Bev Wigney may be the last defence for publicly owned forests in Annapolis County.
The Round Hill woman is hoping to form a group that will walk the Crown forests before decisions are made by government to harvest the trees and leave only eco-devastation.
She’s a ‘ground-truther’ and through a Facebook group based in the Annapolis Royal area she has lots of friends who are willing to walk the woods with her.
“The term (ground-truthing) is now used in many fields, but in this instance, it means going out to see what is actually at a site, and not just accepting what you see depicted on the various maps that display information on forest types, species, height, soil types,” Wigney said. “However, it extends beyond to such things as looking for signs of wildlife activity, bird activity and nesting, the presence of plants, fungi, lichen, ferns, and so on.”
She said the idea is to look around enough that you have a good impression of what is in that place -- in this case, in a particular forest -- and that you are looking beyond just seeing a colour-coded blob on a map.
To Wigney it’s about first understanding the land and then making decisions based on what’s best for it and all the flora and fauna.
“I think we have to try to understand the landscapes around us. All forests are not the same,” she said. “They may look that way from a distance, but once you are moving through them, you realize that each is unique.”
Certain creatures -- for example, certain species of salamander, snakes, insects, birds, mammals -- can only survive in a particular type of forest with a particular range of trees, she said, adding that the richest of these forest systems tend to be mixed forests of hardwood with some conifer.
“Much of that has to do with the habitat provided by the trees -- certain trees of a good age that provide opportunity for nest cavities, or particular species of trees that have leaves eaten by the larvae of the largest moths such as the Luna, and Cecropia moths,” she said. “Certain birds such as the many Warblers eat insect larvae, particularly moth larvae, and so they nest in forests with the greatest abundance.”
Wigney has numerous other examples, but in the end she described forests as a tight web of life.
“I like to think of it as being like a complex tapestry with many threads running through it,” she said. “If we cut down the trees that support all of that life, we're left with nothing. Where
do we expect all of that life to go? For many of these organisms, it's not like they can pull up stakes and move elsewhere, so, in effect, they will cease to exist.”
For now the plan is to photograph and measure what they see and submit their observations to the ‘project’ which has been created for the Facebook group using the iNaturalist website.
“For those who don't know about iNaturalist, it is a place to submit photos and observations of flora and fauna, along with GPS coordinates,” Wigney said. “Your observations can be channelled into ‘projects’ such as the one created for our group. I set it up so that it will capture all flora and fauna observations posted within Annapolis County by any iNaturalist member (in our group or not) unless they have chosen to keep their observations private (which is rare).”
She said she can use the ‘project’ observations to help generate reports listing whatever they found in any place they wish just by drawing a polygon to isolate the data.
“Sounds complicated, but it's all pretty easy to do as the platform is very user friendly,” she said.
Wigney doesn’t know if ground-truthing will have any impact on government decision.
“That's a question that is yet to be answered,” she said. “We still don't know the outcome at Corbett-Dalhousie Lake forest (south of Bridgetown off the Morse Road) which was ground-truthed in an informal way in December 2018. What we found there has definitely had some kind of repercussion as far as the harvest prescription for that forest. Unfortunately, in that case, the forest was already approved and allocated to the licensee for harvest.”
Wigney said she and another member of the group have been studying maps.
“We're looking for ‘good prospects’ mainly in the Annapolis Royal part of the Valley,” she said. “That doesn't mean we won't go further afield, but we thought we would start within a radius of about 25 kilometres and see what we can find.”
And she’s hoping to ground-truth in forests that haven't already been allocated for harvest. “It seems like a better plan to identify those forests before someone wants to stake them out for harvest,” she said.
The Facebook group Wigney started -- Annapolis Royal & Area Environment & Ecology -- has about 280 members. While she has no idea how many follow it and read every post, there is a core of members who are pretty active.
“They post anything they find of interest - news items, or local news, information about wildlife, environmental issues, or whatever,” she said. “I'm the moderator and have tried to encourage positive participation. I post copies of my own letters to government and the media concerning environmental issues, and encourage all of our members to do so as well.”
She said it’s a forum of fairly open-minded, conscientious people who care about nature, the environment, and other humans. “And who aren't afraid to discuss issues like what's happening in the forests, plastic waste on our beaches, the effects of spraying on pollinator insects, etc.”
She hopes to find ways to take their ideas and concerns beyond that of discussion, and put them into action by organizing events such as beach clean-ups, the ground-truthing, and bio-blitzing of natural areas.
“I don't want this to be solely a group that sits around grousing about what's wrong with the world,” she said. “We need to step it up and do something more.”
APRIL 13 MEETING
The Facebook group is having its first get-together at the new Annapolis Library on Saturday, April 13 from noon to 2 p.m.
“I'm sure that ground-truthing will be among the several things we'll be discussing,” she said. “In the meantime, I have been gathering up tools that we'll need – measuring instruments, compass, a good GIS program in my iPad, and so on.”