Nov 25, 2022
Dear Premier Houston,
In two weeks’ time Canada will co-host COP 15, the UN summit on the biodiversity crisis. Scientists are clear we must tackle the twin crises of climate change and nature loss together.
Here in Nova Scotia your government has given us a way to make a difference: you put into legislation a commitment to protect 20% of our lands and waters by 2030. Now it is time to make sure that the Ministers mandated to implement this plan act as if we are in an emergency – because we are. Hurricane Fiona has given us a taste of what is to come if we don’t act now.
Old forests support more biodiversity and store more carbon than young forests. Forested areas that have not been fragmented by roads and clearcutting are particularly important to protecting biodiversity. They are also in short supply. On November 10th we submitted a proposal to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to protect areas of old, relatively undisturbed forests around Goldsmith Lake; Beal’s Brook and Big LaHave Lake on crown land in Annapolis County. The Minister’s response was to inform us that his department is planning to develop a collaborative strategy by December 31, 2023 to identify areas that might be protected at some future date.
Meanwhile the Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables continues to approve plans to harvest thousands of acres of the very forests we most need to protect. What will be left by the time DECC is ready to actually protect our forests?
Here in Annapolis County, plans to log 1355 acres threaten the old, undisturbed forests surrounding Goldsmith Lake. Several of the ‘harvest prescriptions ‘ have already been approved. At the end of October, exploring these old forests in a process called ‘bioblitzing’ or ‘ground-truthing’, we discovered a brand new logging road running through a fresh clearcut 100’/30m wide and 2km long. The damage this road alone has done to the ecological value of these forests is chilling.
DNRR will no doubt claim that the proposed cuts are ‘ecological’. The maximum they will remove will be 35% of the forest. Not counting that logging road, according to DNRR’s Resource Manager for the Western Region. The trees taken for making roads somehow don’t count. But of course they do, to all the species that depend on what was an undisturbed forest. It is never ‘ecological’ to cut in a forest that should be left alone. There are places that are suitable for forestry and there are places that are not.
Biologists and local naturalists have long known that the forests around Goldsmith Lake are special. At the beginning of 2022 a respected expert in the field of conservation planning submitted a proposal to DECC to protect Goldsmith Lake. When DNRR’s plans to allow massive cutting in the area surfaced on the province’s Harvest Plan Map Viewer this spring, many of us commented within the allowed period. We wrote to both ministers too. But none of this seems to have made any difference, in spite of our track record for identifying Species At Risk habitat where DNRR’s predictive modelling has failed.
DNRR continues to treat crown lands as if their only value is for forestry but this is no longer acceptable. The Crown Lands Act was amended in 2021 in order to “provide the legislative and regulatory framework that will ensure Crown lands are sustainably used, protected, and managed to maintain and enhance biodiversity and considers climate change and for purposes that include wilderness conservation, recreation, economic opportunity in forestry, tourism and other sectors, community development, and for the cultural, social and aesthetic enjoyment of Nova Scotians;” (2a)
The Lahey Report is crystal clear that from now on the ‘overarching priority’ of forestry practiced on crown land must be to protect and restore ecosystem health. Economic values come second because without ecosystem health we have nothing. This is precisely the message of UN scientists as they sound the alarm about the collapse of ecosystems around the globe.
DNRR’s failure to prioritize ecosystem health was on display at Beal’s Brook in 2020-2021. Citizens who objected to the proposed cut there on the basis of the conservation value of that 80 year old forest were informed that DNRR biologists had reviewed the cut block twice and found no Species At Risk. Citizen scientists ended up identifying 15 occurrences of Species At Risk lichens in the cut block. The lichenologist DNRR hired to confirm the initial finds identified another two. The cumulative impact of 100m buffer zones around each lichen occurrence put 60% of the cut block out of bounds for harvesting. It became apparent that DNRR’s biologists had never set foot on the site. The Department’s Resource Manager for the Western Region admitted to CBC’s Michael Gorman in February of this year that their modeling for identifying SAR habitat is inadequate. He floated the idea of training Citizen Scientists to help identify such habitat. Several of us indicated interest but no workshops have been offered to date.
Premier, we are happy to do what we can as citizen scientists, including going out and identifying SAR habitat on crown land, but will your government listen when we say an area is of such high conservation value it should be placed under consideration for protection?
At Goldsmith Lake we have already identified 8 occurrences of species at risk: 6 Frosted Glass Whiskers Lichen; 1 Blue Felt lichen (recently named Nova Scotia’s provincial lichen) and 1 Black Ash/Wisqoq, an endangered tree of cultural importance to the Mi’kmaq. The lichens, because they will only grow in forests that have been undisturbed for a long period, are regarded as excellent indicators of ecologically valuable old forest habitat.
Please, help us protect the forests around Goldsmith Lake as well as the other two areas we have proposed before it is too late. We are asking you to place a temporary freeze on harvesting and road-building in these areas until the DECC is able to determine the exact boundaries of the 20% of our province that will be under protection based on science, Indigenous consultation and citizen input.
Nova Scotians want a liveable planet. Who doesn’t? But it is not going to happen without a massive effort to work together. That means different government departments working together rather than at cross purposes. It also means citizens’ groups like ours teaming up with government wherever possible.
In hopes that together we can turn the tide of biodiversity loss and climate change,
Citizen Scientists of the Southwest Nova Biosphere