Environment featured

Proposed clearcut in Cape Breton threatens endangered martens’ habitat, local naturalist fears

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – First the mainland moose, and now the American martens…

Naturalists in Cape Breton are concerned that a proposed clearcut within an area which the Department of Lands and Forestry (DLF) has designated as a marten habitat management zone will further threaten the local martens population.

The American marten (or pine marten) is a member of the weasel family and is one of Nova Scotia’s rarest mammals.

Martens, like the mainland moose, are listed as endangered under the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to trap or kill martens, or to damage their dens. In 2005 there were an estimated 50 martens left in the Cape Breton Highlands. DLF believes things are gradually improving, based on recent evidence of breeding activity.

The parcel in question, of roughly 125 ha., is located in Victoria County, and is marked for variable retention – 10%, essentially a clearcut with a few trees left standing.

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Adam Malcolm, who lives in Cape Breton is the administrator for the recently founded Facebook group Stop Clearcutting Unama’ki (Cape Breton), which is where he raised the alarm.

“The Marten Habitat Management Zone encompasses a couple of protected wilderness wilderness areas. But those wilderness areas are disjointed, and they’re cutting along the edges. Much like with the mainland moose they’re ruining the possibility of connectivity,” Malcolm tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.

“It’s alarming. Especially given what we know about the lack of protection for the species who are at risk in the province, and also the wider issue of climate change and environmental degradation, says Malcolm.

“I’ve always felt a strong connection to nature, but I don’t think I really fit that mold of a tree hugger. It’s much deeper,” Malcolm says. 

“I’ve ranged pretty widely throughout Cape Breton. I spent a lot of time in the woods all around the island with my father, and became interested in resource collecting like mushrooms and wild teas and things like that. Most days you can find me in the woods for at least for an hour or two.”

The American marten as captured on the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry trail cams in the Crowdis Mountain, Cape Breton Island Highlands. 

Nova Scotia’s few remaining martens are mostly found in the Cape Breton Highlands.

”Remaining marten habitat remains fragmented and under threat of harvesting. The species is generally associated with late-successional conifer-dominated forests and their optimal habitat appears to be in older forests,” a white paper on the Martens Special Management Practices (SMP), published by DLF, states.

To address future habitat supply at the landscape level the following SMPs are to be applied to forest harvesting throughout the Cape Breton Highlands, the document recommends.

  • 12-14 standing and live mature trees per ha must be left evenly spaced throughout the harvest site;  
  • These are in addition to all other requirements of the Wildlife Habitat and Watercourse Protection Regulations;  
  • Large yellow birch trees should be left standing where possible;
  • Harvest sites should maintain at least 100 m3 of coarse woody debris/ha and mean maximum diameter of downed logs should exceed 22 cm. 

In response, Malcolm references the two most pertinent Wildlife Habitat and Watercourses Protection Regulations that DLF mentions: “No forestry operator shall within a special management zone: (b) reduce the basal area of living trees to less than 20 m2 per hectare; or (c) create an opening in the dominant tree canopy larger than 15 m at its greatest dimension.” 

“As I read these regulations, the proposed harvest with 10% retention currently on the planner within the Marten Habitat Management Zone would be in breach of both of these regulations,” Malcolm says.

Not to worry, says DLF, in a response remarkably similar to when we inquired about the fate of the mainland moose in Digby County.

“Current forest harvest planning on Crown lands within the Cape Breton Highlands is managed within the framework set out within the Endangered American Marten Special Management Practices,” writes Deborah Bayer, Communications Advisor for the department. 

You can read the department’s full response here. The ID for the parcel marked for variable retention is V1205176 on the Harvest Plan Map Viewer, where you can submit comments to the department until January 5, 2021.

See also: Mike Lancaster on Lands and Forestry and protecting the mainland moose: “Something is not working, that much is clear”

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