Dozens of frustrated Nova Scotians rallied outside the provincial legislature on Tuesday, blocking access to the government building as they urged lawmakers to place a moratorium on clearcutting Crown land.
Three protesters halted traffic on Hollis Street, standing in the middle of the road with a sign reading, “Sustainable forestry jobs now,” until they were removed by Halifax Regional Police. No arrests were made.
“We need bold action now,” said protest leader Jacob Fillmore, who has been outside Province House on a hunger strike for the cause since March 8.
“We are in the midst of an environmental crisis.”
“The provincial government itself has said as much, I am demanding they act in a way that reflects what they have said.”
The demonstration is one of several in recent months spurred by clear-cut logging in the habitat of Nova Scotia’s endangered mainland moose.
Last November, four protesters were removed from a sit-in at the Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry Department while calling for a meeting regarding moose protection. The following month, nine were arrested in Digby County for blocking forestry access roads.
An injunction was later granted by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge against the protesters to allow WestFor contractors to bring in their equipment.
For 12 weeks, Fillmore has camped outside Halifax’s city hall and most recently, the legislature, to urge politicians to pause clearcutting on “even-aged harvests” until key recommendations of the Lahey report on forestry management are implemented.
Fillmore said he hasn’t eaten in nine days and is “feeling the mental and physical effects of that,” including slower movement, fatigue and forgetfulness. He will strike until hospitalization, he added, but remains in “good spirits” and “hopeful” that some change will come of his action.
“Apparently the premier cares no more about starving humans than he does for saving starving moose,” he told the crowd of demonstrators. “This slow action with no immediate protection seems to be a trend with our current premier.”
Iain Rankin, who campaigned on an environmentally-focused platform, has identified the climate crisis as one of his top priorities in government and committed to implementing the recommendations of the Lahey report by the end of 2021.
Responding to Fillmore’s allegations on Tuesday, he said new and amended legislation tabled by his government addresses logging and public lands, and recognizes the value society places on forests.
“The Crown Lands Act actually speaks to the need to look at private lands more and more for supply of wood for our saw mills across the province. Our government supports the industry but we also want to see healthier forests for the long run, I think that’s in everyone’s interests,” he told Global News at a COVID-19 briefing.
Rankin added, “you will see progress on this file soon,” and thanked Fillmore for his advocacy.
Last week, Lands and Forestry Minister Chuck Porter also tabled a new Biodiversity Act, which gives the province more tools to manage threats such as invasive species and ecosystem loss, incentivizes business owners and landowners to become shared biodiversity stewards, and clarifies the province’s powers and authorities in biodiversity management.
That bill, however, would not come into effect until October.
Neither Porter nor Rankin would agree to meet with Fillmore to discuss his concerns. At a bill briefing on March 11, Porter said he has greeted Fillmore on the way into Province House but has no plans “at this time” for any more substantive engagement.
“There are other acts in place that talk about endangered species, so they all have to be followed when things like cutting and harvests are going on,” he explained. “We expect those are being done.”
Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman, a Mi’kmaw water protector and grassroots grandmother, said she appreciates the action taken by non-Indigenous demonstrators to “defend what is going to waste by the government.”
“I believe that the moose deserves to live, that we need to be able to create an ecosystem as a whole in order to survive our lands of Mi’kma’ki. It’s not about destroying the almighty dollar — it’s about how do we learn to incorporate in Canada, our traditions and knowledge of wanting to conserve our lands.”
Protest organizers said to date roughly 38,000 people have signed a petition asking for a halt in clearcutting in the part of Digby County blockaded last year, and about 10,000 postcards have been sent to Lands and Forestry with similar demands.
–With files from The Canadian Press