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.
The harm we’ve done our atmosphere is one of the most thoroughly studied phenomena in human history, the subject of international scientific inquiry and consensus for decades now. The same ironclad scientific methodology which allowed us to reach the moon, land rovers on Mars, exchange our thoughts by way of smartphones and internet, split the atom and computerize our economy is telling us, without a shadow of doubt, dissension or ambiguity, that we are killing our planet, and that the hard won privileges of modern living – security of food, water, home and civility – will be the cost.
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.
The more diverse an ecosystem, the more resilient it is in the face of adversity. This is among the firmest precepts of biodiversity, and is without doubt one of my favourite. The more intact our wilderness, the more of its native species remain alive and well and active in the workings of ecology, the more prepared we will be for the incursion of invasive species plaguing North America, for the apocalyptic consequences of unfettered climate change, for the policies of regressive administrations which seem only too common these days. It’s as strong an argument for conservation as any I’ve ever heard, allowing us not only to maintain the functionality of the world which sustains us, but the beauty inherent within.
The Shubenacadie River stands out, for the routine tidal bores which reverse its flow, for the sheer volume of fresh water it drains from central Nova Scotia, and, most importantly, for playing host to the last spawning population of Striped bass known in the Bay of Fundy.
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.