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.
The Migratory Bird Convention Act (MBCA) is a fine piece of legislation, stipulating in no uncertain terms than an exhaustive list of our native birds – chiefly those who come and go with the seasons – cannot be legally killed, nor their nests lawfully destroyed. It’s an emblem of protection for those species who face enough danger on their epic annual migration, more or less ensuring their safety within our borders. Yes, permits do exist for the killing of some listed birds, but these are typically for hunting waterfowl, and are never granted to industrial undertakings such as forestry.
In 2008, Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources (now the Department of Lands and Forestry) set out to create The Path We Share, a natural resources strategy setting long term goals for our province’s forestry sector and its biodiversity, among other things. This document, released in 2011, attempted to strike a long sought balance between economic demand and ecological realities, and its formation had several steps.
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.
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.
Your average North American can recognize 150 corporate logos without effort or preparation. Our evolutionary gifts for pattern recognition, once wielded by our ancestors to understand and embrace the complexities of nature, are now being clogged by companies from which we purchase the necessities. Most of us are incapable of missing a Tim Hortons on the highway, but are, by the same token, unable to name the vast majority of living things giving our world beauty and diversity.
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.