Can the Mainland Moose in Nova Scotia Be Saved?

When over 70 Nova Scotians from age five to seventy five…plus several dogs…gathered recently near the Tobeatic Wilderness to defend our rapidly diminishing numbers of Mainland moose, I knew we were on to something.

Where less than 20 years ago the number of moose in our province was approximately 1,000 according to wildlife scientists and other interested naturalists, today they number about 100. The fact that our government is allowing Westfor, a large logging company, to clear out this wilderness area, one of the last bastions for the moose, was too much for this group of concerned citizens. Some of them living in the area have woodlots of their own and are managing them sustainably.

The Mainland moose

After repeated requests for meetings with the Minister of Lands and Forests and the Premier all of which were totally ignored, they have every reason for not just caring but being angry enough to take action. Thus, what started as one group of several people leaving their homes from afar to set up a camp just over two months ago has morphed into two camps with an ever widening sphere of supporters from all over the province. These hardy souls who are willing to camp out in our winter weather have to be admired for their bravery and their passion.

Calling themselves Forest Protectors (FP’s), their objective is to let our government know that the method of clear cutting they are endorsing is not only detrimental to our Mainland moose, our wildlife, and people living in this province, but also as some have boldly stated… to our planet.

They also want to point out that what the government is doing is actually flying in the face of an agreement that they supported when they took office eight years ago. They agreed that this entire area, harbouring many old-growth trees of soft and hard woods in the counties of Digby and Yarmouth, would be designated as a protected area practicing responsible forestry methods and protection of wildlife. It joined a number of other biospheres around the province and is now listed as the Nova Southwestern Biosphere Reserve

Area view of clear cutting aftermath.

Armed with this knowledge and another interesting bit of information, thanks to the wildlife biologists who have been monitoring the number of Mainland moose over the years, they have found that since  2003 when our moose numbered roughly 1,000, their numbers have been greatly diminished as the cutting increased mostly on public or Crown lands. With an arsenal of footprints and rare sightings of the moose as reported by local residents and the naturalists, such as Bob Bancroft,* the FP’s decided to set up camps at the entrance to the logging roads to prevent any further entrance to Westfor’s trucks and logging machinery. Their message was now translated into taking action but that didn’t stop the rest of us who couldn’t take part in the camping to keep making those phone calls and writing those letters which had been ongoing well before. After a few more weeks of no response from the Minister, one young couple were brave enough to actually go to the office of Minister of Lands and Forest in Digby and sit until he would come out and speak to them. Not surprising that he never bothered to appear, but the local police did to forcibly lead them out and give them a fine for invading the premises.  

There is always more to a story like this so the question is what else has driven these FP’s to take such actions which are not common in our little province?

As it happens, forestry is the second largest industry in Nova Scotia next to fishing. It has provided jobs for many people since the 1800’s so that logging is practically ingrained in most Nova Scotians’ DNA. However, times are changing and changing fast and our government and those in this industry haven’t been keeping up. They believe they can keep on doing what they’ve always done with the exception of a few modifications. Most of us have witnessed how clear cutting is increasing every year all over the province. The signs are very visible as we travel our highways and byways seeing the huge logging trucks with whole growth trees heading for the nearest port to have their load shipped to other countries in Europe or wherever for biomass. Look to the sides of the roads and you can see a  myriad of logging roads spreading haphazardly throughout the woods. In some cases the loggers leave a narrow piece of the forest along the highway to hide their crime, but lately we’ve seen pictures of clear cutting being done right along the side of some roads.

At times there seems to be no halt to the madness. Practising good forest management according to their method means mowing down everything in sight, except for some young trees they have planted which will never survive because if you know anything about trees, they need neighbouring trees of different kinds around them to be healthy enough to survive.

It is evident that our present Liberal government doesn’t care about doing their job properly in order to save our forests, not even those that they themselves agreed should be protected before they ever got elected. Essentially they aren’t only ignoring the people and the scientists who want to call a halt to clear cutting to adopt a more sustainable method for logging, they are breaking their own laws. This past summer the Nova Scotia Supreme Court found them negligent in carrying out laws which they had passed to protect endangered species and the biodiversity of our forests. No wonder we are angry!

As far as I know, and I’ve lived in this province for fifteen years, this is the first time that Nova Scotians have taken to protesting the plight of our forests with a demonstration such as the one I attended on the fringes of the Tobeatic Wilderness. People are tired of the broken promises and the waste of their tax dollars which have gone into numerous studies promoting responsible forest management, always resulting in nothing. We see the logging continuing at a faster pace than ever, and as long as this government stays in power concentrating on COVID and nothing else, our forests as we have known them will be ruined. 

How to manage our forests sustainably has been an ongoing battle in this province. The ever increasing cutting, reseeding for even-growth forests (planting one type of tree, usually of a soft wood variety, rather than a mix of soft and hard wood), shorter growing periods, spraying to prevent insect infestation, and climate change….all of this is taking its toll, not just to the forests but everything in and around them. Clear cutting leads to soil depletion, flooding, erosion, blow downs (caused by the shallow roots of the softwoods), drought, wildfires, and lastly too much carbon escaping into our already overloaded atmosphere. These are disastrous outcomes which will only get worse if we don’t do something about it. What we are presently doing is known as  Industrial Forestry. It’s a method doomed for failure and driven by greed.  It only succeeds in lining the pockets of the big companies leaving little for the few loggers who operate the machinery and our environment. Proper forest management commonly referred to as silviculture was practised by our ancestors. Using this method along with our modern day technology and the scientists who know something about sustainable forestry is the answer. It certainly would create more jobs and direct the money into the right pockets.

To bring this story to a close, our government did actually adopt a comprehensive and forward looking plan in 2018 for managing our forests written by the President of King’s College William Lahe. However, two years later and still nothing has been done. At the time, they actually had some of us feeling a bit optimistic that at last they were going to do something. We should have known better because what happened with that promise is so typical of what has gone on for too long in this province …it was broken.

Those of us who understand the need for such a plan can’t believe that our government refuses to endorse something  that would work to its benefit if they could only get their eyes to focus ahead instead of behind them. Instead they are supporting what this province has a history of doing which is to put our tax dollars into the latest money making project. They pretend to be complicit by hiring specialists to draw up one study after another, agreeing to carry them out, but ultimately ignoring  them in favour of using their own lame -brained ideas. This government has tried to pull the wool over our eyes by concocting their own version of what sustainable forestry is all about. They have tampered with the Lahey Report to suit their own interests. They want us to believe that their method is science based by calling it “continuous cover low- retention irregular shelterwood” * another name for Industrial Forestry. Do they actually think they can impress us with their knowledge by using such ludicrous words? 

We all know what is happening in Brazil and many parts of Malaysia. Forests being mowed down for more housing, more resources, more food and whatever they have to offer to feed a greedy government and capitalists at the expense of the poor. We have seen the results on the news….wildfires, droughts, flooding, huge human displacement and on it goes. This is not the answer. To prevent such disasters here, our government needs to take the Lahey Report seriously. They need to listen to the scientists who know what is really happening and not that of aging bureaucrats with outdated science knowledge who are waiting for their retirement pensions. It’s a known fact our little, ‘have not’ province has one of the highest salaries for these guys in the country….another broken promise our present government said they would change by cutting down on their numbers. If they were as smart as they pretend to be, they would take that Lahay Report and get busy on it now. This is a great opportunity for them to finally take a bold new direction and do some good for this province. This report shows balance with methods which marry the old way with the new. It’s designed to give our forests the opportunity to keep on producing healthy trees. It can be done. We have the proof in those private woodlot owners who are already doing this. Here is another opportunity for our government to set an example for all foresters who are concerned for their future and that of their children and grandchildren. We don’t have to give into the corporate giants who simply want to rape our forests leaving behind nothing for our future. 

More and more Nova Scotians are concerned about where our forests are headed and want our government to stand up and do the right thing.  We want them to be honest with us about their plans. We want them to stop focussing on just making money which is only benefitting the big corporations. We want them to take control of our future by relinquishing the control the big boys have over them. We want them to fulfill their promise to use the Lahey Report and consult with the numerous naturalist organisations* who support it. We are willing to work with them so that they may see their need to look at the bigger picture and do what is best for our province. If they were smart and really cared they would comply so that our young people could have some hope for their futures.  At present they aren’t showing any sign of having grasped that concept. 

** Nine Forest Protectors have unfortunately been arrested by the local RCMP. They have vowed not to capitulate and will probably be given hefty fines. This isn’t over; they will carry on.  

Written by Bob Bancroft in his article published August 22, 2020 in the Chronicle Herald entitled “Forest Plantations defy science, ignore economics”. With an MSc he is president of numerous naturalist organizations around the province.

Some of our naturalists organizations are: the Ecology Action Centre, the Healthy Forest Coalition, Nature Nova Scotia, and at least five Naturalist Societies in various parts of the province. New ones are cropping up all the time.

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