Nova Scotia

Fire near Kejimkujik National Park 'a tough hit,' says forest co-op

The leader of a community co-operative that manages forest near Kejimkujik National Park says the forest fires burning since Thursday are a "tough hit," but understandable.

'In these super dry windy conditions, it's a perfect storm,' says forest co-op manager

The Medway Community Forest Co-op says the land it manages for the provincial government is extremely diverse. (Alain Belliveau/Medway Community Forest Co-op)

The leader of a community co-operative that manages forest near Kejimkujik National Park says the forest fires burning since Thursday are a "tough hit," but not unexpected.

Medway Community Forest Co-op manages 15,000 hectares of Crown land for the province, harvesting wood to sell as firewood and educating local landowners about sustainable forestry practices.

The part of the forest believed to have first caught fire had black spruce and balsam fir trees, similar to that of a boreal forest, co-op manager Mary Jane Rodger said Saturday.

"You can understand why a fire would start there. Boreal forest is very prone to fire," she said.

"In these super dry, windy conditions, it's a perfect storm. You have a lot of fuel there for a fire to move through quickly."

A partial harvest underway earlier this year on Medway Community Forest Co-op land close to the current fire location. (Medway Community Forest Co-op)

'A tough hit'

Two forest fires have been burning in the western Nova Scotia region along Highway 8 since Thursday evening. As of Saturday evening, the one near Seven Mile Lake was burning about 90 hectares, and the one closer to Maitland Bridge covered about 24.

"It is a tough hit, but at the same time, you have an expansive land base," Rodger said.

"It's not a bad thing. It is a natural way the forest regenerates."

Fire damage near Mersey River, N.S., Saturday morning. (Stefan Ostermeyer)

Biodiversity designation

The co-op's 15,000 hectares in Annapolis County has a UNESCO biodiversity reserve designation for its "high concentration" of endangered species and variety of ecosystems unique to the region, Rodger said.

The forest has Blanding's turtles — the "poster child for that area" — and sweet pepperbush lining the lakesides, along with some bats and several rare birds, she said.

The group organizes patch cutting to use the natural resource without devastating the species, general manager Mary Jane Rodger said. (Medway Community Forest Co-op)

New road burned

The co-op recently built an access road into the part of the forest that's currently burning, Rodger said.

"Now, it's burned," she said.

"Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to have that resource anymore."

Crews worked Saturday to try to extinguish fires near Kejimikujik National Park. (CBC)

Sustainable firewood

The team has analysed other parts of the woodlot for future seasons, so will look at one of those for future firewood harvesting, she said.

The group employs herself, a summer student from University of New Brunswick's forestry school and several local young people to bundle wood sold in neighbouring communities and to Kejimikujik campers, she said.

The group's educational field day in June visited an area close to where the fire was Saturday, Mary Jane Rodger said. (Katie McLean/Medway Community Forest Co-op)

To harvest the wood, they use a technique called "patch cutting," which she says is a more sustainable alternative to clear cutting that encourages more growth.

That's one of the ways the group encourages other local lot owners to manage their land long-term. 

Tourism affected

While the fire is not near homes, it has impacted business in the area. A local chalet, for instance, had dozens of guests leave early. Its staff cancelled Saturday's reservations due to Highway 8 being closed. 

"The most devastating part about [the fire] is … the fact that it's part of the tourist corridor on Highway 8," Rodger said.

"With climate change, this might happen more frequently, [so] it can also be an opportunity to educate the public and bring awareness to fire safety."

The co-op is halfway through a three year contract with the province, for which the provincial government spent $274,000, according to a January 2015 release.