Clearcutting near Keji prompts calls for stricter regulations

by Brittany Wentzell

The province's decision to allow clearcutting of 94 hectares near Kejimkujik National Park has some calling for buffer zones and stricter regulations for harvesting near protected areas. A decision on what will happen to the remaining six acres closest to the park has been deferred.

WestFor Management Inc., a consortium of 13 mills and the licensee for the land, applied to cut 100 hectares of forest that ends right at the edge of the national park. WestFor has a lease to work on over 400,000 hectares of land in the province, much of which was formerly owned by Bowater.

The forest is on Crown land in Queens County, though not on former Bowater property as previously reported in other publications, according to Lloyd Hines, minister of Natural Resources.

After the harvesting area was posted on the province's Harvest Plans Map Viewer, which allows the public to view applications for harvesting, the proposal caused public outcry this summer and spurred criticism from opposition members.

"Our forests are an important economic resource and are valued by many Nova Scotians for recreational activities. I want to see what proof the Minister has that this decision will not impact nearby protected areas," said Sterling Belliveau, MLA for Queens-Shelburne, in a press release.

According to the NDP, clearcutting is up to 71 per cent on Crown land, an increase of 12 per cent from 2013.

"Keji is a jewel and it needs to be respected," said Belliveau in an interview last week, adding that there needs to be a buffer zone around protected areas.

After public input this summer, the province deferred six hectares, which touch the border of the park. The original designated harvesting area was around a kilometre and a half away from one of Keji's backcountry campsites.

Hines says he is pleased with the process, and that the department's initial efforts to increase transparency is what led to the creation of the harvest viewer.

"It's proved effective for us now in a couple instances where we've been able to take the advice that we've received and make some changes to harvesting patterns," he said. "That's exactly what fed into the decision to pull back six hectares from the borderline with Keji park."

"We are very cognizant of the value and beauty of Keji Park itself, we understand the passions people have for it and we share that," he added.

Hines says the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been in communication with Parks Canada throughout the process, although he says Parks Canada did not register any comment during the public input period.

According to Hines, over half of Keji is surrounded by the Tobeatic Wilderness Protected Area but on the other side of the park there is private and Crown land.

There is no legislation that prohibits harvesting right up to the border of a national park or other protected area. That's something Chris Miller, national conservation biologist for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, would like to see changed.

"There should be a province wide policy that limits clearcutting near protected areas. It could be a fairly straightforward policy that establishes a buffer zone, have guidance about how much forestry is allowed in that, what types of forestry, even the design of road networks," said Miller.

He doesn't believe the six hectares deferred by the province is enough of a buffer.

"Six hectares is a joke, an absolute joke," he said.

With controversial clearcuts near other protected wilderness areas, the province needs to develop legislation to deal with the issue, he said. According to Miller, developments such as roads and harvesting near sensitive areas can change and hurt them, especially if they end at the border.

"Protected areas are supposed to be the places that we leave undisturbed, that are natural areas where ecosystems function the way they should. When you clearcut so close to the protected area, it ends up shoving those impacts into the protected area itself and the concern, and the risk, is that the protected areas we've established become islands in a sea of disturbance," he said.

Miller says the area near Keji is a "biodiversity hot spot" and there are species such as the Blanding's Turtles that live in few other places.

"That's why you would expect that the government would listen to Parks Canada and get the feed back about the potential impacts on species at risk that depend upon the national park and that move in and out of the national park," he said.

When asked for comment, Parks Canada released a statement saying, in part, that the department has been in contact with DNR, "and will continue to communicate with N.S. DNR to discuss mitigation of possible risks to the ecosystem of the national park."

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