the department “consults” with the the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO) “before Licensees are given approval to plan harvest areas on western Crown lands.”

According to the Millbrook-based organization’s website, its mission is to “address the historic and current imbalances in the relationship between Mi’kmaq and non-Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia and secure the basis for an improved quality of Mi’kmaq life,” with a goal to “balancing individual First Nations autonomy with the collective M’kmaq identity, governance and decision making required to re-institute Mi’kmaq ways of operating.”

I ask Jarrett to walk me through the steps of this consultation process. “The department sends proposed harvest plans on western Crown to KMKNO for their feedback on archaeological or other issues prior to approval,” she explains.

But according to Jeff Purdy, the consultation process that takes place in Nova Scotia is a “flawed” one. “Timelines are usually very tight and the [government] also only looks at recorded sites,” he says. “But a lot of the sites are unrecorded.”

Purdy also says that in order to do a proper consultation regulators need to talk to community members who know where the traditional sites are, but they don’t.

In addition, he says the Mi’kmaq have been denied a crucial source of information — the government’s database. “Our lands officer with KMKNO, he’s been asking for access to the DLF database so he could do a proper assessment but we’ve never had access to that,” says Purdy. “The database that shows what the forest is, what the stands are, where the species at risk are — all that pertinent information that we’d need to make an assessment; we don’t have access to it.”

According to Jarrett, the government is “not aware of any concerns from KMKNO about access to data,” but she adds that since I’ve raised the issue “we have reached out to them concerning this.”

Drone shot of a 2018 Westfor clearcut on crown land. Lake Rossignol can be seen on the top right. Photo courtesy Jeff Purdy.

Purdy says a couple of years ago the Mi’kmaq were able to shut down a logging operation on crown land adjacent to the Wildcat community because biologists, who were doing some survey work involving the conservation of the semi-aquatic eastern ribbon snake — a threatened species — discovered a culturally significant species that’s also typically found in the same swampy habitats critical to the snake. Wisqoq or black ash — currently provincially listed as “threatened” — has always been used by the Mi’kmaw people for making baskets, snowshoes, canoes, and axe handles. “They were going to go in and cut there but we said, ‘No, we’re totally dead set against it.’”

But protecting artifacts that are buried under the ground from logging machinery doesn’t appear to be as simple.

Selling sanctuary

It’s May and the air is heavy with the moisture from a torrential downfall. Purdy and I are standing beside a large clearcut inside the Tobeatic Wildlife Management area, not too far from Black Duck Lake. The signage on the side of the road says it was a Westfor “harvest” from the fall of 2018.

We have been standing here just long enough for the black flies to find us when we hear the rising, buzzy trill from just beyond the edge of the clearcut, in the still intact forest canopy. It is a Northern Parula, a delicate, bluish grey migrant from Central and South America that comes north in the spring to breed.

These birds are particularly fond of forests draped in “old-man’s beard,” because they use the pendulous strands of the lichens to build their nests in. For food they pluck at insects as they dart from branch to branch in the dense foliage high up in the tree tops. The thing is, parulas, much like blue-headed vireos and black-throated green warblers — all birds we hear singing this day — cannot find food in clearcuts.

Donna Crossland is a biologist who works with Parks Canada. She is also a forest ecologist and is passionate about ensuring habitat requirements are considered in forest management decisions. In an interview, Crossland tells me that these kinds of birds “cannot switch their diets to insects found in open fields, bird feeders, or elsewhere. They simply don’t know how to change their food search, and are specialized for the niche they occupy.”

Crossland says the birds are “innately programmed to forage for insects in a forest habitat.” She worries that when forests are clearcut, like the one I tell her about inside the Tobeatic Wildlife Management Area, the food sources that are appropriate for many of these bird species are removed for the next five decades and likely much longer.

“On those poor soils, the returning forests may not provide adequate food sources for these species for another century,” she says.

She also notes that because the birds require hanging lichens for nest-building, “the trees must grow back first and then slow-growing lichens must establish on them,” before they can be nested in again. “For those songbirds, it would be no different than paving over the entire cut for the next 50 to 100 years,” she tells me.

Westfor clearcut from 2018, inside the Tobeatic Wildlife Management Area. It is from just beyond the edge of this clearcut that we hear the buzzy trill of the canopy-loving Northern Parula. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

When the  Tobeatic Wildlife Management Area was first designated a “wildlife sanctuary” in 1927 — the first of its kind in Nova Scotia — it was because it had one of the largest remaining populations of beaver, which were live-trapped and relocated to other parts of the province where they had been extirpated, a result of poorly regulated trapping. Then in 1968 the area was renamed a “wildlife management area” (WMA).

Wildlife sanctuaries were supposed to be places where animals were to live out their lives undisturbed, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. According to this brief history of the province’s game sanctuaries, by the 1930s part of the duties of game wardens in the Tobeatic sanctuary involved “predator control” — bobcats were snared, bears were trapped and killed, even owls were shot.

By the mid-1990s there were 13 game sanctuaries and 13 wildlife management areas in the province and the department’s wildlife biologists started evaluating each of them for their “wildlife benefits” and whether there was a need for changes to legislation. [3]According to the 2006 document, the biologists saw four reasons for the review: the original reasons for creating some of the sanctuaries/ management areas were no longer valid; some of the … Continue reading

In 2005 the department’s wildlife division tried to eliminate game sanctuaries altogether and recommended a public review so that citizens and organizations could respond to the recommendations outlined in a series of 26 reports representing each of the areas. At the time the government received more than 500 submissions as well as numerous petitions indicating that the public was overwhelmingly in support of not only maintaining the existing sanctuaries but adding more protections.

While the sanctuaries weren’t eliminated, a serious question remained: what were they actually providing sanctuary for?

For one, there is no provision for habitat protection or conservation within the sanctuaries. A sanctuary designation has no bearing on the forest harvesting practices allowed. The areas have been treated more or less like any other crown land and are available for logging, mining, and road building.

In fact, the only portions of wildlife sanctuaries that are actually protected are those portions that overlap with designated wilderness areas and nature reserves. In the Tobeatic sanctuary, for instance, the remaining non-protected portion (outside of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area) is highly fragmented and has been intensively harvested over a long period of time. [4]Provincial Wilderness Areas, on the other hand, protect habitat and ecosystems and do not allow harvesting or road building but do allow hunting and fishing. Baiting for bear and deer is not … Continue reading

I was also surprised to learn that even hunting wasn’t verboten in the Tobeatic sanctuary. Since 1990 there has been a short hunting season each fall. According to the province’s 2018 Hunting and Harvesting Summary of Regulations, for about a week in October a “primitive hunt” is allowed where a person with a valid hunting licence can hunt bear, deer, or small game with a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow.

In an irony that seems to be lost on the government, the regulations go on to say: “It is an offence for anyone entering the TWMA during this hunt to have in their possession any electric motor or internal combustion engine.” Apparently those are only allowed if they’re attached to logging trucks, feller bunchers, or chain saws.

According to naturalist Alain Belliveau, the intended purpose of the sanctuary has been compromised from the beginning. In an essay that appeared here, Belliveau writes: “Among other degrading activities such as mainland moose poaching, the pulp industry clearcut portions of the southeastern end of the Sanctuary, both on public and private lands. The Sanctuary was significantly set back by the lack of proper legislation to protect its values, the fact that some of the Sanctuary was privately-owned and by pressure from industry to clearcut the area’s trees and dam the area’s lakes for moving wood.”

Although Belliveau concedes that by 1998 most of the sanctuary became part of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area, there is still the portion in the southeast, where Purdy and I ventured in May, that still receives very little protection.

A cavity tree cut down and piled at the side of the road in the Tobeatic Wildlife Management Area near Black Duck Lake. Numerous forest-dependent species require cavity trees for nesting, rearing young, roosting, feeding, storing food, escaping predators, or hibernating. Instead, this tree will likely be chipped and used for biomass. Photo: Linda Pannozzo.

One would be forgiven for thinking a “wildlife sanctuary” might be a good place to protect habitat for species at risk. But apparently it’s not. DLF spokesperson Lisa Jarrett says “there are no regulations for wildlife habitat in these [wildlife management] areas.” But she says habitat requirements “are a key component of Crown land management.” That’s cold comfort for the growing list of species at risk in the province, for which core habitat has yet to be provided.

In February of this year, East Coast Environmental Law (ECELAW) published an update that pointed to the lack of habitat protections in its evaluation on how Nova Scotia was fairing at meeting its legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

ECELAW found that since it had last reported on the issue in 2015, the situation had “worsened” and that 11 more species had been added to the “at risk” list, bringing the new total species that are listed as endangered, threatened, or vulnerable from 52 to 63.

ECELAW also found that the government was “non-compliant” and hadn’t completed recovery or management plans or identified areas to be designated as “core habitat” for 26 of these listed species.

The group also noted that in 2016 Nova Scotia’s auditor general took the province to task on its lack of initiative on species in peril.

More recently, William Lahey pointed squarely at the gravity of the government’s inaction when it comes to species at risk in his highly anticipated “Independent Review of Forest Practices.” In the review, Lahey recommended significant reforms to the way forests are cut in order to protect the forests and its species and he called for the implementation of the Endangered Species Act on Crown land as an “immediate priority.”

Around the same time that the ECELAW report was published, a group of naturalists stepped up to announce that they were taking the province to court over its dereliction of duty. Wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft, the Blomidon Naturalists Society, the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists, and the Halifax Field Naturalists, with the help of lawyer Jamie Simpson, plan to focus on six species they feel represent the key government shortcomings: mainland moose, Ram’s head lady slipper, Canada warbler, black ash, wood turtles, and the eastern wood pewee.

Then in April of this year, Iain Rankin, the Minister of Lands and Forestry announced that in response to Lahey and the attorney general, the department was setting up “new and revitalized” recovery teams for species at risk. “These teams will move forward with recovery planning and help us to meet requirements under the [Act],” read the announcement.

It is unclear what this all means, and how it will pan out, but one thing is certain: protecting core habitat and reforming harvesting practices for the benefit of forest-dependent species will require a sea change.

Despite the overwhelming public will and numerous high level calls to get out from under the burden of the pulp industry and an industrial forestry model, a succession of provincial governments with the support of complicit senior bureaucrats and department staff have looked the other way, maintained the status quo, and ignored their legal obligations under the law.

Satellite imagery (May 2019) showing logged areas inside the “sanctuary” or Tobeatic Wildlife Management Area, adjacent to the Tobeatic Wilderness Area. Source: Planet Explorer.

‘Vanishing visions of animal life’

Alces alces americana is Nova Scotia’s original indigenous moose population. It’s a subspecies of moose native to eastern North America and for the last 15 years it has been “listed” as endangered. [5]In Cape Breton, by the 1930s the native moose herds were extirpated, wiped out from excessive hunting and habitat destruction. In 1947 and 1948, Parks Canada decided to relocate 18 western moose … Continue reading

In 2007, Alces alces americana was the subject of a recovery strategy and at the time, the recovery of the species was “considered technically or biologically feasible,” but according to Bob Bancroft, who served as a member of the recovery team, “the team was unable to do one thing for one moose.” He says the government response has been inadequate and that regardless of there being a recovery strategy in place, moose are “continuing to die off because of overcutting in their habitat.”

And dying off they are. Aerial survey results conducted in the winters of 2017 and 2018  obtained and reported by the CBC show a steep decline in numbers from roughly 1,000 animals in the early 2000s to fewer than 100 today.

In fact, when you look at the actual numbers, the loss of moose is quite staggering. When Thomas Millette of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts flew his airplane scanning for moose over six areas of the mainland and a total area of nearly 4,500 square km, he saw only 14 moose, which led to an estimate of roughly 60 animals.[6]The areas surveyed by Millett were Guysborough Country (four moose found, estimated population is 16), Cape George (two moose found, estimated population is seven), Chignecto (three moose found, … Continue reading

According to the DLF, the surveys conducted by Millette that used thermal imaging technology did not include fly overs of the Tobeatic and Kejimkujik areas. Jarett says the Department began its own traditional aerial survey of those areas in 2019 using provincial helicopters and Department staff, but these “were not completed because weather conditions, particularly snow accumulation on the ground, were not suitable.”

Among the more than 500 pages of documents obtained by the CBC through a Freedom of Information request there were also internal government emails between the Department’s wildlife resource manager and other staff, including Jonathan Porter. Randy Milton referred to the low abundance of mainland moose as “concerning” and noted that the survey also revealed the absence of deer: “Unexpectedly there appears to be large areas of the mainland with almost no ungulates evident at all,” he writes.

Poaching and being susceptible to a deadly brainworm common to white-tailed deer, are on the list of known threats facing moose populations. But what about habitat loss? Does development and forest harvesting cause low moose numbers?

In a word, yes. Here’s what the government says about it on its FAQ page on moose:

Moose are known as generalists and can utilize a variety of habitats. Since their diet consists largely of saplings, forest harvesting often provides a valuable food source for the moose. However, the loss of mature forests due to harvesting and development can be detrimental to moose if there are not adequate stands of various age forest communities to provide food, shelter, security and connectivity of these various habitat components. In the winter when the snow is deep, mature forests are an essential component of moose habitat. These forest types provide shelter and reduce snow levels beneath a closed canopy forest, allowing the moose to travel more easily and expend less energy while searching for food. Another problem with forest harvesting is that more road access is created, which allows for greater disturbance of moose by OHV’s, and other recreationists. 

Essentially, what the Tobeatic region as well as other regions on the mainland offered moose was some isolation, with little road access. This is certainly what existed at the time that Paine wrote his 1908 book The Tent Dwellers. He and his friend were continuously on the lookout for moose, “absorbed in the possibility of getting a sight of these great, timid, vanishing visions of animal life,” he wrote.

Today, the visions aren’t what’s vanishing; the animals are. Over the last several decades clearcutting, development, and road building have continued at such at an alarming rate that the isolation and the mature forests the moose so desperately depend on are, like the moose, also endangered.

Jeff Purdy looks out at Sixth Lake Brook. It used to be a great trout fishing spot, but recently he caught his first chain pickerel there — an invasive species that poses a threat to native aquatic fauna. When he cut it open, there were a six-inch and a three-inch pickerel inside it. Photo: Linda Pannozzo.

None of this is lost on Purdy.

He tells me the government will have to include Mi’kmaq on any newly formed recovery team for moose. “I’ve expressed interest in sitting around that table, not only because of my knowledge of this area but because I’ve periodically, at different times, seen moose up here.”

Purdy says that just that morning he was talking to his father who “guaranteed” he could find moose tracks here. We were not too far from Dunraven bog, the recently designated “nature reserve” a “globally significant wetland complex,” with a “pristine plateau peat bog.” The “uncommon” landscape supports numerous rare species, including the endangered mainland moose.

Sadly, the bog was named after a bit of a cretin — Lord Dunraven, who in 1918, along with two other Englishmen, killed over 16 woodland caribou in the bog and kept only the “best heads” with perfect antlers and “made the Indians cut holes in the ice and dispose of the carcasses in the holes.” Dunraven was later prosecuted and fined for killing so many caribou. [7]Quotes on Lord Dunraven taken from The Harry Piers Ethnology Papers.

Caribou, of course, are no longer found in the province. Loss of habitat through fires, forest harvesting, and hunting — by short-sighted idiots like Dunraven — drove the population to the point of no return sometime in the mid-1800s.

For Purdy’s ancestors, the moose, and the caribou, were spiritual creatures. So were the trout.

In Albert Bigelow Paine’s more than 100-year-old telling of his fishing trip in the Tobeatic, the trout were epic, “as big as one’s arm,” he boasted. But today Purdy can barely find any. He says the clearcutting is affecting the rivers and brooks, making them less habitable to the native species.

“You need cold water for trout, but when you get a clearcut, the rain lands warm, shoots off into the streams and brooks and brings the water temperature up.” He says the chain pickerel — an introduced voracious fish-eating-fish that threatens the native fauna of the area, including frogs and baby ducklings — are “just thriving” in this warmer water environment.

“This year I went fishing and started catching [chain] pickerel, for the first time in my whole life,” says Purdy. “My heart literally just dropped. I knew they were coming, but it’s just so disheartening to see that big species coming in and they’re so aggressive.”

Purdy says he caught one recently at Sixth Lake Brook that was between 14 and 18 inches long. “It was huge.” When he cut it open, there was a six-inch pickerel and a three-inch pickerel inside it.

Black bear track, where it ran across the road in front of us, adjacent to a clearcut near Lake Rossignol. Photo: Linda Pannozzo.

Purdy says the whole west side of Lake Rossignol has so much to offer and it all needs protecting. He would like to see the entire area, about 30 kilometres across between the two gates, designated an Indigenous protected area that the Mi’kmaq would manage.

In fact, the area is on a list to be looked at by the DLF, he says. “We have our forestry, we have our archeology, and species at risk, and they all need to be protected so why not protect it all bound together?”

“Clearcutting isn’t the way to go among the Mi’kmaq,” he tells me. There would also be no cutting at this time of year, when the birds are nesting. Mi’kmaq forestry would also be more conscious of soil rutting, artifacts, and there’d be no cutting for biomass. “We’d leave old trees, and have a nice climax forest,” he says.

As I was listening to Purdy I couldn’t help but think about Nova Scotia’s growing embrace of Indigenous land acknowledgements. You’ve heard them, recited like prayers before every public event. All an event organizer has to do is fill in the blank. “_______ would like to acknowledge that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People.”

While it could be argued the scripted line is a sign of respect and might serve an educational purpose, my feeling is its value begins and ends there. Show me that it’s being applied to policy around land use, resources, and development; that the Mi’kmaq are sharing in the responsibility of being good stewards of the natural world; and that exploitation and endless growth as tenets of our current economic system are scrapped to reflect a radically different worldview — one that incorporates the ancient as well as the current lived and adapting wisdom of Indigenous peoples. Then the land acknowledgement might not bother me so much.

Purdy tells me his ancestors were taught and practiced the concept of Netukulimk, which means “to respect the land, not take more than you need, and leave something for the future.”

It’s a lesson we would all do well to take a crash course in.

“This is the kind of forest we want,” says Purdy, standing under the canopy of the Sixth and Coade Lakes Nature Reserve, a 125 hectare forest containing mature old-growth hemlock forests. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

• as originally published, this article incorrectly referred to Charlie Charlton and Del Thomas, the guides who led Albert Bigelow Paine in his 1908 journey, as Mi’kmaw. They were not.


Linda Pannozzo is an award-winning freelance journalist and author of two non-fiction books: About Canada: The Environment (2016) and The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: An Investigation into the Scapegoating of Canada’s Grey Seal (2013). She is based in Nova Scotia.

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References

References
1 According to Dawn Makarowski, the public affairs officer with British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, in addition to the Heritage Conservation Act, three laws deal specifically with forestry and archaeology. The Forest Act defines cultural heritage resources as follows: an object, a site or the location of a traditional societal practice that is of historical, cultural or archaeological significance to British Columbia, a community or an aboriginal people. This definition encompasses archaeological features protected under the Heritage Conservation Act. The Forest and Range Practices Act further defines cultural heritage resources and provides objectives set by government for cultural heritage resources. The Act stipulates when and which forest licences require an approved forest stewardship plan or woodlot licence plan prior to operational activities. Forest Planning and Practice Regulations stipulate the legal requirements that need to be addressed in the forest stewardship plan.
2 For instance, in Ontario, if crown land is deemed to have archaeological potential based on specific landscape elements, proximity to other sites with cultural heritage value, and landform types that have a strong association with these sites, then the logging proponent and the Ministry of Natural Resources have to evaluate the activities planned and conduct a series of assessments to ascertain if an area with archaeological potential overlaps with an area where logging was planned. The result could range from no harvest at all to harvests where soil disturbance is kept to a minimum.
3 According to the 2006 document, the biologists saw four reasons for the review: the original reasons for creating some of the sanctuaries/ management areas were no longer valid; some of the regulations supporting the areas were outdated; some sanctuaries/ management areas were partly or entirely within established wilderness areas and so there was no reason for dual designation; private landowners within some sanctuaries/ management areas did not want their property included.
4 Provincial Wilderness Areas, on the other hand, protect habitat and ecosystems and do not allow harvesting or road building but do allow hunting and fishing. Baiting for bear and deer is not permitted in Provincial Wilderness Areas including the Tobeatic Wilderness Area, which includes a large portion of the TWMA. Motor vehicle use is generally not permitted in Wilderness Areas although some road and trail corridors passing through a designated area are excluded from the designations. Hunting in Wilderness Areas is generally at a low use level because of vehicle restriction, except for the Pollett Cove Aspy Fault WA north of CBHNP for the Cape Breton moose hunt. Provincial Nature Reserves protect habitat and ecosystems but restrict hunting.
5 In Cape Breton, by the 1930s the native moose herds were extirpated, wiped out from excessive hunting and habitat destruction. In 1947 and 1948, Parks Canada decided to relocate 18 western moose (Alces alces andersonii) from Elk Island National Park in Alberta to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Meanwhile, the native (eastern) population, which is now only found on the mainland, is listed as endangered and only found in dwindling numbers in remote areas including the Tobeatic, Chebucto Peninsula, Cobequid Mountains, and the Pictou-Antigonish highlands.
6 The areas surveyed by Millett were Guysborough Country (four moose found, estimated population is 16), Cape George (two moose found, estimated population is seven), Chignecto (three moose found, estimate is 13), Liscomb Game Sanctuary (zero moose found, estimate is zero), Chebucto Peninsula (one moose found, estimate is five), Colchester (four moose found, estimate is 20).
7 Quotes on Lord Dunraven taken from The Harry Piers Ethnology Papers.

Linda Pannozzo

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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