Loggers want to move into home of critically endangered Atlantic Whitefish

Logging proposed on Nova Scotia Crown land adjacent to the world’s remaining population of critically endangered Atlantic Whitefish is raising concerns among groups trying to save the species.

But the provincial department reviewing the harvest application says there’s no evidence previous agricultural and forest activity in the area has caused aquatic habitat degradation or negative effects on Atlantic Whitefish.

A consortium of forest companies, WestFor wants to harvest a 49-hectare parcel at Minamkeak Lake near Bridgewater and dozens more hectares in parcels slightly further away.

The original submission was made in 2019 and publicly posted this week on the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables website.

Minamkeak Lake is one of the three lakes in the Petite Riviere watershed that are home to the surviving wild population of Atlantic Whitefish — an ancient relative of Atlantic salmon.

Minamkeak is the largest of the three lakes and the only one still believed to be free of invasive chain pickerel.

Fish is so rare juveniles are whisked away for safety

“This is like the last, best place for these fish on the planet. It really ought to be protected at the highest level,” said Paul Bentzen, a Dalhousie University geneticist.

Bentzen is part of a program that for several years has taken juveniles from the wild to Dalhousie, which is running a “Noah’s ark” project to try to save the species. The fish are being grown at the university’s Aquatron Laboratory, an aquatic research facility.

The plan is to release them back into the wild.

The university is also building a mobile rearing facility.

Bentzen is concerned about the potential impact on habitat.

“The worry is that any kind of activity of this nature so close to the water could lead to runoff. That could lead to changes in water quality, you know, algae blooms or other issues,” he said.

Bentzen is not alone.

A ‘disappointing development’

The conservation group Coastal Action has been involved in efforts to save the species for more than a decade, and is part of a federal species at risk recovery team.

“Coastal Action is very concerned about the proposed cut locations on Minamkeak Lake for its obvious impacts to critical Atlantic Whitefish habitat, but also for its impacts to potential critical habitat for the Eastern Ribbonsnake,” said executive director Brooke Nodding.

“This is definitely a disappointing development for Atlantic Whitefish just when things were starting to look good for the future of the species with the work we’re doing with Dalhousie on the streamside rearing facility.”

Progressive Conservative MLA Becky Druhan represents the area in the legislature. Her office did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed logging.

Forest consortium declines comment

WestFor declined comment, saying its application is currently being reviewed by the department’s integrated resources management team for wildlife, forestry, land administration and municipal suitability. .

“So, the factors of concern you asked about would all be ones that the department will consider as part of the IRM. We would then take direction from them,” WestFor said in a statement to CBC.

The public has until April 23 to comment on the plan, which involves a “shelterwood” harvest at Minamkeak Lake. The department said that method removes a stand of mature trees in two or three cuts over five to 20 years to allow sunlight in to stimulate the growth of seedlings.

What the province is saying

“The proposed harvest prescription follows the new ecological forestry management guide, called the Silviculture Guide for the Ecological Matrix,’ spokesperson Steven Stewart said in a statement to CBC News.

Stewart says the Petite Riviere watershed lakes have been protected under the Environment Act since 2006 and regulations are in place to address impacts on water quality.

“Sectors such as agriculture and forestry already undertake land-based activities in the Petite Riviere watershed. There has been no evidence linking these activities to aquatic habitat degradation or negative effects on Atlantic Whitefish,” Stewart said.


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