just over a dozen people stand around a fire at an open campsite surrounded by trees. They are smiling and the weather is pleasantly overcast.
Campers celebrate on the last day of the Last Hope camp Tuesday. Photo: contributed by Nina Newington
On Tuesday, a group of citizens who set up camp off a remote dirt road near Highway 10 in Annapolis County back in December declared partial victory, believing enough of the area was now under provincial protection. The group, which had spent 202 days at the site, enduring the elements, including blizzards and knee-deep snow, was working to prevent a small wooded area at Beals Brook from being cut.

They wrapped up their time in the woods with a summer solstice and National Indigenous Day celebration. Though they had sought to have the province’s logging approval revoked entirely, the campers were satisfied with added protections following the discovery earlier this year of three at-risk species of lichen: Black-Foam, Wrinkled Shingle, and Frosted Glass lichens.

Nina Newington has been involved with the camp since day one.

“Where government is failing to protect the natural world we all rely on, citizens are stepping up. That is the big message of our Last Hope camp,” she said in a news release Tuesday. “Government biologists sit behind their desks, signing off on harvests. Ministers hand off decisions to industry. But citizens, working with Indigenous traditional government, are saying no, we do not consent to the ongoing destruction of nature.”

The approved cutblock, located near Beals Brook, originally covered 24-hectares of land. But the province reevaluated the area in January after rare lichens were discovered on trees around the site. These species-at-risk require a 100-metre buffer from harvest operations. When applied, the total approved area was reduced to about 10 hectares, protecting about 60% of the site’s forest.

Map of the modified harvest plan for the cutblock near Beals Brook. Map contributed by Shanni Bale

The Last Hope camp, as the protestors dubbed it, started after local Randy Neily discovered a small piece of forest near his backwoods cabin had been provincially approved to be harvested by WestFor, the consortium of mills that leases a huge swath of Crown land in southwest Nova Scotia. Concerned that the surrounding land was already heavily harvested and any further cutting would deplete wildlife habitat — wildlife like endangered moose, pine marten, and wood turtle — Neily spread the word.

For the next seven months, the campers set up on the side of the road, blocking access to the site and playing host to visitors from around the province. They wrote to both the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) and WestFor, asking that harvest plans be dismissed or abandoned, but say they received little response from either party during that time.

The biggest victory for the protestors came in January when a visitor discovered three species of rare lichen on trees in the area. News of the discovery quickly got to the province and harvest plans were put on hold and eventually modified after a follow-up survey. Over the next two months, campers continued surveying the site themselves, discovering additional at-risk lichen. Ultimately, 17 occurrences were found, each requiring a 100-metre buffer.

“It’s confirmation that this forest is an important ecological forest,” Newington said at the time.

“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.”

That sentiment was echoed by Frances Anderson, a lichen expert who co-authored a book on North America’s northeastern lichen.

“All the at-risk lichens identified in this forest depend on undisturbed, continuous habitat,” she said in Tuesday’s news release. “Given the government’s pledge to protect 20% of our lands and waters, we should be saving whatever is left of old forests like this one on Crown lands. There are few forests left on Crown that are over 80 years old — it would be such a simple step for government to save them. This forest and its at-risk lichens would have been lost without the dedication and vigilance of the campers.”

Now that protestors are moving out, the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables says the modified harvest approval is still in place should WestFor still desire to cut. A department spokesperson also said in an email that the planned harvest “meets the department’s new ecological forestry standards” and the province is working to improve habitat modeling and surveying for at-risk lichens.

The remaining area is approved for a shelterwood cut, which would allow about a third of trees to be harvested. Paths would also have to be cleared for logging roads. Shelterwood cuts, while more sustainable on the surface, can be equivalent to clearcuts if the trees left standing are harvested too quickly after the initial harvest.

The Examiner reached out to WestFor for comment on its plans but did not receive a response.

In a phone interview this week, Newington said protestors decided to leave the camp once they were satisfied no more at-risk lichen was present in the areas still approved for harvest. She said they also felt the remaining 10 hectares likely didn’t have the economic viability to be worth WestFor’s time.

The protestors aren’t done, though. Last Hope camp will now become the Last Hope Campaign. The former campers will put their energy into educating people around the province on how to protect forest stands in their communities. This new chapter will teach people to identify at-risk species and the different types of trees, navigate the woods, and find harvest plans and cutblocks online, among other things.

Essentially, this new phase will provide others with the tools to protect biodiversity and forest health in their own neck of the woods.

“We know what’s going to happen if we don’t get engaged,” she said. “It’s going to be cut now and protect later.”

One problem, Newington said, is that the province is evaluating proposed harvests on a site-by-site basis instead of looking at the bigger picture that individual cuts impact. She said the lands surrounding cut proposals should be considered for depleting soil health, past harvests, and the shelter they provide for animals migrating through the province.

Newington also said that while she sees progress from the province and industry in moving toward sustainable forestry, she’s skeptical, and protestors are prepared to return to the camp should things change.

“I don’t think (WestFor) or the government are doing a very good job of recognizing that we’re in an emergency.”

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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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  1. It would be a great help if DNRR would stop treating the citizens of this province as though we were a pack of know-nothings. Collectively, the citizens who care about conservation of ecologically valuable forests come from many backgrounds – biologists, naturalists, foresters, retired DNRR staff, park rangers, hunters and trappers, First Nations people, professors, and more. Science is on OUR side. DNRR has many good people, but it is clear that, for whatever reason, they are not able to speak out to defend ecologically important lands. Further, DNRR has blown its credibility with all of us by not protecting important habitat, and also by not being up front about identifying which areas will become the protected and ecological matrix legs of the Triad model they are pushing. In the meantime, they are letting more and more parcels be approved for logging. One cannot help but come to the conclusion that they aren’t willing to divulge this information because the forest industry wants first crack at whatever “old forest” remains. No doubt, the intention is to leave “ecological forest” as the dregs and leavings after industry has gouged the land for another pound of flesh.

  2. I wish the HFX Examiner has a ‘like’ option for its comments. That was so well said, Dr. Patriquin, and I echo your sentiments fully. What Nina & her crew achieved is amazing. I am so grateful for and inspired by these forest protectors. It’s time to take the power back.

  3. ‘Can’t say how insightful this whole exercise has been and is becoming, that Nina, Randy & others understood early on that “It’s all according to Lahey” was not, is not good enough as long as it’s ‘the government and Big Forestry’s selective use of what they like in Lahey and ignoring what they don’t. Now they are transitioning to engage communities to care for their Crown land forests. Brilliant. A lot of this began with naturalist Bev Wigney’s Annapolis & Area – Environment & Ecology Facebook page launched in the fall of 2018 and their investigation on Boxing Day of the harvest proposed for Corbett Lake; they went, looked and were astounded what they found. It turned out the harvest had been posted by L&F mistake as it had actually been approved I believe in 2014, but too late. There followed the first campout with Nina /XR Mi’kma’ki /Nova Scotia and Co. in the spring of 2019… wow, & the women of SW Nova Scotia never stopped – nor will they! We owe them a lot. The sooner the current government starts to take these concerns seriously, the greater the likelihood they won’t lose the next election; Dexter and Rankin learned that the hard way. (McNeil actually listened, promised the Independent Review of Forest Practices and won a 2nd majority.)