RD Editorial November 2017

Tramping through the commons

    Late fall means it’s time to break out our very fashionable blaze-orange outdoor attire – because in November no one wants to be mistaken for a deer. I still find it strange to hear the hills echoing with gunfire on Remembrance Day, but mostly I’ve grown accustomed to the autumnal ordnance. What I find a bit irksome is that our enjoyment of our own land is curtailed during hunting season. I once encountered a rifle-toting dude strolling up our woods road behind the house. Presumably he had entered the property from the far end, and thought he was deep into the forest – but in fact he was about to break through into our back yard. 
    “We’ve got a herd of 9-year-olds here for a birthday party today, right over there through those trees,” I told him. “So you should probably go back the way you came.”
    The Swedes, like the Scots, are big believers in the “right to roam.” In Sweden – which, like Nova Scotia, has many small private landowners – you can hike anywhere you want. You have a legal right to pick berries and mushrooms, or even set up camp for a night, but you cannot tramp around stalking deer on someone else’s land. Asking permission to do so would be like asking if you can cut trees on someone else’s woodlot. It’s not that the Swedes are against hunting. (Nor am I!) They’re actually crazy about hunting, but their conception of it is informed by their long history of agricultural freehold – whereas ours is informed by a loopy colonial notion of wilderness. Hunting rights in Sweden belong to landowners, most of whom lease out these rights, either individually or pooled through a game association. (When I asked a Swedish forester whether woodlot owners ever have problems with unauthorized traffic by all-terrain vehicles, he seemed slightly aghast, as if this form of trespassing was too strange and terrible to contemplate.)
    I guess I could post signs every 40 feet along the boundary, but I’m told this may have little or no deterrent effect. Besides, signs are ugly.  (And I don’t want to look like a jerk.) I’m well aware that the chances of me being shot in the woods are vanishingly small – especially when I’m running the chainsaw. Even children, who behave a lot like animals – pattering through the woods on their little feet, and occasionally hiding silently in the underbrush – are highly unlikely to take a bullet. And yet, the onus is on us to wear orange. The shots that we hear all around us may be fired by people who do not know the lay of the land – possibly people from the city, wandering randomly through the woods and imagining that they are in the uninhabited outback of nowhere. So when we want to invite people over for a hike in the woodlot at this time of year, we choose one of the three Sundays when there is no hunting. 
    Back in 2004, when Nova Scotia held a “binding” plebiscite on Sunday shopping, I was among the majority who voted against it. The level of discourse on the issue was pretty uninspiring, with people ranting about the right to choose, the separation of church and state, the imposition of Victorian morality, etc. I never saw it as a question of right versus wrong, I just thought it would be nice to have one non-retail day (Monday would be fine), if most of us could agree on it. Maybe we, as a society, could do some interesting things. Maybe, through this collectively self-imposed inconvenience, we could get more exercise, make less pollution, read more books, grow more vegetables. Maybe we’d even have more . . .  you know, intimacy. But a lot of people didn’t see it this way at all. The majority was a slim one, and a couple of years later the Rodney MacDonald government opened the doors to Sunday shopping. The issue seems like ancient history now, and my brief hope for a consensus seems naive. 
    I’ve heard it said that Nova Scotia’s tardiness in getting with the times was one of the reasons Ikea bailed out in 1988. Now the ever-expanding home furnishings chain has deigned to return, opening a vast new store in Dartmouth that has truly been welcomed like the Second Coming, with retail pilgrims arriving in droves. Cheap furniture and cafeteria meatballs? Now those are Swedish ideas we can really get behind. (So, what would we have to do to get our Volvo plant back?)
    Anyways, shoppers gotta shop, and stalkers gotta stalk – and the latter group is gunning to expand Sunday hunting, trotting out many of the same arguments the former group used. Public opinion is against the hunters on this issue, as a 2015 public consultation showed, but that didn’t stop DNR from giving them two Sundays. So unless there’s a major uptick in complaints, it seems likely they will soon open it wide up, and there will be no respite at all during the five-week deer season. I would be interested in hearing how other rural landowners view this. Indifference? Resignation?
    When it comes right down to it, we are still novices at reconciling conflicting interests. Public consultation is a great idea, but it is so often done poorly, or the results are ignored. Only in October did I discover that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is considering implementing recreational fishing licences for marine species in eastern Canada. A consultation was held from May 26 to Sept. 18, but I didn’t hear anything about it. Under the radar, that one was – although the CBC picked it up in Newfoundland and Labrador, where catching cod for home consumption is more than just a recreational activity. In the Maritimes, lots of people like to dig a bucket of clams or catch a string of mackerel. Licenses would be free initially, but of course fees would be introduced at some point, and that would be prohibitive to some. I would like to know about the quality of the data that will be generated by catch reporting, and how we can be assured that this whole process is really going to prevent over-exploitation. Too bad I missed out on that opportunity to be an engaged citizen.
    Our woodlands are still well stocked with deer (at least in Nova Scotia – New Brunswick may be another matter), but some people believe our over-exploited oceans are essentially a lost cause – the proverbial “tragedy of the commons.” The aquaculture industry has a pretty strong vested interest in this gloomy proposition, and Canada has the dubious distinction of being the first nation on earth to allow the aquaculture industry to sell genetically modified fish. It’s actually the first GM animal sold for food anywhere, and we gave it the green light, without any public consultation. The GM salmon was grown in Panama, using eggs produced at an AquaBounty facility in P.E.I., and a few tonnes of it hit Canadian markets this summer. You may well have eaten some unknowingly, because it was not distinguished by labelling. For the record, consumers should know that “Atlantic salmon” is not merely a description, it is the name of a native species (Salmo salar), and the marketing of GM fish under this term would be food fraud of the first order. (The idea of farmed salmon as a protein source for the hungry masses is also fraudulent.) 
    Managing non-commercial natural resources is complicated, but it’s child’s play compared to our efforts at balancing supply and demand in food commodity markets. This fall we have great global gluts of corn and grain. Here in the Maritimes we have too many blueberries – a scenario once thought impossible. Think of the input costs, to achieve high yields of stuff that no one really wants to buy. 
    If you’re a home gardener who doesn’t depend on crops for your livelihood, you have the luxury of enjoying the bounty provided by a favourable growing season. At our place we have had lots of late-bearing raspberries – a luxury that is all the sweeter because they continue producing even as low areas are touched by frost. And they are so perishable. Leave them in a bowl for a day or two, and you’ll likely get mould. Put a handful on your oatmeal porridge in the morning, and you’re living like a king.
    We also had a bumper crop of apples from the gnarly old tree in the yard. It is, by my best guess, a Cox’s Orange Pippin, or a descendant of that classic English variety, which does well in the cool Maritime climate. When just picked, these aromatic apples have the flavour of a fine Muscat. Honeycrisp apples, to my palate, taste like 7-Up – but it’s a highly subjective thing, and I’m in favour of any new variety that allows orchardists to make a go of it. 
    From my desk, I can see a garden bed that was pretty much taken over by self-seeded nasturtiums this fall. The bees gorged. For my family, using the over-abundant edible flowers as a garnish became a running joke. Nasturtiums appeared not only on salads, but atop rice or pasta dishes, and alongside our scrambled eggs. Very fancy! DL