One year ago, during a crowded public meeting to discuss the community’s nomination of Shepody Mountain as a Protected Natural Area (PNA) under the province’s new initiative to increase conservation areas to 10%, Albert MLA and Minister of Natural Resources and Energy Development, Mike Holland, surprised the audience when he announced the full 700 ha (1730 acres) of Crown land nominated would be protected.
At the time, he also advised that before the land could be designated as a PNA, JD Irving would be allowed to continue a previously approved select timber harvest of approximately 20 hectares (50 acres), which was a reduction from their original plan to cut 90 hectares (222 acres), 60 ha of which was to be clearcut.*
While the future protected status was good news, during the meeting, many questioned the precedent of allowing cuts before conserving as the stated purpose of a PNA is to “allow nature to exist with minimal human interference” and forests “to grow old and maintain primeval characteristics such as standing dead trees, or large decaying trunks on the forest floor.” Additionally, community members expressed concerns about road upgrades and the visual impacts of a timber operation that might change the view of the mountain.
Shepody Mountain was the first site nominated in the new initiative—and the only one publicly announced in 2020. As the spring and summer progressed, citizens and groups continued to nominate other special and unique sites throughout the province for conservation status.
In November, the province launched its new Legacy website, which formalized the process and invited public comment on the first batch of previously nominated locations, which were now called Candidate Conservation Areas.
Shepody Mountain—with its mature stands of red spruce, a rare Eastern Waterfan lichen and landmark location in a tourism region—was one of four featured sites.
“Areas selected for conservation will have a specific biodiversity focus, such as: old forests, areas of high biodiversity, and unique ecosystem types. We are also interested in areas which may better adapt to or protect from climate change, sites with cultural significance, and areas that connect people with nature.” Province of New Brunswick, Legacy Website
However, only 512ha (1265 acres) of the 700ha nominated appeared on the website as a Candidate Conservation Area. When questioned on the discrepancy, the Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development advised the first batch of sites were chosen for their intactness and density of old forest stands. As we have only identified 82,000 ha of Candidates on our website, we still have over 300,000 ha of Candidate Conserved Areas to identify and post for comment.”
Since then, a small group of community members—representing landowner, recreation, tourism and conservation concerns—were invited to participate in two site visits with JD Irving staff to determine when/where the harvest would take place, to identify areas of concern, and to work towards compromise.
During the second visit, the group took a more in-depth look at the area, walking the perimeter and noting existing trails, roads, special sites, and discussing the visual impacts and changes the cut would make to the forest.
Through these visits, we learned the harvest areas are situated along a two-kilometre stretch on both sides of the main access hiking trail leading to the summit. One area contains mature red spruce, the second a mature hardwood mix of yellow birch and sugar maple. For those familiar with the trail, the cut areas will end at the second brook crossing.
A forest contractor, using a small machine called a single boom harvester, will clear vertical rows up the slope of the mountain and remove 30-40% of the trees in the selected areas. The ‘slash’ (limbs and debris removed from the logs) will remain in place. The work will take place after the ground is frozen to reduce surface damage and eliminate the need to upgrade the main access trail. The company will install a temporary bridge across a brook, and remove it once the work is done.
The conversations and site visits resulted in JD Irving making further alterations; most notably, preserving the look and feel of the main trail by keeping a buffer of trees between the trail and the cut rows, avoiding biking trails, and ensuring existing roads/trails remain clear and usable. A number of areas were eliminated due to steep slopes, historic site buffers, and 50m buffers along waterways. As well, the disturbed areas should not be visible from the highway.
As a result, the original harvest plan for Shepody Mountain has been further reduced to 17 hectares. (Update 5 Feb 2021: the actual harvest was 14.4 ha).
While maintaining the current ecological integrity of Shepody Mountain was certainly the outcome desired by the community—and clearly the purpose of establishing PNAs is to do so—the compromise reached minimizes visual impact, is considerate of the recreational users, and reduces disturbance to sensitive features of the site.
Visit the Legacy Website to leave your comments on current Candidate Conservation Areas, or to learn how to nominate a new site.
The work will take place as soon as weather permits. An excavator will install a temporary bridge as soon as possible, then harvest work will begin once the ground is sufficiently frozen.
Once the harvest is complete, this initial 512ha of Shepody Mountain Crown land can proceed with formal designation, which we anticipate will take place before summer. A second batch of candidate sites will be released this spring and hopefully will contain the remainder of the area originally nominated.
*The proposed original cut was understood to be 37 hectares (92 acres), but was updated with new figures as per GNB correspondence, 15 Jan 2021).