Old-growth forest with 400-year-old tree proposed for clearcut in error

A parcel of land west of Halifax with old-growth forest that’s home to at least one 400-year-old tree was listed for a proposed clearcut in error, the province says.

The 32-hectare piece of Crown land, which is about 10 kilometres inland from Hubbards, N.S., as the crow flies, was recently proposed for harvest by licence-holder Westfor, a consortium of forestry companies and mills.

The proposed harvest was listed on the province’s harvest plans map and opened to the public for comments as part of the Department of Lands and Forestry’s process for making decisions on proposals.

But department spokesperson Bruce Nunn said it should not have been posted.

“I don’t know why, but it was wrongly done,” he said. “It shouldn’t have happened that way.”

A departmental policy prevents old-growth forests from being harvested, and the proposal “will not proceed for consideration,” Nunn said.

‘Extremely rare’ forest

The old-growth forest was identified by the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute, which discovered a 422-year-old Eastern hemlock tree and found that the average age in the stand is 271 years old.

Mike Lancaster of the Healthy Forest Coalition said forests of that age are “extremely rare” in the Maritimes.

“By Nova Scotian standards, 400-plus-year-old forests, they’re almost non-existent at this point,” he said.

The stand of old-growth forest contained one tree with an estimated age of 422 years old. (Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute)

While the province defines the proposed cutting as a “partial harvest” because the tree-felling happens in two stages, it’s defined by the National Forestry Database as a clearcut, Lancaster said.

He said it’s possible that the proposed harvest got posted because the province didn’t realize there was old-growth forest at the site.

“These things do slip through the cracks. It’s their legislative obligation to protect these forests, but unfortunately they’re just not able to identify them all,” Lancaster said.

Nunn said there are enough checks and balances in the system that the harvest would not have gone forward. He said a team of experts including foresters and biologists reviews each proposed harvest and determines the potential for old-growth forests before harvests are approved.

“I can guarantee you the department is going to be working very hard in the next day or two to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Nunn said.

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