That’s the word that stands out in the submission by Nature Nova Scotia to the third version of forest management guidelines to implement ecological forestry or “a gentler touch” on harvesting Crown lands that are neither protected areas (absolutely no cutting) nor reserved for intensive cultivation by forestry companies.
These somewhere in-between Crown lands are referred to as “ecological matrix” in the Lahey Report, which came out almost 2.5 years ago. Both industry and environment groups were consulted during the crafting of these guidelines to better manage harvesting and silviculture (thinning and planting) on the bulk of Crown lands.
According to Bob Bancroft, the president of Nature Nova Scotia, which represents 13 natural history and birder groups with approximately 10,000 members, the latest guidelines represent an improvement but still don’t go far enough.
“A first review of this document gives the impression that it is a step forward in an appropriate ecological direction,” writes Bancroft, a wildlife biologist who spent more than 25 years working for the Department of Natural Resources before retiring. “But closer examination of its decision keys, using the Forest Ecosystem Classification for Nova Scotia, reveals some serious flaws. It becomes quickly apparent that the guidelines favour irregular shelterwood prescriptions.”
Bancroft says using that terminology, this process could result in mixed forests being turned into softwood plantations on ecological matrix lands.
“It’s disappointing that the guidelines seem to be worded to ensure a continuing emphasis on softwood plantation forestry on Crown lands,” writes Bancroft. “It’s obvious that forest harvesting remains the prime motivation here, in spite of the shift to true ecological forestry that the Lahey report recommended on two-thirds of the Crown forest base.”
Industry groups such as NS Forests as well as environmental groups such as the Ecology Action Centre and Healthy Forestry Coalition (of which Nature Nova Scotia is a member) were consulted by the Department of Lands and Forestry during the drafting. Nature Nova Scotia’s submission contains 15 suggestions or recommendations to address concerns it says were either inadequately addressed or not considered at all.
Bancroft was a leader in a 2019 lawsuit launched by several environmental groups that took the provincial government to court — and won — to try to make the province enforce its own legislation around protecting species at risk, including the mainland moose and other plants and animals. The government has complied in many areas but not all.
Meanwhile, here are a few suggestions from Nature Nova Scotia in its submission to Lands & Forestry on the “Silvicultural Guidelines for the Ecological Matrix Lands,’ version 3:
Recommendation 1, prevent clearcutting within 100 meters of rivers and waterways. “Until there is a full conversion from even-aged harvests that amount to clear-cutting to healthy, uneven-aged, multispecies forests, wildlife requires a minimum of 100 m-wide riparian buffers, not the present 20 m, in order to better avoid stream acidification and provide other ecosystem services. Hotter water, and the premature drying up of small streams and vernal pools because of climate change and heavy forest removals, demand immediate change.”
Recommendation 2, “Following the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act, there should be no forestry activities on Crown lands over the period May 15–July 31 to accommodate the migratory bird breeding season.”
Recommendation 6, “The Wildlife Act and regulations need to be adjusted and fine-tuned to better reflect species-specific wildlife habitat needs. New wildlife habitat guidelines should reflect good science and not industry/government compromises. These changes need to be applied to harvest-targeted matrix stands.”
Recommendation 14, “Nature Nova Scotia repeats its call for a moratorium on forestry harvests on Crown land that create even-aged forest regeneration (clearcutting by another name). This moratorium should stay in place until ecological alternatives are enacted and in use by the forest industry.”
Recommendation 15, “The Department of Lands and Forestry needs to engage in landscape-scale wildlife planning and a wider perspective regarding land use planning on Crown lands. This is so overdue that it seems deliberate. The cutting that this oversight has permitted over the past decades is, in itself, an indictment against the single-mindedness of this department, and speaks loudly to its corporate capture by the forest industry.”
As a footnote, incoming Premier Iain Rankin spent almost two years as the minister responsible for implementing Forest Management Guidelines to align with the Lahey Report. Early in his campaign, he indicated draft guidelines were ready to be released for comment last fall but were mysteriously postponed. What happens in the next few months will be worth watching.
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