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.
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 health of the Shubenacadie River is time and again the focus of resistance to Alton Gas, the Stewiacke company intent on hollowing out local salt caverns and dumping the resulting brine into this fragile watershed. A local geologist, however, is equally concerned with the caverns themselves.
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.
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.
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.
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.