Forest ecologist uses science to show clearcutting must stop


Published on May 10, 2017

Donna Crossland is a forest ecologist and works at Kejimkujik National Park and says clearcutting methods have long term detrimental impacts due to removal of forest cover and need to stop now.

©Sara Ericsson

TUPPERVILLE, NS – Forest ecologist Donna Crossland has lots to say about forests in Nova Scotia and its all rooted in science.

Crossland presented independent research on the science behind clearcutting and how it’s ruining Nova Scotia forests at a meeting held at the Tupperville Community Hall May 9.

While Crossland works for Kejimkujik, she was not representing Parks Canada.

Forests in Nova Scotia have undergone rapid declines caused by clearcutting methods used by the Department of Natural Resources on Crown lands, which make up around 29 per cent of the province’s forest.

Crossland says clearcutting must stop if forests in Nova Scotia are to survive and support healthy wildlife populations. Many residents in Digby and Annapolis have echoed these sentiments, with some submitting concerns to Digby Municipal Council to be forwarded to the province.

Diverse old-growth, hardwood trees – red spruce, eastern hemlock, yellow birch sugar maple and beech – are nearly gone, unable to survive the current clearcutting regime and short harvest rotations.

This is due to the department’s unsustainable clearcutting practices on Crown lands, said Crossland.

 

The specific issues

Crossland sees many issues with current harvest methods. She said the government’s strategy of intensive forest management through the creation of plantations and harvesting natural forests on a short 55-year rotation won't work and serves only to create low quality forests.

The department also claims its methods mimic natural disturbance caused by fire, but Crossland said this simply isn’t true. Nova Scotia has a natural fire regime of approximate 1000-2000 years. If clearcuts were like fire, this kind of harvest would be conducted every 1000 years.

“Fire does not remove the trunk wood of living trees, but clearcuts and biomass harvests are removing nearly everything,” she said.

“So it’s a false claim that clearcuts approximate natural disturbance, but DNR has been making this claim for decades.”

Clearcutting also contributes to the depletion of carbon in Nova Scotia soils. Around 60 per cent of soils in the province are nutrient depleted, according to Crossland’s research, making them among the worst soils in North America.

 

“Beware the pre-treatment assessment,” says Crossland

Crossland wants people to be wary of the pending 10-year lease with WESTFOR, a company made up of thirteen mills hired by the government to manage southwest Nova Scotia’s Crown lands.

Crossland said DNR’s misleading the public with practices that are said to be "science-based," such as its Pre-Treatment Assessments, for which a forest technician assesses a tree stand for harvest and submits data to a decision key, which then indicates what kind of cut to do.

“The result is almost always to clearcut, yet they claim this is based on science,” said Crosslands.

She also said the department is misleading when it conducts partial cuts, intending to return three to five years later to cut remaining trees. This constitutes a clearcut with the same impacts to wildlife.

WESTFOR has mapped a 1,000-acre clearcut to take place this spring near Yarmouth, said Crossland.

 

Premier not the problem: DNR is

Crossland has met with Premier Premier Stephen McNeil and presented several science-based concerns about current forest practices.

She discussed key government commitments to forestry contained in the document “The Path We Share” which she'd contributed to while volunteering on the Forest Panel of Expertise, and realized when he asked for a copy that McNeil had never seen the document.

“I was flabbergasted. He had not been adequately informed of his own commitments,” she said.

“You can’t blame the premier when it’s the department keeping him in the dark.”

The second document written by Crossland and colleagues, “Restoring the Health of Nova Scotia,” was vetoed by Jonathan Porter, then Manager of Resolute Forestry and current DNR Executive Director, who wrote a dissenting version serving to maintain the status quo.

Porter and other top DNR employees are past Bowater employees, a pulp mill that closed in 2012. These men approach Crown forests from an economical perspective rather than an ecological stance, according to Crossland.

“Now they’re running our Crown forest like they’re mill reserves and place no value in biodiversity or other ecological considerations,” she said.

Crossland wants to see renewed focus on forestry now that an election is underway and since government commitments are still in place for conducting better forest practices, among them reducing clearcutting.

“This agreement was from 2011 to 2020 and no one gave them permission to depart from it,” she said.

“When we know better we need to do better. And now we hold our government accountable.”