Nova Scotia

Protesters concerned about endangered moose ordered to take down Digby County blockades

Protesters who've been blocking logging roads in Digby County for weeks to protect what they say is endangered mainland moose habitat have been ordered by a judge to leave.

A judge has approved WestFor's application for an interim injunction to stop protests

Protesters first set up camp on a logging road in Digby County in late October. (Nina Newington)

Protesters who have been blocking logging roads in Digby County for weeks to protect what they say is endangered mainland moose habitat have been ordered by a judge to leave.

Justice Glen McDougall has approved WestFor Management's application for an interim injunction.

The protesters set up camp in late October on a road southeast of Weymouth in an attempt to prevent logging trucks and equipment from accessing the Crown land where harvesting has been approved by the province. The group set up a second blockade in another location near the Caribou River last month.

They say the area, which is located west of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area and not far from the Silver River Wilderness Area, is important habitat for mainland moose.

WestFor asked that the two blockades be removed so that crews can access the roads and continue harvesting. The forestry consortium is licensed by the province to log in the area.

The court order states that anyone who directly or indirectly obstructs, blockades, impairs or interferes with WestFor and the workof its contractors will be in contempt of court and could be arrested. 

"We appreciate the concern and passion of the protestors in Digby; however, we continue to believe that a responsible forest industry can be balanced with the need to protect our natural environment, including endangered species such as the mainland moose," Marcus Zwicker, WestFor's general manager, wrote in a statement to CBC News on Thursday.

The interim injunction will remain in effect until the end of January when WestFor will make the case in court for an interlocutory injunction, according to the court order. That case is expected to be heard in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Jan. 26-27.

Thousands sign petition

A growing number of protesters have said they won't leave until the province agrees to halt all industrial forestry on Crown land in the area. 

As of Thursday, more than 24,000 people had signed a petition in support of their cause.

"The blockaders here are really trying to take some of the last large blocks of land that haven't been riddled with roads and they're doing their best to stop what's going to destroy this moose habitat," wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft told CBC Radio's Information Morning this week. 

He's been keeping track of moose in southwestern parts of the province and helped create a map that plots the species' activity going back to 2005.

"We wound up getting an awful lot of reports. I mean, as recently as yesterday, people sending pictures of moose that walked through the backyard," he said. 

The provincial government has said it's difficult to know exactly how many mainland moose are left in Nova Scotia, but a CBC News investigation last year found there could be fewer than 100, according to an estimate by a scientist who has worked with the province.

Bancroft said he's recorded 44 pieces of evidence that moose are in the area, from sightings to tracks and droppings.

"I think it's fair to say that there are probably dozens of moose in western Nova Scotia and that they're centred in certain areas where they're particularly vulnerable," he said. 

But Zwicker said forestry activity in Digby County doesn't conflict with plans to protect the endangered species. He said harvests in the area follow the province's special management practices for mainland moose.

"In fact, many scientific studies have shown that responsible forest management can help enhance moose habitat by providing requirements such as browse (food), shelter patches, wetland buffers and corridors," he wrote.

Zwicker also pointed to the economic benefits of the forestry industry to the region.

According to an affidavit he submitted to the court, forestry activity at the first blockade, the Rocky Lake site, has been stopped since Oct. 21 due to the protest. 

Crews have been working in the area where the second blockade is set up by walking around protesters, but because vehicles can't access the site, timber can't be removed, the affidavit said.

"Between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, 2020, approximately $30,000 of timber byproduct was processed and ready to be trucked out of the Napier Lake site, but it is stockpiled at the Napier Lake site and will lose its value as it degrades until trucks can resume use of Napier Lake Road," the court documents said.

Concerns from private landowner

According to the province's harvest plans map viewer, several harvests have been approved on Crown land in the area where the blockades have been set up. There are also parcels of private land in the area protesters are occupying.

Janosch Woschek, president of Rainbow Forest Ltd., owns 7,700 hectares of land in the area. 

His company recently put up gates in areas where the logging road intersects with his land. He said Thursday that one of those gates had been vandalized.

"We were accused of clear cutting down there and basically doing the same thing that they're accusing Crown land of, and that's just not true," he told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

Woschek said his company harvests trees mainly for firewood and lumber used in construction.

"We're working hard to try to restore the forest down there to its natural state so the goal is to have a forest where all age groups of trees are there," he said, adding the company can harvest some trees without disturbing the forest canopy as much clear cutting would. 

He said WestFor taking the step to ask for an injunction was inevitable.

Derek Mombourquette is the minister for Nova Scotia's Department of Lands and Forestry. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"I can understand that [the protesters are] very emotional about this topic and clear cutting is something that we have to reduce, so I'm totally on board with them on that," Woschek said.

"But I would say that we can't achieve that by spreading misinformation and creating more division. We all need to work together."

Derek Mombourquette, minister of lands and forestry, said he takes the feedback he's received from people concerned about the loss of moose habitat seriously. 

"What I would reiterate to all Nova Scotians is that there are special management plans in place to protect any mainland moose in the area. [The forestry companies] have to follow them or there will be no harvest, so everyone is aware of that, and that's the message that I'm going to continue to send to everyone," he said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning