Legislation dedicated to the protection of species-at-risk is relatively new to Canada. Our federal Species-At-Risk Act (SARA), only came into force in 2002. Recognizing the need for complimentary legislation several provinces established their own, some after, like Ontario’s 2007 Endangered Species Act, and others before, like Nova Scotia’s 1999 Endangered Species Act, among the first in Canada. But, as the decades rolled by, these various acts have proven flimsy, while federal and provincial governments alike leave them unenforced.
Point Pelee has always been unique among Canada’s national parks. It was the first to be established for primarily conservation purposes in 1918, its importance to the migratory songbirds of North America made evident by local ornithologist Jack Miner and others. Because it jutted so far south into Lake Erie from southern Ontario, it offered birds flying north their first opportunity to make landfall in Canada, sharing unorthodox company on this 15 square kilometre spit of land for a few weeks before scattering across the Canadian north.
In May of 2016 I pulled off a Hants County highway and parked by a barely perceptible trail, leading into a thin forest with powdery white gypsum erupting from the soil everywhere I cared to look. Had I not done my homework and enlisted the help of local naturalists I could never have found what I’d come to see, a lady slipper whose head of vibrant purple and white was smaller than my thumbnail, rising delicately from a tangle of undergrowth.
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most recent special report this past October, I could tell who’d read it by the looks on their faces. The researchers, scientists and average folks I consider friends would either shake their heads and sigh with bitter disappointment or break into tears when its more dire predictions came to mind. Not prone to tears myself I just became quiet, trading my usual boisterousness for inactive rumination, while Canadians at large talked of nothing but the legalization of marijuana.
The Eastern hemlock is a force of nature in Nova Scotia by virtue of its age. Foresters past and present have ignored it in favour of more valuable spruce, pine and myriad hardwoods, allowing hemlocks to become the oldest member of our enduring forests, accounting for almost all of our remaining old growth.
The entire global population of Atlantic whitefish is restricted to a single watershed in southern Nova Scotia, and in the minds of many, even this haven is no longer safe.
I was caught off guard recently when someone assured me that invasive species are no big deal; that, when it comes to the mass extinction we humans are driving forth, taking a couple thousand species from one unique ecosystem and plunking them in another won’t matter much in the long run.
There are precious few old growth forests left in the Maritimes, mere postage stamps surrounded by oceans of abused wilderness, altogether constituting less than 0.01 per cent of our regional landscape.
It was the 18th of August when I gained the summit of Mont Jacques-Cartier, an alpine peak of shattered stone and meager vegetation some 1,270 metres above Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. Several stones were organized into mounds marking the trail all visitors were obliged to follow, and just beyond them, lounging in no-man’s-land with a mountainous backdrop, were the very last of the Atlantic caribou. Here was the end of a very long pilgrimage, for me, but more so for them.
I never appreciated the term “natural resources,” precisely because it reduces everything, from individual animals to entire ecosystems, down to dollars and cents. Through the subtle power of language it implies forests contain only wood, and rivers only water, ignoring their ecological complexities or intrinsic values, defining them instead by their human utility. It suggests, to one degree or another, that our regional environment is inanimate, an object worthy of no more legal or moral consideration than a warehouse from which we take regular inventory.