Clear cut would destroy critical animal habitat, says Nova Scotia hunter

A hunter from Upper Vaughan, N.S., says if a proposed clear cut goes ahead, it will destroy critical habitat for endangered mainland moose, deer and other animals.

The province says a decision process that is fair and appropriate is being followed

Mark Kehoe said clear cutting is not the right choice for this parcel of land just east of Highway 14 between Windsor, N.S., and Chester, N.S. (Mark Kehoe)

Nova Scotia is trying to allay fears that a proposed clear cut would destroy critical habitat for endangered mainland moose, deer and other animals, saying that a process is in place to ensure the right decisions are made.

WestFor holds the licence to harvest trees in the area, just east of Highway 14 between Windsor and Chester, which is made up of several individual land parcels, totalling roughly 80 hectares.

The public has until Sept. 26 to comment on the proposal before the province will decide whether to approve the clear cut.

Mark Kehoe, who lives on nearby Zwicker Lake in Upper Vaughan and has been hunting and trapping in the area for about 30 years, told CBC's Information Morning that animals in the area have already lost a lot of habitat over the years.

He said this is a case where "we should step up and say 'leave this piece of woods for them.'"

A Hants County man urges the province to stop a clearcut planned near Upper Vaughn. He says the area provides winter shelter for deer. 8:04

Kehoe said he has seen endangered mainland moose in the area and found evidence of the American marten, a species once thought to have disappeared from the mainland, according to the province's species at risk list. 

The Department of Lands and Forestry has records of two mainland moose sightings and a record of one American marten sighting on the parcel of land.

Minister of Lands and Forestry Iain Rankin says decisions must take protections for wildlife into account. (CBC)

Minister of Lands and Forestry Iain Rankin told Information Morning the presence of endangered species in the area "possibly could" be grounds for denying WestFor permission to clear cut.

Minister of Lands and Forestry Iain Rankin responds to concerns about a proposed clearcut in Upper Vaughn, N.S., after a hunter said it might hurt endangered species. 8:06

A map on a provincial website identifies the area of the proposed clear cut as "significant habitat" for deer in winter. 

Kehoe worries that a particularly brutal winter, like the one Nova Scotia experienced in 2015, could lead to a significant loss in the deer population without the proper shelter.

"If we get that harsh winter they won't have anywhere to go and they'll just perish."

Rankin said harvesting is allowed in deer wintering areas, but when it comes to approving clear cutting in significant habitat areas, decision-makers must be careful to ensure there are protections for wildlife.

After Kehoe and others complained, the company came back to the province with a revised proposal to harvest a smaller area, only this time it would be clear cut.

Rankin said it's up to the province's foresters and biologists to decide when clear cutting is "scientifically appropriate."

Kehoe said if this clear cut is approved, it would go against the recommendations put forward in the recent independent review of forest practices in Nova Scotia. 

In his report, author William Lahey recommended that "protecting and enhancing ecosystems" should be the objective when it comes to practising forestry in Nova Scotia. 

Lahey also said the province isn't going far enough to protect endangered species.

"The Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act must be fully and rigorously implemented in respect to forests on both Crown and private land — as it currently is not," he said.

Kehoe has been hunting and trapping in the area for about 30 years. (Mark Kehoe)

Staff in the Department of Lands and Forestry believe "in the spirit of the report," Rankin said, which encourages a commitment to an "eco-based system."

He said he's looking forward to working through the report's 45 recommendations, but it will take time to decide whether regulatory or legislative changes are warranted.

Read more articles from CBC Nova Scotia

With files from CBC's Information Morning

With files from CBC's Information Morning