Controversial harvest plan for Annapolis County forest put on hold
Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin says harvest is halted pending further investigation
The Nova Scotia government has temporarily halted a controversial plan to harvest trees from an old forest in Annapolis County following pushback from the community.
WestFor Management Inc., a sawmill consortium, previously had the right to harvest from a parcel of Crown land about 10 kilometres south of Bridgetown. Work was slated to resume this spring.
Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said his department has received emails over the past few days with concerns about species at risk in the area.
"I made the decision based on the public feedback that it would be appropriate to just put a pause on the potential harvest of the area and look at all that feedback that we're receiving," he said on Friday.
Rankin said people have contacted his office about chimney swifts and Blanding's turtles, but he didn't know if the people had spotted the animals themselves or just their habitats.
He said the department has biologists on staff who will assess the area before taking further steps. He said he couldn't speculate as to how long the investigation would take.
Rankin also said he couldn't comment about what WestFor thought of the development, though he said the province will assist the company in finding a supply.
"This is about a balance," he said. "We do have an important forestry industry working in Nova Scotia, but we just ask that we put a pause on this particular area to look at some of the concerns that were raised from the community."
WestFor did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, but on Saturday the company provided an emailed statement saying it respected the minister's decision.
"The protection of our province's wildlife is important to WestFor and we take all possible precautions to ensure our operations have as limited an impact as possible on wildlife," it said.
"We are more than happy to provide the Department of Lands and Forestry with any information it may deem relevant as this process moves forward."
Halted, but not stopped
The parcel of land measures 21.46 hectares and is located between Corbett and Dalhousie lakes. It's a mixed-age, multi-species old forest, with some trees estimated to be up to 200 years old.
It's also home to a number of mammals and birds, including fishers, owls, woodpeckers, flying squirrels, black-throated warblers and moose.
Advocates have been pushing back against WestFor's plan since operations in the forest began last fall, citing the diversity of the trees and the animals that share the land with them.
'It's public land'
Bob Bancroft, a well-known wildlife biologist, is one of them.
He said he wanted to see more than the project just being put on pause: he wants it shut down altogether.
"I feel it's a temporary thing," he said on Friday. "It's public land, and we shouldn't be managing it for just private profit, especially an exceptional forest like this."
Bancroft has said the forest is one of the few he's seen that hasn't been compromised by human activity, describing it as a forest in a sea of clearcuts.
He also noted that it's migratory bird nesting season, and he was concerned about what impacts logging could have on nesting birds.
"They fly a long way to get here, and then to have their nest cut down while they're using it is sort of a travesty, really, to somebody who cares about nature," he said.
Harming a migratory bird nest is illegal, as per the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
When asked if nesting season was a factor in the province's decision to halt WestFor's operations, Rankin said the main regulations his department is responsible for enforcing relate to species at risk and forestry management practices, while the federal government oversees the nesting act.
"We just want to make sure that our regulations are followed, and that the forest management practices on the ground [are] taking consideration [of the] habitat of all wildlife, but in particular species at risk," he said.
He said the federal government has responded to calls regarding this legislation.
Marcus Zwicker, the general manager of WestFor, told CBC's Information Morning on Wednesday that it was "inevitable" that nests would be destroyed in WestFor's logging operations, but insisted the company would not be in violation of the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
"It's all about balance," he said.
"The forest industry across Canada operates in the forest during the period you're talking about [nesting season].
"And we operate at a very small, small area — the smallest percentage of that forest — and we utilize forest products in our everyday life, and it's part of the industry."
He said WestFor trains its operators and field staff to recognize species at risk. He said logging operations have been halted in the past so they don't disturb certain habitats or nesting birds.
Following that interview, Scott Leslie, a longtime naturalist and wildlife photographer, contacted CBC News to say he had visited the forest and saw a migratory bird guarding her eggs. He took a photo from afar with a telephoto lens.
"I sincerely hope that the authorities will act in good faith and stop the logging of this site as they stated they would once they were provided with evidence of active nesting," he wrote in an email Friday.
On late Friday afternoon, the Canadian Press reported that Leslie had also taken images of a chimney swift and sent them to Lands and Forestry, which prompted the investigation.
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With files from Phlis McGregor, CBC's Information Morning and the Canadian Press