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.
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.
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.
Where, do you think, is the most intact forest on Earth? Your mind might take you to the solid green canopy of the Amazon Rainforest or perhaps to the Congo, places being undervalued into oblivion but which are still, mercifully, vast, possessing of remoteness it seems can only be found in a good book these days. The world’s most intact forest, however, is much closer to home. In fact you’ve probably walked through it, blissfully unaware of its global significance.
The dawn chorus, as it’s known, takes place at first light particularly in spring and early summer, a consequential time for the myriad species of nesting bird across Nova Scotia. It begins timidly, with a few of the more light sensitive species piping up first, marking territories, attracting mates or carrying out any number of mysterious biological functions. Within minutes more chime in, until the air is lit with hundreds of ethereal voices.
There was a time when American beech commanded much of the Maritimes, growing to tremendous sizes with porcelain smooth bark, a generous abundance of seed and autumn beauty to rival any hardwood. But that’s not the American beech we’ve come to know, seeing instead a tree corrupted by black rot, its bark twisted and cankered beyond recognition, stunted and with very few seeds. In little over a century this species fell from canopy heights, now a leper among plants.
Few species are as iconically North American as the Plains bison, once numbering 30 million strong from central Alberta to northern Mexico, from the Rockies in the west to Washington City in the east.
It’s extraordinary to me that European settlement could have been so unforgiving to this magnificent ruminant, stealing away its prairie habitat and hunting them within a few dozen members of extinction. All those persevering today are descended from the 85 individuals who survived our onslaught by 1888, bred in the confines of federal protection until numerous enough for reintroduction.
The concept of biodiversity is relatively new to the mainstream, proposing that ecosystems can be appraised, so to speak, based on the variety of organisms they support. It states simply that a healthy forest cannot contain solely Balsam fir, nor a healthy river exclusively Atlantic salmon.
A keystone species is one which supports a significant sum of its home ecosystem, not unlike a load-bearing wall in you house. Remove any old wall and the structure will survive, but destroy that which bears load, and collapse ensues.