Every spring we welcome back literally millions of our feathered friends to Nova Scotia's forests. Birds of every shape, size, and colour appear at this time of year as though conjured out of thin air by the lengthening daylight. They herald the re-birth of a winter weary land as they fill with colour and song the tens of thousands of hectares of what remains of our industrially ravaged forests. All manner of them, from the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird to brilliant warblers to birds of prey, return from distant points in the hemisphere to find a breeding territory that for some species may be smaller than an acre.
Many songbirds, though tiny enough to fit comfortably in the palm of a small child's hand, have made a perilous journey of thousands of kilometres from their wintering grounds in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico or the southern US to get to Nova Scotia. When they arrive, they are hungry and thin from the near ceaseless activity of the long-distance flight. Yet, when they arrive they must find food, then begin the equally hard work of nest building, laying and incubating eggs, feeding and finally fledging their young. That they have succeeded in doing this for countless generations should inspire our admiration and respect for these amazing creatures!
Yet, all is not well for these wonders of nature. Many of them finish the arduous trip north every spring only to find their home has been destroyed: the forest where they bred in previous years has been cut down while they were away over the winter. Even if this tragedy is averted, these newly arrived birds, along with their nests and their young, can be destroyed by commercial logging as they sit on the nest. That's because many loggers, among them large Nova Scotian companies, apparently pay no attention to federal and international law.
The Migratory Birds Convention Act is meant to protect migrant birds during the sensitive breeding season. It states that it is illegal to destroy, disturb or harass birds or their nests during breeding season. But this law is not enforced at either the federal or the provincial level. Most logging used to take place in the winter. These days, huge machines clear cut forests, day and night, year round. To protect nesting birds effectively, we need a ‘silent season’ in the woods. That means no logging during breeding season. Countries around the world are adopting this
practice. Here in Canada we need wider reform of forestry practices to reflect the incredible value of our forests, not just as an economic resource but as a vital home to biodiversity, so crucial in making the planet liveable for all of us. Let’s start by giving the birds a break.
Scott Leslie is a professional wildlife photographer and writer who lives near Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia. He is an author of several books on nature, including a four-volume set on the birds of North America. His photography is represented by National Geographic Image Collection, among others.
Our March 9 briefing note to MLAs discusses biomass issues. For a full explanation of the reasoning behind the note, please read the attached letter, titled "Letter to Jason Hollett, et. al. and Mr. Hollett's reply.
Recently there have been some excellent articles published in the Chronicle Herald highlighting some of the missteps of previous and current governments with respect to forestry policy. If you want to better understand why roughly 90% of forestry done in Nova Scotia is done by clear-cutting and why NS taxpayers will never stop paying for Northern Pulp's cleanup bills read on.
Oh and in case you hadn't heard, the report for the Independent Review of Forestry Practices in Nova Scotia being conducted by Bill Lahey, and others, was due this past Wednesday, February 28th, BUT, it was given a 2-month extension and the report is now expected by late April.
Global Forest Watch (GFW) is an online platform that provides data and tools for monitoring forests. By harnessing cutting-edge technology, GFW allows anyone to access near real-time information about where and how forests are changing around the world.
Here at the HFC we'd like to encourage all Nova Scotians to explore this mapping technology and see what is happening in Nova Scotia, your county or even very near your own backyard!
You can even get customized reports for specific countries or even provinces! See the screenshot below!
Another great site that tracks forest cover loss and gain is hosted by the University of Maryland. It tracks the loss of forest cover since the year 2000.
Although we dealt with significant challenges during our first year, in this, my final report, I am not going to discuss them at length. Rather, I will concentrate on the challenges of the future, looking back at the first year only where our experience then helps us to understand and deal with the issues that are emerging.
The first year: Setting up, finding a voice and making a mark
Helga got us going. Her biomass petition crystallized concern and brought us together. We had difficulty deciding on how we would operate, eventually deciding against formal organization. We opted instead to rely on social media to activate strategies decided on by a core group. This group has been larger than one usually finds in formal organizations, and it made decisions with very few meetings but a great many emails.
We found a voice in identifying and articulating an issue that deeply concerns the people of this province. We have the privilege of living in a beautiful place. Our awareness of this sometimes makes Nova Scotians smug, but it also imposes on us a sense that we must be responsible for maintaining the treasures we have inherited. It induces a conservatism that abhors the waste that is endemic in modern forest harvesting practices.
HFC gave voice to this. Public meetings articulated the sense of stewardship that comes with our conservatism. We put these views on line. We wrote letters and op eds that carried the message to the reading public. We made numerous visits to MLAs, in their offices and on the hustings. I cannot name all of you. It was a group effort. Together we helped to make clearcutting an issue in the recent election.
The hard part
We made a mark. A large public agrees with us. Politicians are aware of what we are saying. Some sense opportunity; others are apprehensive. A good many, torn between the influence of mills owners and the cries of rage, frustration and despair from rural Nova Scotians, have not decided which way to jump.
The election is over. The government will soon recover from the minor scare it got in its rural power base. It will succumb to the flattery of the mill owners, whom it considers the real ‘stakeholders’ in our forest economy. Those stakeholders will use the media to reassure the public. The forest bureaucracy in DNR will be more obdurate than ever. All of this will abet the forces of inertia and cynicism that are the bane of modern democracy.
How can we fight it?
The hardest part will be to keep going. We hear a lot today about ‘the lobbies’ and their ability to influence, even control, democratic governments. Too often, the public, represented by groups like ours, is beaten back simply by the capacity of business lobbies to outlast us. Business can overwhelm us with TV ads, spin doctors, carefully chosen ‘good works’ and cynical exercises in public consultation because businesses are organized to persist. Business leaders come and go, there is always someone to replace those who leave. The costs of lobbying can be written off as ‘business expenses’, which means that we taxpayers help to pay to be fooled.
We can beat this. We are on the right side of this issue. Public opinion is shifting in our direction. Elsewhere groups like ours have helped to bring about changes like the ones we propose. We can too.
Our greatest strength, and our greatest weakness, lies in the way we carry out our work. We have chosen to avoid formal organization. This has given us the flexibility needed to seize opportunities as they emerge and has forced us to engage our supporters in designing and carrying our campaign. This sense of empowerment is vital and we must make sure that it continues. At the same time it is difficult to be effective if our leadership is scattered and variable and if the members in our project teams don’t carry through on the projects that they have committed to.
Over the last year I have thought a lot about this tension in our organizational design. I hope that the following suggestions will help HFC to keep going, to keep on pressing government and forest companies to reform.
Have a leadership team:
In a social media group, the job of coordination is too big to be managed by one person. It needs a small team. Small enough to work well together.
When team members, whether of the leadership team or of project teams, undertake a task they should know that they will be expected to complete it, or to see that someone else completes it, within an agreed upon time. The commitment would be made to other members of the team and, through our regular update reports, to the group as a whole.
Allow team roles to vary:
Traditional organizations have clearly, usually rigidly, defined roles. Part of HFC’s flexibility stems from the fact that we don’t have precisely defined roles. Instead we have tended to encourage members to vary their activities according to their talents, interests and the nature of specific tasks. This has been useful and should be encouraged. It recognizes that everything that pertains to one aspect of our work, also pertains to everything else. It grows out of the fundamental holistic perception of the world that pervades ecological thinking. However, when undertakings are agreed to it is important to be clear about who is going to do what and what is expected of the undertaking.
Keep in touch:
I spent a lot of time corresponding with HFC members and supporters. Some of you felt that it took too much of my time, and that ‘coordination’ could be done far more efficiently. You may be right. However, there isn’t much holding social media organizations together, beyond a common interest and social interaction. In our case we have a common interest in restoring biodiversity to our forests. It is an interest that flares intensely at times, but can easily be smothered by public indifference and the government inertia that resists change. Correspondence allows supporters to be engaged and shapes a common understanding of the issues that the group is dealing with. It also provides the social interaction that holds the group together. For that reason, I hope that however the group develops at the centre, there will always be someone there whose main task will be to keep in touch with as many supporters as possible.
Agree on the message:
The evolution of policy has many stages. Each stage compels participants to adapt to changes in roles and discourse. We have been going through a disruptive stage in the development of forest policy. As an opposition group we have focused on problems, to the point where public pressure is beginning to force government to change. At some time in the future, government will say to all of us who have been critical: ‘Alright, we admit that there is a problem. What do we do about it?’ When that happens, advocacy groups must be ready to offer solutions and to search for compromise. This will be difficult for us, as it always is for groups that seek reform. We will have to identify and defend core values, and be prepared to compromise on others that seem less important. In opposition we have been able to ignore differences between us concerning some core values. As we approach the negotiation stage of policy development, those differences will cause conflict. We want to go into that stage united behind a well thought-out position and with strategies that make the most of our resources. Consequently, the sooner we start thinking about solutions and compromises the better.
A glimpse of the big picture:
Nova Scotia’s forests have experienced three great periods of growth, development and decline. The Mi’kmaq lived here for centuries as a climax forest developed. Europeans began settlement at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and by the end of the nineteenth had burned or otherwise reduced the climax forest to a point where, in 1912, Bernard Fernow made one of the first calls for reform and restoration. Over the following century the forestry profession, in government and the pulp and paper industry, responded to that call by transforming our Acadian forest into one that resembled the boreal forest predominant in most of Canada. Today, the industry that spawned it has declined, and we must decide what to do with – and for - the forest that remains. The Healthy Forest Coalition has urged a return to biodiversity and, to the extent possible, restoration of the Acadian forest. In order to achieve that we must understand our common cause. We must continue to speak up, and refuse to be discouraged. We must adapt as we push forward the processes of negotiation.
We must persist.
HFC Coordinator, March-April, September 2016-June, 2017.
CBC's Michael Gorman throws the HFC gauntlet down on WestFor's path to an unheard of 10-year lease. The 13 mill consortium has their eyes on the people of Nova Scotia's Western Crown Lands, that is the lands we bought back from Bowater-Mersey in an effort to change the way forestry is practiced in this province. Fat chance. The DNR and its Minister Hines seems bent on granting WestFor's wishes. Check out Gorman's take here.
Chatham House, the Royal Institute on International Affairs, recently published an article by Duncan Brack, whom they describe as "an independent environmental policy analyst, an associate fellow of Chatham House and an associate of Forest Trends. From 2010 to 2012 he was special adviser at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change; before that he worked for Chatham House, and from 1998 to 2003 was head of its Sustainable Development Programme. His areas of expertise include international forestry policy, forest governance and the timber trade, climate policy, low-carbon investment, bioenergy, public procurement, the interaction between environmental regulation and trade rules, ozone depletion and the Montreal Protocol, and international environmental crime, particularly illegal logging and the trade in illegal timber."
(published in the The Halifax Herald 03/04/2017)
NOVA SCOTIA FORESTRY: Don’t listen to industry reassurances
Public losing confidence in government role in forestry
by MIKE PARKER
I conceive that the land belongs to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living and countless numbers are still unborn. — Anonymous
Whenever we, the public, question questionable forestry practices, government and industry invariably respond with talking points straight from The Clear-Cutters’ and Whole Tree Harvesters’ Biomass Thesaurus of Alternative-Facts.
Think of the times you have been told professionals are "applying best practices and science to forest management." Or that professionals "harvest our forests and they grow back, healthier and more productive and more sustainable than they were before."
And who can forget this top contender for quote of the year? "The forest is more than a resource to us. It’s a legacy for Nova Scotians and we are the proud stewards."
If this doesn’t work, then pulpit theatrics are ramped up: "Pessimists in Nova Scotia are still in abundance, standing in front of every industry they perceive as not fitting their narrow vision for our resources, preaching the "No" in Nova Scotia."
Should that fail, spin doctors play the Trump card: "In the press there appears to be a persistent anti-forestry-resource-management bias."
Not being a professional forester, I have been sloughed off in the past by the self-appointed stewards- of-the-woods as being critical, rhetorical, holier-than-thou and, the deepest cut of all, a "retiree", which I can only guess means I am old and as such my opinions are based in senility and not fact.
With what fading faculties remain, I searched out a respected voice who can speak to forestry issues in Nova Scotia. I found it in the person of Dr. Jack Ward Thomas (1934-2016), a renowned American ecologist, Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation in the School of Forestry at the University of Montana, and thirteenth chief of the U.S. Forest Service.
In 2001, Dr. Thomas presented a paper at the University of Alberta entitled Are There Lessons for Canadian Foresters Lurking South of the Border? It was based upon the successful campaign American environmentalists had recently waged against the "resource extraction community" in stopping overcutting in the national forests, aka public lands, or as we know them here, Crown lands.
"Foresters were too certain of their positions of prestige and authority and, evidently, felt themselves above the messy realities of functioning over the long term in a democracy," Dr. Thomas wrote. "In the end, there are professional prerogatives that will not exist unless sanctioned by the people at large."
He argued that foresters began "to do things that we had not done before (at least not at large scale) — including things that foresters themselves had, in an earlier period, coached the public to consider the personification of careless greed."
"Foremost among these was the increasing practice of even-aged forest management embodying clear-cutting," he observed. And "a view from the sky revealed an ever-increasing network of roads connecting a patchwork of clear cuts."
Dr. Thomas also argued that clear-cutting was "coupled with the decision, driven by considerations of economic efficiency . . . to convert ‘decadent, stagnate, biological deserts’ of late-successional (‘old-growth’) forests to young, vigorous, fast-growing, forests — often of selected single species."
"These stands — or at least many of them — were, then, to be managed in a semi-agricultural fashion to maximize growth on selected trees to yield maximal economic benefits . . ."
"So far as wildlife and fish were concerned," he wrote, "the forester’s mantra was, far too often, that ‘good forestry is good wildlife management.’ . . . Foresters clung tenaciously to that adage long after the emerging science clearly showed otherwise . . . Retention of biodiversity became a concern and foresters were forced to modify their objectives, and management, to deal with threatened or endangered species."
Any of this sound familiar? There’s more. Dr. Thomas spoke of lessons that emerge: "Once the citizens of a democracy realize that they — in the final analysis — are the owners of the public lands, they will seek an increasing role in the management of those lands. Further, if the concerns of these citizens are ‘blown off ’ by professional land managers and politicians, they will respond by organizing to magnify their political impact . . ."
Indeed, he warned that "foresters’ reputations have declined as a result of hanging on too long to models of management predicated on the application of ‘industrial strength forestry’ on both public and private lands. The myth of the omniscient forester as the complete natural resource manager is obsolete."
"Forcing the application of economics based models to the exclusion of interests in biodiversity preservation, aesthetics, fish and wildlife, etc., will produce a backlash from the public."
Here are other lessons Dr. Thomas’s paper offers us:
• "Close relationships, if perceived of as too close, between industry and government related to exploitation of public lands can engender resentment and backlash."
• "Perceived subsidies of industry’s extraction of wood from public lands will be increasingly questioned by an increasingly sensitive public."
• "There is a rising ‘green movement’ in all western democracies that is likely to grow as we come more and more to face with a finite land base."
• Foresters can "try to ignore the (public) or at least, marginalize their impact through political machination or accept the legitimacy of their concerns and their rights to be concerned and politically active. In the first course of action lies an increasingly contentious battle with significant defeat, with related loss of prestige and authority, a distinct possibility — even a probability. In the second course of action lies some opportunity to heed the age-old admonition, ‘Come, let us reason together’ and come to reasoned adjustments in management practices thereby heading off intensified conflict . . . "
Dr. Thomas closed his analysis with these words of caution: "Accidents . . . lie ahead on the road called forest management unless you alter course. Heads up."
Are you listening Premier Stephen McNeil, Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines, Nova Scotia MLAs?
Stand up, speak up Nova Scotia. May the forest be with you and yours.
Mike Parker has been researching, writing and talking about! the history and heritage of Nova Scotia's woods and waters for 30 years. His book, Nebooktook In the Woods, addresses his concerns about forestry practices in the province. His Facebook page, Woods and Waters Nova Scotia, has more information on Dr. Jack Ward Thomas.
Michael Gorman has posted a brilliant item on radio, tv and the net. Check it out here.
As dealt with elsewhere on this blog, in Jack Pine's Forest Notes, and all over the press and media, the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, ignoring thousands of volunteer hours donated by Nova Scotians like you and me, had the audacity to axe the province's Natural Resource Strategy including and especially one key fundamental:
It was agreed we would reduce clearcutting to no more than 50% of our total harvest.
Last summer, while everyone was at the beach, they deep-sixed that goal, indeed basically chucked the whole Strategy.
Then they signed away management of ALL the Crown land in Western Nova Scotia, 1.4 million acres, to a consortium of 13 mills, the largest of which are huge non-Nova Scotian companies.
If you can figure out DNR's hopelessly complex Harvest Maps and, though unpaid and probably not a licensed forester, in 20 days you can formulate a sufficiently articulate argument to counter to their planned harvest, who do you hear back from? DNR? No. WestFor, of course. Check out their website - they are custodians of the harvest maps.
Though we Nova Scotians spent $111m to "Buy Back the Mersey" to turn the corner on rapacious harvest methods, who's in charge now? Not you. Not me. The mills. Are they harvesting quick and dirty to feed their corporate bottom lines, buzzing off vast swaths of the province, or are they stewarding our asset intelligently, allowing the trees to grow, increase in value, provide millions of dollars of natural ecological services? According to Gorman's piece, they're adding insult to injury hiring out of province workers to cut down our birthright. So much for jobs, jobs, jobs. It's been argued that 10% of our provincial debt has gone to prop up this highly touted industry. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a raw deal. It is time to speak out!