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.
Bob Swim has fished the waters of Port Mouton 51 years now, and his luck was pretty good until the mid 1990s.
That decade saw the arrival of open pen aquaculture to his home bay, a relatively inoffensive operation with three pens raising fin fish from spring until fall. The picture changed with the arrival of Cooke Aquaculture a few years later, purchasing and expanding this fish farm until Bob and his colleagues noticed a change.
Our Fisheries Act is quite old – in fact one of the oldest acts in Canada – protecting native fish and their habitat since 1868 and evolving over decades to suit the government of the day.
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.
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.
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.
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.