The Nova Scotia government has indefinitely delayed an application to log on Crown land near Bridgewater, N.S., to protect critically endangered Atlantic whitefish.
A forestry company had applied to cut near lakes in the Petite Rivière watershed, the last place on earth where Atlantic whitefish still survive in the wild.
The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said Monday it has “placed an indefinite hold” on the proposed harvest plan submitted by Westfor, a coalition of sawmill companies.
It applied to log three parcels of Crown land near Minamkeak Lake, one of three lakes where Atlantic whitefish, the ancient relative of Atlantic salmon, persist. Minamkeak is the only one of the three lakes free of invasive chain pickerel.
“The primary concern is potential impact to the lakes, where the endangered Atlantic whitefish are located, due to road construction needed to access the proposed harvest area,” department spokesperson Steven Stewart said in a statement to CBC News.
“The department has also confirmed the presence of rare lichens in one area of the proposed harvest plan after it was reported through the public comment process.”
Application submitted in 2019, posted in March
The decision is only a partial win, said environmentalist Ray Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.
“It’s a good thing but it’s only a reprieve. It’s not a solution,” he said Monday. “The potential impact of road building is still going to be there in 10 or 20 years unless they are waiting for the Atlantic whitefish to go extinct.”
Westfor submitted its application in 2019, but it was not posted on the department’s website until March 2022 when it triggered a 40-day public comment period.
Environmentalists criticized the application as a reckless and needless threat to Atlantic whitefish.
The Town of Bridgewater also objected to cutting in the watershed, which is the source of its drinking water. The Public Service Commission of Bridgewater said it had issues in the past related to “WestFor’s forestry practices within the watershed and traveling through waterways causing significant siltation, waterway contamination, ground disturbance.”
Department taps breaks
In March, the department said there was no evidence previous forestry and agriculture activity in the watershed had caused any harm to the lakes or Atlantic whitefish.
On Monday, it said a review determined the proposed harvest plan “does not meet all requirements for operating on Crown lands,” citing road construction impacts.
“Public input is a valuable part of the process and can help identify site-specific information not already known to the department,” Stewart said. “This information is reviewed by the department’s resource professionals, which include foresters and biologists, to determine if a proposed harvest plan meets all requirements for operating on Crown lands.”
Westfor has said it supports the departmental review and will follow its guidelines.
“WestFor’s forestry practices are of the highest standards in the province and our work is regularly audited and certified by independent organizations to meet the highest forestry excellence standards,” spokesperson Breck Stuart told CBC News last month.
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