It was the 3rd of June, 2018, when I drove a rental car four hours into the central wilds of Vancouver Island, searching for a single gigantic tree. Stories of this arboreal titan came to me from locals who, at least on the surface, weren’t all that excited or impressed that I was going out of my way to find it, just as a Maritimer might scoff at tourists eager to see the ocean. Who cares about one more giant tree, they seemed to say.
I never thought we’d be scraping the bottom of the barrel like this. While Nova Scotian forests once yielded European fleets and world class lumber, today they have been degraded so completely that, in our desperation to continue the roller-coaster ride of clearcut forestry, we’ve begun chopping down the scraps and torching them for electricity, a process known commonly as biomass.
Clearcutting, in my mind, represents everything that’s wrong with forestry past and present. Yes, there are nuances to this industry I will never fully grasp and the economic drivers involved are powerful, but through the lens of sustainability, clearcutting is absurd.
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.
Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, Virginia, was featured in both the New York Times bestseller The Omnivores Dilemma and the documentary Food Inc. for his farm’s unique and holistic management, servicing more than 5,000 families, 50 restaurants, 10 retail outlets and a farmer’s market with organic beef, pork, poultry and forestry products. What’s more, he’s published 12 books.
Wilderness areas have been a reality in Nova Scotia since December 3rd, 1998, when the Wilderness Areas Protection Act came into force and simultaneously designated the first 31. These areas, unlike parks which can be partially dedicated to recreation, are strictly for conservation on the ecosystem scale, protecting entire landscapes and the vital processes therein.
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.
Where, do you think, is the most intact forest on Earth? Your mind might take you to the solid green canopy of the Amazon Rainforest or perhaps to the Congo, places being undervalued into oblivion but which are still, mercifully, vast, possessing of remoteness it seems can only be found in a good book these days. The world’s most intact forest, however, is much closer to home. In fact you’ve probably walked through it, blissfully unaware of its global significance.
One of Nova Scotia’s oldest standing forests can be found down a logging road in Lunenburg County, on a steep slope tucked behind a wall of young spruce. What’s more, we almost cut it down.
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.