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.
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.
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.
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.