Greens want Nova Scotia to mandate forest protections. It’s not enough

Nova Scotia is still aggressively clear-cutting too much of its forest, an annual report says.

“Clear-cut zoning is only as strong as its strongest local data set,” the report said. “When provincial data are available, results may be disappointing.”

Clear-cutting, which flattens and deforestes forest land to make way for agriculture, logging and industrial development, causes habitat for threatened and endangered species to shrink. Nova Scotia’s woodland caribou population, which has been in a decline, fell to less than 11,000 in 2009, the report said.

According to the report by Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia is using its land-use management for forestry and agricultural development — particularly clear-cutting — inappropriately.

Even worse, Nova Scotia’s regulation of most clear-cutting — including if it happens within communities or within multiple land use zones — is inadequate. That allows the province to count land reforested since 2006 by farmers as new timberlands.

Using this “new” forestland, provincial governments must now maintain, improve and restore forests to meet the needs of Nova Scotians and more than 6 million visitors a year.

“We all know that pine beetles have become a significant, regular threat in Nova Scotia,” said Kerry Nicholson, director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s Landscape Science Program. “It’s extremely important to invest in forest management by thinning, covering and managing.”

Nicholson said it’s reasonable to expect the majority of Nova Scotia’s forest to be protected by 2020, since that’s what Nova Scotia’s six land-use management plans call for. The specific species being kept out of the forests may differ from one management plan to the next, he said.

“I wouldn’t consider being 95 percent protected,” Nicholson said. “Those are just figures. A bigger population, more species, maybe.”

Nicholson, a sea turtle scientist, has shown that public spaces and recreation areas — like parks and parksland — have the most biological diversity of any natural habitat.

“There’s a lot that can be done in conservation,” he said. “You can really increase the biodiversity. It’s not really unrealistic for the province to achieve that.”

A federal government advisory committee recommends the formal involvement of wetlands of about 5,000 acres in the Planning Unit for each local municipality.

These wetlands are vital to wildlife conservation, and are protected by British Columbia, Ontario and some Manitoba municipalities, according to the report.

But Nicholson argues that Nova Scotia residents wouldn’t be better served if local municipalities were tasked with zoning on wetlands, while the province does it for woodland caribou.

Currently, municipalities decide on how they want forestry to be done in their communities, while the province decides how it wants forests to be operated.

“Some local municipalities are quite established, taking great care and care of their wildlife and wetlands,” Nicholson said. “But one of the most important things to do is to establish a distinct management program that would make sure every community has a long-term plan that fits their unique circumstances.”

The report encourages the province to go further to improve its rules for rural municipalities, and to ensure greater coordination between the province and farmers.

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