Environmentalists call for an end to cutting on Crown land until Lahey guidelines in place

·4 min read
The site of a clear cut in Digby County this fall. The area was blockaded last year by protesters trying to prevent logging. (Nina Newington - image credit)
The site of a clear cut in Digby County this fall. The area was blockaded last year by protesters trying to prevent logging. (Nina Newington - image credit)

Bob Bancroft has been sounding the alarm about the state of Nova Scotia's forests and wildlife for decades.

On Wednesday, the retired provincial biologist's frustration with the forestry industry and Natural Resources Department boiled over.

"And it's been just one kick in the head after another now for almost 50 years," Bancroft told reporters at a news conference in Halifax.

"They know better. It's greed. And this department is a rogue department and has been for decades. It's not acting in the public interest, it's not acting in the interest of a healthy nature or a healthy forest."

Bancroft was among a group of people representing eight provincial environmental and community organizations that came together to demand an immediate moratorium on all harvesting on Crown land until the Lahey Report recommendations are fully implemented.

CBC
CBC

Bill Lahey's 2018 report called for a drastic reduction in clearcutting and prioritizing ecological forestry to allow the woods to heal after years of intense logging. Last week, Lahey issued a status update that found no material change in the forests since his initial report.

Mike Lancaster with the Healthy Forest Coalition said no one he knows was surprised by those findings.

"To say that it was cathartic to see this report is an understatement," he told reporters.

"I know that I've been seeing this happen on the ground for years and so to see it kind of encapsulated in this report card was very affirming."

Lancaster and others at Wednesday's news conference said they don't make the call for a moratorium lightly, but they don't know what else to do after years of inaction by successive provincial governments. Citizens have taken the government to court and been arrested for protesting, First Nations leaders have spoken out and several auditor general reports highlighted the issue.

Steve Lawrence/CBC
Steve Lawrence/CBC

In an interview, Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton said there will be no moratorium on clearcutting, a conclusion he reached following consultation with department staff.

But Rushton said he is having every approved harvest plan on the books that has yet to be executed reviewed to ensure each adheres to the Lahey Report guidelines.

A department spokesperson said there are about 10,000 hectares of approved harvests actively being reviewed. That represents about a year's worth of cuts.

"I'm not moving anything off the table at this time," said Rushton.

"There could be plans that do have to be amended. I'm not hiding that fact as the minister. But there certainly could be plans that totally fit in with Lahey's recommendations and those would just sort of get the check mark in the box and they could move on forward as previously planned."

Submitted by Nina Newington
Submitted by Nina Newington

One concern environmentalists have flagged, and Lahey raised in his report last week, is that cutting continues on pieces of land that could be eventually designated for conservation.

Lahey's initial report called for Crown land to be broken into three areas: some reserved for industrial forestry; some for conservation; and the largest area for ecological forestry.

Rushton said he doesn't have a timeline yet for when the so-called triad designations will be released, but that work is continuing.

In the meantime, protests continue against Crown land harvesting, including one in Annapolis County.

Nina Newington, one of the people at the protest camp near the site of the planned cut, said in a recent interview that even if the cut is happening in adherence with new guidelines, it is a step too far considering how much has already been harvested in the area.

'We can't stand it anymore'

"It really is a little island in a sea of clear cuts," she said.

"They're really not going to make very much money off of this. You know, the amount of ecological damage they would cause seems incredibly disproportionate to whatever economic gain the mills would make from this."

That was the prevailing sentiment at Wednesday's news conference, where Bancroft's frustration was shared by all speakers.

Eleanor Kure, director of Extinction Rebellion Nova Scotia, said people are tired of waiting for officials to take action on a problem identified in multiple reports prepared for multiple provincial governments.

"We have a really good, large group of people who are volunteering and don't want to quit," she told reporters.

"Getting in the way is what we're doing. We can't stand it anymore."

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