Salamander Night is a time of cheap thrills for the naturalists of Nova Scotia, requiring only a flashlight on the first rainy evening in April over 9°C. Under these conditions several of the province’s amphibians depart their wintering grounds for the ponds in which they’ll soon breed, and no species is more noteworthy in this short, seasonal migration than the Spotted salamander, who, about a decade ago, was caught breaking the rules of biology.
The human being is a deeply social animal, which is why, amid the upheavals this pandemic has forced onto daily life, be it the closure of businesses, the sealing of borders, the cancellation of flights and cruises, the most radical imposition on our Canadian identity has been social distancing.
Hemlock Woolly Adelgid – the invasive aphid-like insect noted for its destruction of Eastern hemlocks throughout the eastern United States – was discovered in Kejimkujik National Park in August of 2018, and now Parks Canada is doing something about it.
I found my first Ram’s Head Lady Slipper while on hands and knees along an obscure walking trail in Hants County, Nova Scotia, its delicate purple flower, no larger than my fingernail, now the focal point of a groundbreaking lawsuit in the provincial capital.
For years now, members of the conservation community and even anonymous government employees have expressed to me their worry that exactly this would happen – that years of lethargy from our provincial government would result, finally, in their abandoning the Parks and Protected Areas Plan.
Newfoundland once qualified as a “remote island,” its ecosystem forming more or less free of the continent, largely lacking in mammals and catering heavily to birds and marine life. In the absence of predators these animals of wing and fin flourished, giving rise to the feathered kingdom described by some of our earliest explorers.
It was too cold even for insects, the glassy surface of Lake Superior faithfully reflecting a ruby sky as the sun rose over Pancake Bay Provincial Park, crisp beams of light cutting through the branches of old growth maple, birch, oak, spruce and pine. The mist burned away and birdsong swelled to fill the open chambers of this lakeside wood. I was alone.
In 2010, we Canadians committed to protecting 17 per cent of our lands and fresh water as part of a global push to mitigate mass extinction and climate change. This undertaking gained speed in recent months with February’s $1.3 billion federal budget promise to exactly this effort.
It took nothing short of a billion years to craft Gros Morne National Park, its mountainous conglomerations the result of ancient continents colliding and breaking apart, of ice ages and glaciers shaving away soil and carving out fjords, and of course human beings, our contribution at times destruction, regenerative, even humane. It’s a place steeped in grandeur, infusing an Atlantic Canadian humbleness with earthen majesty. It’s enough to stagger us modest Maritimers, and yet it feels like home, a conundrum with which I grappled this past July.
Let’s go back to 2013, when our provincial government, in partnership with numerous stakeholders, created the Parks and Protected Areas Plan. It was an inspired document, identifying huge tracts of land which were ripe for formal protection either as wilderness areas, nature reserves or provincial parks, most of which were mapped, surveyed, studied and consulted upon ahead of time, gift-wrapped and, in most cases, simply awaiting a order in council to make them official.