Nova Scotia

Forests need centuries to heal from 'creepy' wildfires, ecologist says

A Parks Canada ecologist says the fires near Kejimkujik National Park will hurt the productivity of the forest for hundreds of years to come.

Fires near Kejimkujik National Park burned the 'foundation of our forests' says Donna Crossland

Ecologist Donna Crossland says the forest will need a long time to heal from recent fires. She took this photo while in a car that was driving along Highway 8 at the height of the Seven Mile Lake forest fire. (Donna Crossland)

A Parks Canada ecologist says the fires near Kejimkujik National Park will hurt the productivity of the forest for hundreds of years to come.

Donna Crossland, who has a masters of science in forestry, worked with the Parks Canada fire crew to fight both the Seven Mile Lake and Maitland Bridge fires.

What she saw was "very sobering," as the fires burned "the very foundation of our forests, the soils," Crossland told CBC's Information Morning.

"Given that we already are situated in the area of poorest nutrients in Eastern North America, this is just an incredible setback in the forest ecology of the area," she said.

Trees will be slow to return, she said.

"This will be a setback in forest productivity for the foreseeable future, probably centuries." 

Donna Crossland at the Maitland Bridge fire. (Donna Crossland)

Forest co-op looks to blueberries

Crossland also sits on the board for the Medway Community Forest Co-operative, which manages 15,000 hectares of Crown land, almost all of which was formerly used by the Bowater Mersey mill. 

The group stands to lose more than anybody else, because so much of its land went up in flames, she said.

"Perhaps we should focus on growing blueberries for a while, because it may turn into heath land," Crossland said.

Fire break on the Seven Mile Lake fire made by heavy equipment to remove all combustible material down to bare mineral soil. (Donna Crossland)

'Creepy' fires

A really good rain is what's needed to extinguish these fires for good, she said.

"These fires really were creepy," she said. "You could put gallons of water on the line, and then you'd turn around and see it just start smouldering again because it was still burning deep underground. 

"You just could not put this fire out. Mother Nature will have to put this fire out."

Fire burned right through the duff layer at Seven Mile Lake. (Donna Crossland)

Bulldoze trenches to stop underground blaze

The best her team could do was bulldoze trenches deep down into the soil to stop the fire from travelling underground. 

"It just was burning so deeply, deeply in the ground," she said. 

Crossland, who wrote her master's thesis on the natural role of fire in the Acadian forest, said humans have greatly accelerated the destruction of the forest by fire.

Historically, hundreds of years would have passed between wildfires, she said.

About the Author

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu has worked with CBC Nova Scotia since 2006, primarily as a reporter and producer for local radio programs. In 2018, she helped launch and build a national website for preteens called CBC Kids News. Get in touch by email: nina.corfu@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Information Morning