Protesters blocking a logging road not far from the Tobeatic Wilderness Area in Nova Scotia's Digby County say the forest is prime habitat for endangered mainland moose.
They want the Department of Lands and Forestry to stop allowing industrial logging on Crown land in the area and say they won't leave until that happens.
The small group of protesters set up camp last week on a road southeast of Weymouth in an attempt to prevent logging trucks and equipment from accessing the Crown land. They're located about six kilometres west of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area and not far from the Silver River Wilderness Area.
"We have quite a span of evidence that [moose are] continuously around that area, and there aren't very many parts of the forest in that zone that have not been completely chopped up by logging roads. I mean, it's really startling when you start to drive around," Nina Newington, one of the protesters at the site, told CBC's Information Morning on Tuesday.
According to the province's Harvest Plans Map Viewer, several harvests have been approved on Crown land in the area, but it's unclear how many have actually been cut. There are also a few parcels of private land in the area protesters are occupying.
Newington said the logging that's slated to happen is "clearcut equivalent" and she believes it could begin any day.
"A truck pulled up by the encampment on Saturday, drove up, took a photograph, backed up, opened the window and yelled, 'You have to have your vehicles out of here by next week,'" Newington said.
Richard Amero, who grew up in Digby County and has been visiting the area for 50 years, has no doubt it's an important habitat for mainland moose.
"It's not hard to see the moose tracks that were in the road. These moose are a big animal. They leave marks when they walk down this gravel road," he told CBC's Information Morning last week.
Two years ago, Amero also photographed a moose and her calf in the area as they stood looking at him from about 30 metres away.
'Very low numbers' of mainland moose
The provincial government says it's difficult to know how many mainland moose are left in Nova Scotia.
In an email to CBC News in September, a spokesperson for Lands and Forestry said that "moose continue to exist at very low numbers on the mainland, and this makes an accurate census difficult to complete."
A CBC News investigation last year found there could be fewer than 100 mainland moose left, according to an estimate by a scientist who has worked with the province.
The Department of Lands and Forestry notes on its website that loss of habitat due to harvesting can be detrimental to the endangered species.
There is a different subspecies of moose on Cape Breton Island, which was introduced from Alberta in the 1940s and is far more abundant.
Amero said he's been in touch with staff at the department about his concerns.
"In my opinion, they know the moose are here," he said. "They know it's an endangered species. It's Crown land. I think it should be stopped until they do some investigation to find out what the range is, where they are, if it's a breeding ground."
Minister Derek Mombourquette declined to be interviewed but in an email to CBC News last week, a spokesperson for his department said they appreciate Amero bringing information about moose to their attention.
It is important to note that the department routinely considers important habitat for moose in all harvesting decisions ... - Department of Lands and Forestry
Jill Florian McKenzie said all proposed harvests on Crown land are reviewed by department staff and that officials are planning to visit the area "in the coming weeks."
They make sure "special management practices for moose are being utilized," she added.
"It is important to note that the department routinely considers important habitat for moose in all harvesting decisions including these ones in Digby county," Florian McKenzie wrote. "We have mapped moose concentration areas, and where forest harvesting is planned within these areas, additional forest is retained to provide areas for moose shelter."
Wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft calls that response "a farce" and said provincial staff should have visited the site long before any logging roads went in.
"I find that grossly inadequate what they're doing and there is science about what the moose need, and they're simply not using it," he said.
In May, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia ruled that Lands and Forestry had failed to follow its own laws when it came to protecting endangered species. Bancroft, one of the applicants in that case, said he's worried the same thing is happening again.
Jamie Simpson, a lawyer with Juniper Law who represented the applicants in the case, said the Endangered Species Act specifically prohibits anyone from disturbing the habitat of endangered species.
"If this area was an area that was being habitually used by the mainland moose, then at least according to the Endangered Species Act it would be an offence to disturb that area," he said.
Simpson said if the government doesn't enforce its own laws, private citizens can launch a private prosecution, although he admitted that's "not an easy legal avenue to pursue."
"It's an opportunity for them to kind of carry it forward themselves actually, and lay charges and try to prosecute the offence," he said.
Newington said spirits at the makeshift camp are high. The group has set up tents and there's a good supply of fresh coffee.
She was among a group of protesters who occupied land in Annapolis County in September that was slated to be sprayed with glyphosate. The province eventually abandoned those plans and decided to end the spraying season early.
"Several of us are convinced and in some way desperate enough about the state of things, to be willing to sit down and say, 'Then arrest me and charge me for obstruction, and I will have my day in court and tell you why I believe that this is a necessary action,'" she said.
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