An Old-Growth Forest Policy for Nova Scotia
Submission: Canadian Association of Retired Persons – Nova Scotia Chapter
This submission is forwarded on behalf of the Nova Scotia Chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP NS), the total membership of which is approaching 10,000 Nova Scotians 45 years of age or older.
Our generation, although having faced many economic, social and cultural challenges over the years, has nevertheless lived through the three-quarter century period following World War II of expansive growth and abundance fueled by unprecedented economic expansion and corresponding increased levels and patterns of consumption and of a myriad of consequent lifestyle options and choices.
While enjoying the many benefits that have resulted – economically, socially and culturally –society as a whole has neglected to recognize the consequent impacts that have been borne by our environment, which sustains all life on earth. The net cumulative effect is that, today, we are confronted by the twin existential crises of climate change and biodiversity loss – internationally, nationally, provincially, and even locally within our respective home communities.
The unfortunate reality of carelessly and unsustainably using, and of too-often abusing our life-supporting natural systems is brought into sharp focus by the current state of Nova Scotia’s forests, and particularly by the present-day near-absence of old growth. Once prevalent in the Acadian forest that greeted early European settlers, old growth now is commonly referenced as occupying less than 1% of our province’s landscape. In fact, a 2008 report published by the then Department of Natural Resources and entitled Implementation of Nova Scotia Interim Old Forest Policy, ‘A Status Report’, references 1999-2003 forest inventory information as indicating that only 0.3% of Nova Scotia’s landscapes are occupied by forests over 105 years of age.
These numbers contrast shockingly with the recent CBC report of the discovery, in the western part of Halifax Regional Municipality, of the oldest known tree in the Maritimes. At an estimated 532 years of age, this towering eastern hemlock demonstrates in no uncertain terms that Nova Scotia is capable of supporting old growth forests of many hundreds of years of age, and must surely have done so before having been faced with the post-European settlement impacts of timber harvesting, agricultural clearing, human-caused fires, urban settlement and development and an ever-expanding network of transportation corridors, along with naturally-occurring disturbances stemming from high winds, wildfires, insects and diseases.
The draft policy forthrightly acknowledges that ‘old-growth forests are indispensable for supporting biodiversity as well as ecosystem services’ and highlights the responsibility of Government for providing ‘leadership in protecting and restoring old-growth forests on all Crown lands and supporting the conservation of old-growth forests on private land’.
CARP NS welcomes this expression of commitment (the intent of which is taken to mean the protection and restoration of all old growth forests on Crown land) and therefore urges the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) to attached first-order priority to this promise to Nova Scotians of commitment to the conservation and restoration of old-growth forests as is proclaimed in the purpose statement of the draft policy (Section 2.1).
This said, CARP NS strongly supports the continued protection of old growth forests within existing protected areas and the identification and protection of all old growth, including old growth restoration opportunities, on Crown land. For greater clarity, CARP NS understands ‘old growth restoration opportunities’ to include mature or older forest stands that have not yet reached the age standard (which varies by species) to warrant qualification for recognition as old growth and therefore that have the best potential to reach that standard over time.
However, given the proclaimed significance and rarity of old growth, CARP NS does not support the protection of old growth, and of near-old growth, through administrative policy directive only, as an alternative to protection under legislation. The administrative policy approach allows the Minister to remove an old growth stand from protected status in order to permit development, with the proviso that an area ‘of five times the removed old growth area’ and ‘of comparable or better ecological quality than that removed’ be secured as a replacement. This provision amounts to an internal contradiction within the draft policy, given that the policy states that the objective is to identify and protect all old growth on Crown land – if so, there would be no other unprotected areas of adequate quality and value to meet the ‘comparable of better’ standard. Therefore, removal of old forest protection status by Ministerial decree would lead to continued decline of old growth. Neither may comparable replacement stands be available for purchase on private land, given the draft policy’s intention to encourage and support the protection of old growth on private land.
CARP NS therefore recommends that all identified old forests on Crown land, including all identified old growth restoration opportunities, be formally protected under legislation as nature reserve, wilderness area or provincial park.
Recognizing the extent of private land ownership in Nova Scotia, the relative ecological richness and productivity of private lands and their consequent potential to support old growth forest, CARP NS encourages the Province to proactively pursue the protection of old growth forests on private land – through encouragement, education, regulation, land purchase or other alternatives, such as conservation easements, to ensuring the integrity and longevity of old growth stands.
Regarding conservation of old growth on private land, one very promising avenue is for the Province to work in partnership with private land trusts, including the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Sespite’tmnejKmitkinu Conservancy (the recently-formed Indigenous land trust). Private land trusts have proven effective in bringing an array of parties to the table and thereby defraying purchase costs amongst participating partners. Another option offered by land trusts is the ability to enter conservation easements (as referenced previously), where landowners agree to forego land development (including forest harvesting) and thereby receive corresponding tax benefits.
In conclusion, CARP NS understands the updated old forest policy as one element within a range of initiatives that now fall under the broad goals and objectives set out in the recently-passed Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act (EGCCRA). This far-sighted legislation calls for, by 2023, the preparation of a collaborative strategy for the protection of 20% of the provincial land mass (by 2030) and the implementation of ecological forestry (as recommended in the Lahey report) through application of the triad zoning model for Crown and public land (which includes provincial Crown land and protected areas).
An enhanced old forestry policy can represent a significant contribution to the goals advanced by EGCCRA and to related objectives advanced by the Province’s new Biodiversity Act and the recently-amended Crown Lands Act (both in the spring, 2021). CARP NS asks the Province to demonstrate commitment and resolve in bringing about the real and consequential change needed to progress from industrial to ecological forestry on Crown lands and, more generally, to ensure the ecological stewardship of our public lands through a coordinated and coherent approach to Crown land use planning and protected area establishment, including the effective protection and restoration of old growth.
December 4, 2021