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A Gift of Forest – Sunday column, December 19, 2010

Posted on Dec 20, 2010

What I want for Christmas is a forest.

I don’t want just any forest. I want a 313-acre tract of woodland near Scotsburn, Pictou County. Until this month it belonged to Wagner Forest Nova Scotia Ltd, an American forest products corporation. It now belongs to the Friends of Redtail Society, a locally-based conservation group formed specifically to acquire it. I want my share.

The story begins in September 2006, when local residents saw survey stakes marking the site of a new logging road into yet another clearcut. Horrified, they organized, and tried to start a dialogue with Wagner. When that failed, Billy MacDonald, the founder of the nearby Redtail Nature Awareness Centre, pitched a tent on the roadside and began a vigil. Other residents called the media and posted signs calling for preservation and more responsible land use. The company then came to the table, agreeing to sell the land if the parties could agree on price.

Thus began a two-year negotiation, while the residents organized themselves as the Friends of Redtail Society, a registered non-profit society. Essentially, the company wanted compensation from the Society for the value of the marketable wood on the property. In July, 2008, the parties struck a deal. The Friends of Redtail agreed to buy the land for $250,000, and to complete the deal by December, 2010.

It’s no small matter for a commuity group to raise a quarter of a million dollars. To do it, the Society mobilized a virtual army of supporters both locally and across the country, including such prominent figures as Elizabeth May, Doris Mason, Farley Mowat and David Orton. They created an eloquent web site for the project, www.friendsofredtail.ca They developed an innovative plan to use the forest responsibly. They recruited renowned forest scientist and advocate Diana Beresford-Kroeger, who visited the site and wrote a report on this “extremely important” patch of forest, its biodiversity and its contribution to the health of the whole province.

The Friends and their supporters held fund-raising concerts, picnics in the forest, auctions and other events. They sold products at flea markets and farmers’ markets. The students of the Shambala School in Halifax held a coffee house and raised $1500.

Last summer, four students from the University of Victoria climbed on a four-seater bicycle in Victoria and pedalled it to Halifax. One of them was Ben Miller, 24, who had attended summer camps at Redtail for six years as a teenager. They were raising money for four charities, one chosen by each rider. Ben Miller set out to raise $5000 for Redtail. He ended up with more than $7000.

By the fall of 2010, Friends of Redtail had raised over $200,000, and an anonymous sympathizer had agreed to lend them enough money to cover the $46,000 shortfall. On December 9, they bought the land.

As it happens, I spent most of November clearing out a house I’d lived in for more than a quarter of a century. Most of its contents were already gone, but what remained was a bunch of miscellaneous stuff, much of it junk, along with several filing cabinets full of papers and a library of about 5000 books. I sifted through all the books. Some went to the Cape Breton University library, some to the Beaton Institute of Cape Breton Studies, some to a future yard sale. I only kept a few. And I took an amazing array of useless stuff to, um, the waste management station.

When the job was done, I felt a certain sadness – I’d cherished some of those books for more than 50 years – but I also felt a surprising lightness. I loved that library, yes, but all those books and that other stuff had weighed me down and anchored me to the past. Jailbreak!

So do I want more stuff for Christmas? God save us, no!

In my lifetime, human beings have pillaged this planet, and I’ve certainly taken my share. It’s time to put something back. Every Christmas, Marjorie and I contribute, however modestly, to some worthwhile cause. This year it’s Friends of Redtail – a gift not to this generation, but to the future. Some trees. A clear stream. A mossy forest floor. You folks off there in the 22nd, 23rd and 24th centuries? Merry Christmas!

– 30 –

Silver Donald Cameron is host of TheGreenInterview.com, where his in-depth interview with Diana Beresford-Kroeger will be posted in early 2011.

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