RD October Letters 2017

And your bird can sing
RD: Still enjoying your magazine. Wonder if you could request words for a song I would like to get the words for:

“There’s a lonely little robin
In a tree by my door
And he waits for his mate
Who returns nevermore,
So remember, yes remember
That I’m lonely too,
Like that lonely little robin
I’m waiting for you.”

Rita Farrell
Valley, N.S.

(Thanks for the note, Rita. We’ll run that one by Fred Isenor, and see if we can get you an answer. DL) 

Blue in the face over blueberries
RD: There’s not enough coverage about 60 million pounds of N.S. blueberries. They say the price is low. Why can’t we buy them at the Atlantic Superstore, Sobeys, etc.? There’s lots of berries from down south. 
    During September of last fall (2016) I spoke to the produce manager of Atlantic Superstore in Tantallon, N.S. All they had were excuses. I called Ontario – no luck. 
    Where is the N.S. Blueberry Association? What’s going on?
Ralph Wheadon
Timberlea, N.S.

Thankful for a Maritime print holdout
RD: Your paper is always interesting and I enjoy reading about what is going on in this part of the country. 
    We are often overlooked by the “national” publications that will no longer publish in the Maritime provinces as of the end of November. You know who!
    Keep up the good work.
Ada Swift
Stewiacke, N.S.

(Well Ada, apparently the good old Mop and Pail just couldn’t compete with RD. Granted, they always outgunned us journalistically in the departments of high fashion, interior décor, exotic travel, and luxury cars. But at the exorbitant price they were charging for a copy of the Saturday edition, we knew we would eventually drive them out of the Maritime market.  DL)

Potent Maritime mix
RD: The mix is great. I particularly like the Maritimes stories of farmers, land issues, food crop and practice development, local housing and farm building issues, and wildlife and forest issues. 
    Please keep the Maritime focus along with international issues with a Maritime connection. I find each issue worthy of reading through and contemplating. The September issue is a fine example. 
Dave Macfarlane
Fredericton, N.B.

“Saw-weeet” photo
RD: Needless to say, I love your magazine, and while reading the September 2017 issue I fell in love with that beautiful photo (Northern Saw-whet owl) on page 28 and 29 (“A quiet word on forestry”) and must have a copy.
    Would you please tell me how I would go about obtaining a copy of that wonderful picture?
Eric Hurlburt
Charlottetown, P.E.I.

(Eric, according to the story’s author Zack Metcalfe, the anonymous photographer has graciously offered “to share their photograph for free with ‘whomever enjoys it.’” A digital file of the photo can be obtained by emailing dvlmagazines@gmail.com. MB)

Context on Crown forests
RD: Zack Metcalfe’s recent piece (“A quiet word on forestry,” RD Sept. 2017), while refreshingly candid, left me wondering who his anonymous, blunt-talking “expert” was, who the bird photographer was, and why the subterfuge.
    Whoever this ghostly expert is, he or she seems ill-informed about our forest history in general and Crown forests in particular. For the piece starts off joking about how poorly Crown woods compare with private forests. Don’t they know why?
    For decades the government, prodded by provincial forester and later deputy minister Dr. Wilf Creighton, quietly bought up, at bargain prices (even $1/acre), derelict or damaged woodlands, run-down farms (think Antigonish County), burnt lands (think Shelburne County or Chignecto), bug-killed lands (think Cape Breton), and blown-down lands (think Juan – my woodlot, for instance). The idea being, to reforest and rehabilitate those abused forests as a land bank, a hedge against lean times, a bargaining chip to perhaps attract industry, create jobs. Which is exactly what happened in the ’50s, when hundreds of our coal miners lost their jobs to foreign oil and became pulp cutters, truckers, and mill workers. It was smart thinking; but nothing is perfect.
    Thinking such thoughts reminded me of another “expert” who recently published a piece about clearcutting in our local daily, trashing government and its forest managers. As a former Lands and Forests (DNR) employee and colleague of many fine workers, I had to rap his knuckles.
    Today’s woods differ greatly from the lush Acadian forests Champlain saw in 1604. But to blame modern clearcutting for that is simplistic. After all, our forests were logged for nearly 200 years before we ever had a pulp and paper industry.
    Still, I’m no fan of large-scale, cut-and-plant agri-forestry. At best, it burns off precious humus, reverses normal forest succession from complex to simple, and favours short-lived species like fir. At worst, it disrupts wildlife and invites erosion and siltation. Then why is it still allowed? Well, it’s cheap and profitable, but three better reasons come to mind. 
    First, two thirds of Nova Scotia forest land (and the best of it) is privately owned, mostly in 30,000 small family holdings not easily legislated into line.
    Second, selection forestry – piecemeal harvests spanning decades, the populist alternative to clear-felling – works best with long-lived, multi-storey, shade-tolerant, high-value Acadian species now in short supply.
    Third, let’s not forget massive 18th- and 19th-century land clearing by thousands of refugee American Loyalists and disbanded soldiers (U.S. War of Independence), displaced Scots (Highland Clearances), and starving Irish peasants (potato famine). And here’s the thing: by the late 1800s, most of those hard-won farms lay abandoned and derelict. Their owners, lured by the new railway link to Upper Canada, fled in droves. Thousands more headed south to the Boston States. And within a decade most of that land – what wasn’t later developed for towns, highways, and airports – had re-seeded itself, mostly to softwoods.
    Then there were huge wood demands for building a society and for wooden shipbuilding – we once led the Commonwealth in per-capita tonnage – never mind firewood for heating and cooking, charcoal for iron smelting, hemlock bark for leather tanning, and the rest. And of course hurricanes, wildfire, and pest outbreaks left their mark. The beech, once our commonest broadleaf, was decimated by the Asian Nectria fungus and bark aphid after 1900. (Ironically, it started in Halifax County and spread across eastern North America, killing furniture industries on its way.) Then there was the mysterious birch dieback, likely caused by industrial pollution from New England plus early climate change, which killed or deformed much of our prime Yellow birch in the ’40s and ’50s. A similar malady later hit Sugar maple, though less severely.
    It’s a wonder we have any of our forest left. For that we can thank its amazing natural resilience – its ability, thanks to our moist climate, to rapidly self-regenerate. On the other hand, our forest composition and age structure have been skewed away from the Acadian mixed-wood ideal, toward even-aged softwood monocultures. To reverse this would take massive, ongoing, vote-killing silviculture inputs that no politician wants to tackle – especially not after the last government tried and failed. Meanwhile, our appetite for wood and paper is insatiable. The fact that Canadians rank among the world’s most wasteful paper users doesn’t help. Nor will it help to ignore history as we feel our way forward.
Gary Saunders
Clifton, N.S.

(Thanks for chipping in somewhat more than two cents’ worth on this topic, Gary. We value your perspective, as do many RD readers who have read your thoughtful writings in these pages over the years. What you say about the historical reasons for the condition of Nova Scotia’s Crown land may seem self-evident to you, but it’s not common knowledge. Hardly surprising, since we hear an entirely different message from DNR; we are frequently told that everything is hunky-dory with Crown forests, and that we should feel proud of our first-class public woodlands. Seems to me that within the bureaucracy there is either a lack of transparency in this regard, or a lack of institutional memory. If more people understood the points you have laid out, we could be on our way to having a much more honest and productive public conversation about where we should go from here. DL)