The forest carpets about one-third of the land with trees, soils and millions of living creatures. Of this forested land, old-growth forests have declined significantly across the world.
Old-growth decline in Canada is more prevalent in eastern Canada, where more than 500 years of post-European settlement activity has taken its toll. In the past, much of Nova Scotia was covered with old-growth forests of pine, hemlock, spruce, yellow birch, oak, sugar maple and American beech.
In Nova Scotia, old growth forests account for less than one per cent of total forested lands in the province.
A number of definitions have been used to identify old-growth forests. Some describe an old-growth forest as a continuous undisturbed stage of later growth, while others use specific physical characteristics such as the prevalence of old trees, standing dead trees (snags), the variety and quantity of lichens or growth layers and/or the lack of human disturbances.
Old growth forests are important and can provide unique services compared to other forest ages. Some of the values associated with old growth listed by Nova Scotians include its: unique habitat and biodiversity, beauty and sacredness (spiritual connection).
Other values include eco-tourism, medicine, recreation, research and natural heritage bridges to past generations.
If you go to Hemlock Ravine or Point Pleasant Park you can see large old hemlock trees that are more than 300 years old. These areas do not constitute an old-growth forest as undergrowth has been removed and the area managed.
Where can you see old growth in Nova Scotia? It’s scattered in little pockets and in the hands of many individuals as over 70 per cent of land in Nova Scotia is privately owned. Public old-growth forest areas are often found in parks, wilderness areas and nature reserves.
Nearby in the Waverley-Salmon River-Long Lake Wilderness Area, the Salmon River trail has an old-growth Hemlock stand situated between Crowbar and Woody Lake. Walk through the Hemlocks and Hardwoods trail at Kejimkujik National Park where you will see old growth stands of hemlock, white pine and sugar maple.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park also has premier old-growth hardwood stands including swaths of sugar maple for viewing.
If you would like to participate in a guided hike there will be a tour of Abraham Lake Nature Reserve’s rare old growth red spruce stands titled At the Feet of Giants on August 15. Visit gov.ns.ca more information.
Rochelle Owen is director of sustainability at Dalhousie University. She has worked in the environment and sustainability field for 19 years; firstname.lastname@example.org.