Starting in December 2021, I spent a little over 6 months camped out by the side of a logging road in Annapolis County with an assortment of other forest protectors. It turned out to be an epic winter, snow wise. We spelled each other as best we could. It played havoc with my writing schedule but I don’t regret a minute of it. On the summer solstice we were finally able to declare a win and go home, thanks to some endangered lichens.
I was asked to write this article for the Blomidon Naturalists Society’s Newsletter in August 2022
What was the Last Hope camp, what did we achieve, and what now?
In November 2021, flagging went up around an 80 year old forest by Beal’s Brook off Highway 10 in southwest Nova Scotia. Local residents knew what that flagging meant. 20 years earlier, Randy Neily, a hunter, trapper and farmer, had persuaded Bowater Mersey, the pulp mill that owned the land at the time, not to cut this forest because of its value to wildlife. Nova Scotians bought back the land when the mill went bankrupt. But now, obviously, the government had given WestFor the go ahead to cut the forest. (WestFor is a consortium of mills that currently holds the main license to cut on ‘crown’ land in western Nova Scotia.)
Residents protested that the forest provides crucial habitat and connectivity for wildlife. In a sea of clearcuts it bridges between three large wetlands. Three endangered species were known to be in the area: Wood turtle, Mainland moose and American martin. The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables was quick to point out that the American marten was only officially at risk in Cape Breton. (It is about to be listed as at risk for the whole of Nova Scotia.) Besides, they said, not to worry, their biologists had reviewed the site twice and there were no Species at Risk concerns. And anyway, it was too late, the harvest had been approved. Residents should talk to WestFor.
WestFor told Randy Neily the cut would begin in a week or two.
It didn’t. Why? Because on December 2, 2021, Forest Protectors and members of Extinction Rebellion set up camp on the logging road.
For me and I think for all the people who camped there — 46 of us over six plus months — it was time to say enough. Enough damage. Enough disregard for the needs of wildlife. Enough promises.
Letters and petitions, a forest funeral, meetings with our MLA, voting, none of these has made much difference. The NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives have all had a shot at forestry reform in the last decade but the Department of Natural Resources (by assorted names) has gone on doing the bidding of industrial forestry. We are running out of forests, mature natural forests that support complex ecosystems and store a lot of carbon. In 1958 twenty-five percent of all the forests in Nova Scotia were over 80 years old. Now that figure is between one and 5%.
As Alexandra Morton, whale biologist turned salmon protector, puts it: “If you can be peaceful and honourable about it, just physically putting your body in the way of what is damaging life on Earth is a very, very powerful thing.” The camping was rugged with temperatures of -26 degrees centigrade and frequent snowstorms but the mood in camp was joyful. We did not know how things would turn out – the ability to accept uncertainty is a prerequisite for this kind of action – but we knew it was better than sitting at home wringing our hands.
Our camp was set up on the exact site of the historic Last Hope hunting camp, so called because, back in the 1920s, when game was already becoming scarce, the habitat in this area was so favourable for moose that hunters who had failed to bag their winter’s supply of meat came here for one last try. Though desperately far from numerous now, a young bull moose was photographed in Beal’s Meadow in September 2020. Dan Baker, a local man who has roamed this area for 50 years gave us a map showing the locations of all the moose scat and tracks he’d seen over the years. DNRR was not interested.
As soon as we set up camp we put the word out for someone who knew lichens to come and take a look. In January a lichen enthusiast came and found three lichens listed as Species at Risk (SAR): Frosted glass whiskers; Wrinkled shingle and Black foam lichen, with 5 specimens altogether. Each required a 100m buffer. DNRR put the proposed harvest on hold until the lichenologist they hired could survey the whole cut block. He came out in February, confirmed the finds and added two more occurrences. In March the Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables said that was good enough, added buffers for the 7 lichens and allowed the harvest to go ahead.
It didn’t because we stayed put. In April, when two and a half feet of snow had finally melted, we organized our first Lichen Identification session with lichenologist and author Frances Anderson. Participants found two more occurrences of Species at Risk lichens. Over the next two months, with another Lichen ID session to train more people, campers and friends identified a total of 10 more SAR lichens. All were reported to DNRR and to the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Center.
We also organised other workshops on bird and tree identification as well as doing bioblitzes of the area. Four Species at Risk birds were recorded in and next to the cut block: the Canada Warbler; Olive-sided flycatcher; Eastern wood peewee and Chimney swift. On April 23rd, an American marten was seen crossing one of the two bridges close to camp. All were reported to DNRR.
The Minister’s response? He told local MLA Carman Kerr that the decision about whether to cut the forest or not was in WestFor’s hands.
We asked a brilliant mapper friend to make us a map showing the 100m buffers for all 17 SAR lichen occurrences then we put out a press release. On June 21, 2022, after 202 days camped out on a logging road in Annapolis County, Last Hope camp declared a win. None of the proposed cut block has been logged. Thanks to the identification of Species at Risk lichens on the site by campers and others, 60% of it is off limits to any cutting. The remaining 40% is harder to access and uneconomical to harvest. This is the interview I gave in the forest at Last Hope the day we packed up and went home. CBC Information Morning: Why are Protestors packing up after 203 days of camping?
DNRR has officially acknowledged that only 10 hectares of the original 24 hectare cut block is available for cutting. Still, as far as they are concerned, the harvest can proceed. It is, in bureaucrat-speak, ‘at the licensee’s scheduling discretion.’ The planned cut seems to have changed from the original ‘Uniform Shelterwood’ to a ‘High Retention Gap Irregular Shelterwood with the goal of creating and restoring multi aged forest conditions in this white pine/red oak dominated forest through targeted retention of these species.’
The original prescription was touted as a fine example of ecological forestry. This new version must be extra ecological. After all, doesn’t it sound as if they would be doing the forest a favour by cutting it?
To be clear, forests do not need forestry. What this forest needs is to be left alone. We will do our best to make sure it is. We do, after all, know the way. We can be back at the drop of a hat – or the clank of a machine. There are lots of eyes on the ground.
Was it worth it? What a lot to go through to protect such a small area.
In addition to finding such a concentration of rare lichens and protecting them and the forest they depend on, Last Hope
- Clarified a fundamental issue with the way the government is implementing the recommendations of the Lahey report. They claim to be ushering in a new era of ecological forestry on ‘crown’ lands but they have not done the landscape level planning recommended by Lahey to identify what areas should be off limits to any harvesting. Reducing the use of clearcutting is good. Applying an ‘ecological’ forestry prescription to a forest that shouldn’t be cut at all is not progress.
- Revealed in technicolour quite how badly the government is failing to do its job. It says it protects endangered species. It says we should leave forestry decisions to DNRR. It says we can count on it to address the climate and nature crisis. But we can’t.
- Built relationships between groups that can be far more effective working together: Indigenous people; local hunters and trappers; naturalists; political activists. In mid-January the District Chief of Kespukwitk, district one of the seven traditional districts of Mi’kma’ki, came to camp. She presented us with the flag of the seven districts to fly. The flag represents both an invitation to be on this unceded territory and thanks for our sacrifices in protecting the land and water and the creatures that live there.
- Created hope. DNRR said it was too late to save this forest. But it wasn’t. It isn’t. We can make a difference. Together we must save what we can. There is real joy in coming together to protect what we love: this natural world. Our only home.
The government has pledged to protect 20% of Nova Scotia’s lands and waters by 2030. But they are continuing to approve cuts in the very forests we need to protect the most — mature, mixed species forests like Last Hope which offer critical habitat to Species At Risk.
It is time for people across the province to say no, we do not consent to the ongoing destruction of nature. We cannot afford to lose any more of our most ecologically valuable forests. This means placing under consideration for protection all forests over 80 years old on crown land as well as those few areas of intact forests not yet fragmented by logging roads and clearcuts. Final decisions as to what areas will receive permanent protection will take time but in the meantime this will result in an immediate halt to logging, road-building and development in those areas.
That, in a nutshell, is our Last Hope campaign. In addition to petitioning for the demand outlined above, we are committed to working with individuals and groups to build the skills necessary to identify and protect ecologically valuable forests. Our small success shows that it is not too late to save what we can. If we want a livable planet, we can’t wait for the government to act.
CBC Information Morning: Why are Protestors packing up after 203 days of camping?
National Observer: Protestors pack up with a win
Chronicle Herald: Lichens save the day
The Quaking Swamp Journal: Protestors declare partial victory