an old forest with moss and trees
The community-proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area contains a 400-year plus eastern hemlock. Photo: Mike Lancaster

Effective today, old-growth forests in Nova Scotia will be protected from logging or other commercial activity under an updated old-growth forest policy. The policy takes effect four years after being recommended to government by an independent forestry review led by University of King’s College president Bill Lahey. Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton made the announcement on Thursday at a joint federal-provincial news conference held to announce commitments to preserve more land and help reduce carbon emissions to fight climate change.

“Protecting our old-growth forests is part of our ongoing work to implement ecological forestry on Crown land in Nova Scotia,” Rushton said in a news release about the announcement. “We believe this revised policy makes Nova Scotia a leader in protecting old-growth forests and demonstrates our commitment to prioritize biodiversity on Crown land.”

According to the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, nearly 15% of provincial Crown land is protected as old-growth forest and restoration opportunity areas. About 32,000 hectares of old-growth forest will be protected under the policy and about 245,000 hectares are estimated to be in provincial protected areas. Another 40,000 hectares are found in areas such as national parks.

Old-growth forest and provincial protected areas make up the conservation zone or the third leg of the triad model of ecological forestry recommended by the Lahey Report.

The Houston government is implementing the recommendation around old-growth forests after a period of public consultation that included the forestry industry, the Mi’kmaq, and various environmental groups. While commercial activity and logging will not be permitted in old-growth forest areas, activities such as hiking, fishing, hunting, and wilderness camping will be permitted. For a forest to be considered “old growth,” at least 20% of the trees must be 100 years or older.

The news release from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables also said under “rare and exceptional circumstances” areas of old-growth forest may lose their protected status, if it is determined to be in the public interest.

“For example, land may be needed for the construction of a new hospital or trees that fell in a storm may be a fire risk to neighbouring communities. Before the Department would decide on changing protection, the policy requires a 30-day public comment period and consultation with the Mi’kmaq,” states the news release.

Peter Duniker, one of the contributors to the Lahey Report and a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University, said in the release he hopes the policy will eventually lead to larger areas of old-growth forest in the province.

“Old-growth forests in Nova Scotia are relatively rare yet very special for the wide range of values they deliver,” Duinker said. “The policy contains strong provisions for the protection of all old-growth forest on Crown land. With time, the amount of old-growth forest in the province will increase as will the quality of what we have.”

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. There is so little legitimate Old Growth in NS, that there is really no controversy over protecting it. What should be the issue is Old Forests (80 yrs & up) as so well documented in a high level study by Matt Betts & Co. published earlier this year; our loss of biodiversity is associated with loss of those Old Forests, not just Old Growth. But those forests are also the target of the mills – although the industry at large is prepared for a future when we don’t have large trees by use of Mass Timber technology for which the specs are trees of 8-12 inches dbh (diameter at breast height) – that’s the target of plantations – they still make a more profit now by harvesting larger trees, and they will keep doing it until those trees are gone… In principle, following the spirit of the Lahey recommendations would address this issue, but unfortunately, based on the response to recommendations for forestry reform by the Department of Natural Resources under successive governments from the Dexter NDP Government (2009-3013) onward, I anticipate that every wiggle possible will be taken to avoid anything that seriously impacts the access of Big Forestry to remaining high volume Old Forest stands on Crown lands in Nova Scotia; and accordingly, that net loss of Old Forest and associated biodiversity, while perhaps slowed, will continue. Short term profitability for Big Forestry will trump the need to reverse biodiversity loss, Bill Lahey’s recommendations – and Prof Duinkers’ Old growth Forest Policy notwithstanding.