Environment Weekend Video

Weekend video: Fiber-farming the Cape Breton Highlands

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A weekend video with a difference. No story line, no sound, no people, just images from a drone flying high above the Cape Breton Highlands.

These images are something else though.

Large clearcuts as far as the eye can see are the first thing you’ll notice.  

These are likely second or even third time cut-overs since the sixties, says Ryan Chambers, a former fly fisherman and guide who lives in the area and, together with Sam Ainsworth, runs the Save the Margaree Watershed Facebook page.

“They leave these clumps of trees sprinkled around, and by the government’s definition you then can’t call them clearcuts anymore,” says Chambers. “But these clumps never last more than two years anyway, they’re either blown over or fried up by the sun. They let the worst of the worst happen here.”

The thin rows of trees you will see typically mark headwaters of the Margaree River, Chambers points out. Clearcutting often increases acidity in rivers and streams, and Chambers tells the Nova Scotia Advocate that’s exactly what he found when he started testing tributaries in the area. Acidity, and rivers choked up with silt.

“All of the rivers in Cape Breton that originate at the Highlands are in very bad shape because of this one area. That’s where they all drain from.  I am a life-long fly fisherman, and I got my guide license when I was 15. In all of Nova Scotia I have watched 90 percent of the watersheds lose salmon and brook trout in 20 years or so. It’s an absolute ecological nightmare,” he says.

What you won’t see is much hardwood. 60 years of harvesting has systematically removed any hardwood that used to grow here, that’s what clear cutting, re-planting and spraying will do.

All the wood cut here is destined for the Port Hawkesbury Paper mill, either to feed the biomass boiler or to be processed for newspaper print.

“That industry has been dead for decades, and yet it has been kept alive through hundreds of millions of tax dollars. We need to stop keeping it afloat. For a few jobs that what made this place great doesn’t exist anymore. It’s corporations pillaging us like we are a third world country,” says Chambers.

“This is my favourite place in the world. It breaks my heart that this is happening here.” 

If you can, please support the Nova Scotia Advocate so that it can continue to cover issues such as poverty, racism, exclusion, workers’ rights and the environment in Nova Scotia. 




  1. The last big rain storm has shown how shortsighted this is. The clear cutting on the top of our mountains resulted in flash flood like conditions and the Bras D’or Lake was the muddiest it has ever been. They are fighting to stop this in third world countries and we just sit here and let it happen.Those that perpetrate this mess stick to places where it is not easily seen except in aerial photos . How can they justify this…they are destroying the watershed and decimating animal habitat at an alarming rate. First flash flooding and then landslides….is that where we are headed?

  2. We need our forests to neutralize carbon. A boy from Germany is leading a worldwide campaign to plant a trillion trees. Yet governments are neutralizing his efforts to save civilization for his generation by clearcutting for toilet paper and biomass burning. When will this stop?

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