Protesters grieve clearcutting with mock funeral

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>The Healthy Forest Coalition, along with around 600 demonstrators took part in a protest in the form of a funeral in Halifax to draw attention to the issue of clearcutting on crown land.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>A member of the South Shore&#8217;s &#8220;Raging Grannies&#8221; holds up a sign of protest in Parade Square in Halifax.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Nakuset Labrador, daughter of Queens County resident Melissa Labrador, walks alongside pallbearers at the &#8220;funeral.&#8221;</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Hundreds of protesters lined Halifax&#8217;s streets during the peaceful protest.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>A group of Mi&#8217;kmaq women drum during the procession.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Donna Crossland, a forest ecologist and one of the event&#8217;s organizers, speaks in front of Province House.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Melissa Labrador and her twin children, Tepkunaset and Nakuset, perform a smudging ceremony in front of Province House.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Bob Bancroft, wildlife biologist, reads his eulogy to the forest.</p>

A mournful protest took place October 19 as some 600 people marched through downtown Halifax.

They carried a casket full of young trees at the forefront of the group; a trumpet blasted a few solemn notes; and First Nations women drummed in unison. The march halted in front of Province House where the coffin was placed to chants from protesters.

The Healthy Forest Coalition held the funeral for the forest to protest clearcutting on crown land. The demonstration comes a nearly two months after Bill Lahey, a lawyer and law professor, was named project leader in a review of forestry practices in Nova Scotia.

"Nova Scotians are very concerned about the future of forest resources in Nova Scotia and how they're being mismanaged and being liquidated at a rapid pace," Donna Crossland, an organizer of the event and a forest biologist with Kejimkujik National Park, told LighthouseNOW.

The event focused primarily on clearcutting in old growth forests, also known as Acadian forests.

"They're going after the last mature stands that happen to be in the southwest and we're switching to a biomass market because trees are getting smaller and younger so we're worried about where forestry is going, it seems to be at a crossroads," said Crossland.

Crossland, along with Bob Bancroft, a wildlife biologist, worked on the natural resources strategy - The Path We Share, which was introduced to the province in 2011 and is set to carry over into 2020. Bancroft read a eulogy to the forest in front of Province House.

"Instead of setting a good forest management example on public lands for private woodlot owners to follow and to learn from, private contractors are being allowed to skin crown forests alive. What a role model," Bancroft told the crowd.

Both Crossland and Bancroft said they're concerned about large mills cutting on crown land for pulp wood, something that woodlot owners on the South Shore have also expressed worry over in recent months.

The previous NDP government made a commitment to reduce clearcuts on crown land by 50 per cent, something the Liberal government backed away from after the 2013 election. Forest biologists say that around 90 per cent of all cuts on crown land are clearcuts.

The Department of Natural Resources has also been under fire recently for approving clearcuts on crown land near sensitive areas like the Tobeatic Wilderness Area and Kejimkujik National Park, something that was brought up multiple times during the demonstration.

"A lot of what we do and teach involves traditional arts that rely on a healthy forest," said Melissa Labrador, a resident of the Wildcat First Nations Reserve in North Queens. "I believe as more and more people reconnect with where they come from and the forest and Mother Nature, they'll have a much greater understanding of why this is important to speak about.

"It's not about stopping livelihoods in forestry, it's about reassessing how they're done, to make sure we have those trees, those forests for many years to come."

Labrador, who practices traditional Mi'kmaq arts with her family, brought her twin six-year-olds, Tepkunaset and Nakuset, to the event.

"People have to stop cutting down the trees, cause if they don't, the forest animals won't have a home," said Nakuset.

"When you remove that forest, you're removing our identity that so many of our people are trying to find again and reconnect with," added Labrador.

The Labrador family also performed a smudging ceremony at the beginning of the event outside of Province House where Tepkunaset and Nakuset asked to speak to the crowd. Nakuset repeated her plea to remember animal habitats while Tepkunaset became emotional, asking his mother to tell the crowd that he wants to keep building birch bark canoes in the forest with his grandfather.

Speakers at the event noted that they aren't against the forestry industry; rather that the industry needs to change and become more focused on value-added products. Woodlot owners and foresters were invited to the event as well.

"The Healthy Forest Coalition and most of the public here are not anti-forestry. We're anti-forest liquidation. We're anti-clearcutting because it is an outdated method that is entirely inappropriate in the Acadian forest," said Crossland.

Members of the Nova Scotia NDP caucus joined the crowds throughout the event including Lisa Roberts, the Natural Resources critic.

Roberts described the current industry practices as "high volume, low value, shaped by the needs of industrial players who are not invested in the long term viability of Nova Scotia's rural communities and rural economy."

Roberts said she eagerly awaits Lahey's report on the industry which is due to wrap up in February.

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