Joggins residents question why province made clearcut a nature reserve

A Nova Scotia landowner is frustrated by the province's strategy of conserving forested land after they gave a nature reserve designation to a clearcut area only after all the trees were gone.

Clearcut land is 'basically unusable for anything for the next 30 years'

Jim Hamilton surveys the damage on a clearcut near his home in Joggins.

A Nova Scotia landowner is frustrated by the province's strategy of conserving forested land after they gave a nature reserve designation to a clearcut area only after all the trees were gone.

Jim Hamilton moved back to Joggins from Alberta with his wife 14 years ago, and said he was drawn to the area in which he'd grown up by the beauty of the landscape.

But he said in the last five years, clear cutting has increased in the area.

"[Clear cutting] affects our water; we had good water when we started here," he said. "With the clear cutting around us, the water tables have all changed. People have dirty water."

Holding back tears, he told the CBC: "It never stops. It's just terrible." He questioned why clearcuts in Nova Scotia aren't replanted.  

Nature reserve signs appear

Yellow nature reserve signs now mark a nearby clearcut as protected land, but Hamilton said the signs only appeared after the trees were cut down.

The signs say the area is designated under the Special Places Protection Act as part of Nova Scotia's natural heritage. They say "within this area no person shall carry on any activity which may alter any part of the terrain or vegetation or carry on any acts which may disturb the flora or fauna."

A provincial sign marking a swath of clearcut as a protected area. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Several activities are prohibited, including hunting, camping and ATV use. 

Also included on that list: no tree cutting.

'It's just a jumble of stumps'

David Trask, a former Department of Natural Resources helicopter pilot, has a family cottage near the clear-cuts. 

He said the signs aren't popular with local residents, who weren't consulted about the protected-area designation and are now barred from using the land.

"[The land] has been common use for as long as I can remember, and now we have these prohibited signs that are appearing," he said.

"I realize that it's nice to reclaim more land for future generations, but what you're reclaiming has all been clearcut.

"It's just a jumble of stumps and fallen trees."

Jim and Laurell Hamilton survey a map of the area, showing land that was once forested. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

But the main problem, said Trask, is that the clear cutting happened in the first place 

"The landscape's totally changed. The [clearcut land] is basically unusable for anything for the next 30 years."

Cutting on private land

Peter Labor, director of protected areas and ecosystems with the Nova Scotia Department of Environment, said the province was unable to prevent the clear cutting because the land was privately owned. He said the land will take approximately 50 years to return to its natural state.

"When we protect areas, we look at restoration opportunities as well as their intact natural values," he said.

Labor said now that the department is aware of the community's concerns, it will look at options to address the situation.

In the meantime, the clearcut now under protection is just steps away from a swath of forest that's privately owned and has no protection from logging.

The clearcut under protection abuts private forest that's not protected. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Hamilton isn't optimistic about the possibility of the province protecting that land. 

"They created this [problem], and they'll do nothing about it."

With files from CBC's Information Morning