Just a few centuries ago, tall white pines dominated Nova Scotia’s landscape. Most were ten stories high but several even reached fifteen stories in height. Looking at the much shorter firs and spruce that make up the majority of our woods now, it’s hard to believe that the landscape here was once so different.
The first settlers from Europe must have been awestruck by the majesty of the forests they encountered. But they soon logged them and cleared the way for agriculture. Today, old growth forests are found on less than 1% of the province’s land.
In Cow Bay and nearby Eastern Passage, tracts of forest continue to be cleared to make way for residential development. Most of the time, the trees are removed to facilitate construction. Isolated trees that are left standing die within a few years as they are shallow rooted and top heavy, due to spending most of their life stabilized by other trees in a stand.
Trees that are fifteen stories high don’t reach that height overnight. White pine have a lifespan of up to 450 years. Eastern hemlock can live up to 800 years. By cutting down an old growth forest, it’s almost ridiculous to say that you’ve done the planet some good by planting a thousand new seedlings. Yet, incentives created to fight climate change often give points for new plantings while ignoring the destruction of old trees.
Biodiversity thrives in old growth forests. Many species of plants (mosses and orchids) and animals (barred owls, wood ducks, fishers and American martens) depend on old large trees for their survival. Some creatures nest in the cavities of standing trees, while others make dens beneath large trees that have fallen to the ground.
As I write this, I can hear wind gusts of up to 75 km/hr (47 mi/hr) thrashing the firs and spruce back and forth outside my window. They’re shallow rooted and susceptible to coming down in strong winds. The only white pine in the yard was planted by me almost 20 years ago and is protected in a stand. If it’s allowed to reach its life expectancy, it will likely provide a home for wildlife in 2440.
God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.
For more information about Old Growth Forests, see Nova Scotia Nature Trust’s pdf on the subject.
Details of the 1817 J.E. Woolford image of Nova Scotia woods can be found at the Nova Scotia Museum Collection.