Shelburne County residents pan 'disrespectful' clearcut plans

Residents of a rural community in Nova Scotia's Shelburne County are upset that a 105-hectare clearcut has been approved in the area, despite a petition against it that was signed by more than 300 people.

105-hectare clearcut approved for Middle Clyde River area, despite petition against it

The clearcut has been approved for an area in Middle Clyde River, N.S. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Residents of a rural community in Nova Scotia's Shelburne County are upset that a 105-hectare clearcut has been approved in the area, despite a petition against it that was signed by more than 300 people.

"I think everybody's heart kind of fell," said Shelly Hipson, who started the petition opposing the clearcut in Middle Clyde River.

"We thought we had it licked, actually, with that many signatures, and … that [the petition] was being considered, but obviously it wasn't strong enough. So we're really disappointed."

Hipson said the forest in question is an important recreational area for locals, herself included, having grown up going into the woods with her family.

"We would spend the day actually making it back through Crown land to the camps," she said. "Those memories are still in my heart, and they're in the hearts of many of us."

Frustrated by lack of meeting

The number of people who signed the petition represents about 80 percent of the Middle Clyde River area's total population, according to Hipson.

She said she's not against the forestry industry, but calls it "just so disrespectful" that neither Westfor, the mill consortium doing the cutting, nor the Department of Lands and Forestry had met with residents regarding the logging. 

Westfor general manager Marcus Zwicker told CBC's Information Morning that the engagement process is outlined by the landowner — in this case, the province.

Zwicker said when it comes to the question of clear cutting, Westfor is following the province's guidelines for management.

Westfor just signed a lease with the province and logging is due to take place over the next two or three years.

Though that lease was signed after the August release of the Independent Review on Forestry Practices — which recommended, among other things, a reduction in clear cutting — Zwicker said the new lease does not reflect the conclusions of that report.

"I think it's because the provincial government hasn't released publicly, or stated publicly, what recommendations they will be implementing or adopting out of the report," he said.

Zwicker said the management of this forest would potentially be different if the recommendations of the forestry review were in place.

Clear cutting decisions 'based on the science'

Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said in an interview that while the province isn't able to implement the recommendations of the report "overnight," the report nonetheless identified clearcuts as an appropriate strategy in certain circumstances.

"There are areas in the forest that will see lighter-touch forestry practices. But we do need to ensure that we have a thriving industry, and areas that aren't appropriate for clearcuts, they won't be clear cut."

In the case of Middle Clyde River, however, Rankin said "based on the science," clear cutting is the best approach. 

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said the Independent Review of Forestry Practices still prescribes clear cutting in certain circumstances. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Rankin also said there is an opportunity for the public to comment on clearcuts when the maps for proposed harvests are posted online.

But Hipson said that process isn't good enough — and it isn't just commenting on the clearcutting that's difficult. 

Talking to students at the local high school, Hipson said it can be hard to answer their questions on what people are doing about clearcutting. 

"They ask, what's happening to the wildlife, what are you doing to protect the songbirds?" she said. "You know, children can get it. Why can't we get it as well?"

With files from CBC's Information Morning