Chignecto is an ecological gem

Unfortunately, there’s not much big wilderness left in Nova Scotia.  All those years of clearcutting have definitely taken their toll and the problem is getting worse, not better.

A recent study by Global Forest Watch Canada shows that over 50,000 hectares of forest are clearcut in Nova Scotia every year, leading to severe habitat fragmentation almost everywhere in the province.  In fact, only about 17% of Nova Scotia’s forest remains in pieces larger than 500 hectares in size.  That’s one of the lowest percentages in Canada.

So, what does this all mean?  Well, it means that we simply don’t have a lot of big wild places remaining in Nova Scotia, where the forests stretch to the horizon and wildlife has plenty of room to roam.  Wilderness itself is threatened.

Our biggest remaining wilderness areas are mostly located in our protected areas now, particularly Kejimkujik National Park and Cape Breton Highlands National Park, as well as some of the bigger provincial protected areas like the Tobeatic or Ship Harbour Long Lake.

Typically, if there’s wilderness outside of the protected areas, it will eventually be clearcut.  That’s the way it tends to go in this province.  But there are a few exceptions.

One such place is Chignecto.

Located in Northern Nova Scotia, just west of Amherst and north of Parrsboro, the large intact forests of Chignecto are some of the most impressive remaining in the province.  Here, there is still plenty of forest, which means there is also a lot of habitat for species such as the endangered mainland moose and other species-at-risk like the wood turtle.  A recent bioblitz by CPAWS of Chignecto identified almost 100 different bird species over a three day period in June last year.

Chignecto also boasts wild rivers, such as the Kelley River, with a watershed that’s still almost entirely forested.  That’s something that is becoming rare in Nova Scotia; for a wild river to flow from the headwaters to the ocean, entirely intact and flanked by wilderness.

Speaking of the ocean, Chignecto also contains the longest stretch of wilderness coastline remaining in Nova Scotia.  Over 60km of spectacular coastline on the Bay of Fundy, from Apple Head to the UNESCO World Heritage site at Joggins.  Here, there are steep cliffs, remote headlands, incredible tidal salt marshes, and productive mudflats.

Up until very recently, however, the large intact forests of Chignecto have been very much under threat.  These public lands were next on the chopping block to feed the province’s pulp mills and sawmills.  Many people think that the Game Sanctuary designation that’s been setup on these lands for decades protects the forests from these sorts of industrial activities, but in actuality it doesn’t.  Clearcutting is allowed in game sanctuaries in Nova Scotia; one doesn’t need to look any further than the Liscomb Game Sanctuary on the Eastern Shore for proof of that.

What’s been keeping the forests of Chignecto intact is the public pressure to protect this wilderness before it’s too late.  Groups like Cumberland Wilderness are holding the government’s feet to the fire and clearly explaining why the spectacular forests of Chignecto absolutely must be protected, something that CPAWS is pushing for very hard as well.

And, “protected” is what the forests of Chignecto will be very soon.  The Nova Scotia government is in the process right now of designating at least 25,000 hectares of new protected areas at Chignecto very soon.  This will be the largest new protected area established in Nova Scotia in over a decade and will, once-and-for-all, properly protect the magnificent wilderness of Chignecto. (Map).

Without this protection, the forests of Chignecto would inevitably be lost.  And, that would be a real tragedy.

Anybody who’s taken the time to hike up the Kelley River and watch the bald eagles overhead, or sit on the shores of Welton Lake and watch the loons, or hike the dramatic Bay of Fundy coastline at Sand River and watch the tide rise, knows the significance of this place.  It truly is an ecological gem for Nova Scotia.

We look forward to its protection very soon.

For more information, click here

~Chris Miller