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WEST LAKE AINSLIE — The co-chair of the Margaree Environmental Association (MEA) has expressed concern about a large clearcut in the West Lake Ainslie area of Cape Breton, near Hays River.
“I had a couple people call me about it,” said Neal Livingston, the MEA co-chair. “They were appalled by it, they said, ‘Nobody’s doing anything like that anymore.’ They’re getting away with it because it’s on private land.
“It’s really, really messing up the landscape. It’s messing up a neighbourhood where people live in steep hillside. … There’s absolutely no reason to be clearcutting. They could be selection cutting that property if they wanted to.”
Near Brook Village in Inverness County, a few kilometres down Hays River Road, the smell of spruce and fir sits in the air from the clearcut. Hundreds of the trees line the side of the road, ready to be picked up by hardwood buyers.
Behind the trees sits dozens of acres of now-bare land, extending up a steep hill. Large rutting in the ground caused by machinery used in the clearcut crisscrosses the field.
The province has certain stipulations about cutting down forest, but the regulations only cover Crown-managed land. This is private land, owned by a woman in Halifax, so the province has little control over what happens on it.
Wayne Gillis, president of Margaree Excavating, the company in charge of this clearcut, said they arrived in November and began the work then. He said they’ll be done their work in about a week.
Livingston said MEA is most concerned about the cut occurring on a steep hill and the rutting in the ground, since both conditions can make a runoff more likely in the spring when temperatures rise and snow on the slope melts.
“You just don’t see rutting like that anymore, and also the size of that cut.” Livingston said cutting on steep hillside could cause “significant” runoff.
“There’s an incredible amount of clay sitting in these ruts and it’s gonna run into a brook and that brook runs directly into Lake Ainslie. Besides that, our group simply doesn’t think this kind of cutting is socially responsible at all.”
Gillis said that before Margaree Excavating completes the work, they will be levelling out the ruts in the field caused by their machinery, which he said will make a difference with any potential runoff come spring.
Dotted throughout the bare field are small clumps of bushes and vegetation surrounding the occasional tree. Gillis said these “wildlife clumps” are what they left behind while clearcutting, to avoid disturbing the fauna too much.
MEA said they requested that Port Hawkesbury Paper (PHP) insist that private-land contractors they buy from comply with the same standards as those set for Crown-land suppliers. PHP has purchased wood produced from Margaree Excavating in the past.
PHP spokesperson Andrew Fedora said PHP doesn’t publicly discuss specific private supply arrangements or agreements, but said they have a program in place for monitoring legal compliance and environmental performance.
“The results are used to encourage continual improvement,” said Fedora. He said PHP has purchased wood produced from Margaree Excavating in the past.
MEA has sent a letter to the Moncton office of Fisheries and Oceans Canada about the clear cut. “There will be extensive siltation and turbidity during the spring run-off, with detrimental impact on Lake Ainslie, part of the Margaree-Lake Ainslie Canadian Heritage River watershed,” they detailed in the letter.
The MEA has asked for “immediate attention” to the matter, saying that waiting until spring will be too late for Lake Ainslie.
Approximate location of the clearcutting
Learn more about Nova Scotia's incoming ecological forestry model for Crown-managed land here.
Jessica Smith is a reporter with the Cape Breton Post.