Nova Scotia

Conservationist pushes to save one of Nova Scotia's last patches of old-growth forest

Mike Lancaster says old-growth forests and ecosystems in Nova Scotia can’t survive if the area around the proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area is harvested. 

'We've got about 0.6 per cent of our remaining old-growth forest,' says Mike Lancaster

The health of a forested ecosystem can be judged by the moss in the the riparian zone. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Mike Lancaster can tell just by looking at the moss on the forest floor if an ecosystem is healthy.

"If you're able to maintain a carpet of ground flora, then you know the forest ecosystem is in a little bit better condition," he told CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia. 

"When you disturb that, you disturb the soil where a large percentage of the carbon sequestration is actually contained within." 

Lancaster, an arborist and conservationist, also knows where to find the most pristine patches of forest in Nova Scotia. One is just north of Highway 103 between Exits 5 and 5a, about 40 kilometres west of downtown Halifax.

This is the proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area, which is roughly 10,000 hectares encompassing some areas that are being harvested and smaller areas that are already protected. 

Mike Lancaster in the forest of the Ingram River Wilderness Area. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Lancaster is both the coordinator of the Healthy Forests Coalition and the stewardship coordinator of the St Margarets Bay Stewardship Association, and wants to see this whole area protected. He says this forested portion can't survive if the area around it is harvested. 

"We only have these pockets of old-growth forests, but the concern is that they're not able to function as an ecosystem if they continue to be surrounded by clearcut," Lancaster said.

"So it will continue to be degraded if this type of forestry continues around here."

On a recent visit to the area, Lancaster is only 100 meters into the forest off Highway 103 before he hears the calls of five different bird species: the common yellowthroat, black-throated blue warbler, black-throated green warbler, an ovenbird, and a yellow-rumped warbler.

"Forests like this are really uncommon in Nova Scotia, where we're not used to seeing what our forests are capable of. Most people, they've they've never seen a forest like this outside of the park system." 

He also identifies many of the species of trees in the riparian zone, where the land meets the stream.

"It contains basically old growth, if not at least very old forests," he said. "That's predominantly red spruce, eastern hemlock and white pine, with the occasional co-dominance of the yellow birch. So, it's largely coniferous or softwood dominant, but there's also quite a healthy presence of deciduous or hardwood species like long-lived yellow birch and the mid-successional red maple." 

Just north of Highway 103 in Nova Scotia, not far from Halifax, is the proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Lancaster suggests forests like this have both recreation value and a lot of potential economic opportunity for the launch of ecotourism business models.

"It's just such a tremendous opportunity being so close to Halifax," he said. "We'll have a lot of opportunities to develop tourism if this area gets protected."

He points to the wildlife in the area, including 16 species that are on the Atlantic Canada conservation data centre for being either sensitive or currently at risk.

"A lot of them are birds. So we've got the rusty blackbird, the olive-sided flycatcher, it's been sighted here before, and the Canada warbler," said Lancaster.

"The mainland moose has a presence here, brook trout, and the common snapping turtle, which actually isn't so common. We've seen lots and lots of species back here that are on that list." 

With files from Information Morning Nova Scotia and Phlis McGregor