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.
I’ve had the privilege, and the misfortune, of walking through forests before and after they’ve been converted from exceedingly beautiful ecosystems to lifeless moonscapes, where the only survivors are Black flies seeking shelter in your hair. I’ve seen it here in Nova Scotia and on Vancouver Island, where some forests are still of cathedral heights, older than time, and falling rapidly for a quick buck. Seeing this industry fill Nova Scotia’s forests with a web of logging roads and hammering its soil until nothing will grow but shrubs, can leave you bitter.
In times of overwhelming frustration, when our Department of Lands and Forestry only seems capable of prescribing clearcuts and our remaining wilderness is doomed as pulp or biomass, I’ve taken steps to disassociate myself from this industry. My toilet paper and paper towels are made from bamboo, my printing paper from corn husks, my tissues have been replaced with handkerchiefs and most of the books I purchase are audiobooks, but try as I might, my wooden desk, wooden home and firewood chain me to forestry, as happens to anyone reading this in print.
Forestry, then, is a necessity, and I would never suggest otherwise. It is, however, plagued by archaic thinking which has allowed government and industry employees alike to claim, in spite of outside expertise, clear evidence and now several independent forestry reviews, that clearcuts are somehow healthy for our land. We are robbing the future of healthy, productive and valuable woodlots, as well as habitat for whatever wildlife we still share this province with. So forestry needs to evolve, quickly, into something which harvests selectively, promotes the mature growth of valuable trees both hardwood and soft, replants after harvests with greater diversity than before, maintains canopies to shelter soil and allows land to recovery longer between cuts. This sort of forestry is pitifully rare, occurring on a few private woodlots across the Maritimes, but if these things were adopted en masse, forestry would become the solution to its own problem.
All of this has been reinforced for me by a suite of professors, ecologists and industry professionals, some of whom have led me through radiantly tall and intact forests of towering White pine and Red spruce, with oak and maple planted in the cleared margins, explaining proudly that these were once potato fields. My respect for these people, their work and the truly sustainable lumber they produce is absolute.
More recently these issues were illustrated for me by Carmen Williams of Lockeport, Nova Scotia, where he’s lived some three decades. Williams is a forest technician by trade, having worked in Nova Scotia and out west, where the aforementioned cathedrals continue to fall. He quite the industry, however, disillusioned by the scale of destruction and a widespread refusal to think differently.
“I always tell people I’m a recovering forest technician,” he told me. “I didn’t want to be a monkey for the pulp industry. I could see what was going on and it didn’t feel right to me. There are better ways to do forestry.”
He’s a carpenter these days, lamenting the lack of local mills from which to buy quality wood. In his spare time he goes birding, kayaking, and has always appreciated the natural world, in particular a stretch of crownland forest down Little Harbour Road near Lockeport. He walks by it every day, and it’s used often by members of his community for hunting, trapping or simple escape, and it’s known to contain moose.
This land used to belong to Bowater Mersey, who intended to log it until financial realities forced them to sell it to the provincial government. It seemed the forest was safe until a year and a half ago when word of a clearcut by WestFor Management Inc reached Williams, on which neither he nor his neighbours were consulted.
Williams decided he couldn’t let this forest fall to a clearcut, and so reached out to WestFor with his concerns, receiving a lacklustre response. He then reached out to Ducks Unlimited which conserves neighbouring land, but the charity decided against involvement. Williams then reached out to Bird Studies Canada because this forest is part of an internationally recognized Important Bird Area (IBA), but this designation doesn’t come with legal protection and so they were powerless to intervene. The forest also falls within the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve, but those representing the reserve in Nova Scotia told Williams to pick his battles. Finally he contacted Iain Rankin, minister for Lands and Forestry, delivering a petition this past November with 200 signatures to stop the harvest, but there was no response.
Feeling the frustration which began this column, and a complete inability to effect change through the proper channels, Williams decided to try something more direct. Alongside others appalled with the ongoing treatment of Shelburne County’s forests, Williams has organized a blockade. When WestFor’s logging trucks approach Little Harbour Road he and a list of volunteers – about 37 people – will protest with signage and, perhaps by way of their vehicles, block the road. This, to my knowledge, would be the first such clearcut blockade in Nova Scotia.
These are uncomfortable shoes for Williams to fill, but he feels compelled to save these 380 acres, so that his home might remain beautiful and his county forested. It’s his hope the provincial government will see his action and others, and will be proactive with their promised changes to Nova Scotian forestry. The clearcut in question has not yet been scheduled.
“This is to send a message,” said Williams. “It’s not just to protect this forest. If we can get their attention here, maybe other people will rise up and have a say about the state of our forests throughout Nova Scotia.”
Zack Metcalfe is a freelance journalist, columnist and author active across the Maritimes. This article was originally published with Halifax Magazine.