Caring for the Acadian Forest

So, you’ve hopefully found some useful advice on this site and now you’re the owner of a lovely piece of Nova Scotia land. If you’re fortunate or lucky enough, you’ve got acres and acres of it, with running streams, wildlife, and trees, trees, trees! If so, welcome to being a woodlot owner. You’re now accountable for an ecosystem, and a complex forest network that is vital to our lives. No pressure!

Personally, I’m a fairly new woodlot owner, and very new to forest management practices. But I’ve been soaking it up, and learning from some smart people, so I’ll share some things I’ve learned as well as some useful resources for Nova Scotia woodlot owners. I’ll share my experience getting a forest management plan created by a Nova Scotia forester, and I’ll talk about the income one can expect from sustainable timber harvesting.

But first, the obligatory shameful look at our cultural history! It’s a sad comment on our society that across Canada forests were once considered nothing but valuable timber commodities, and gruesome logging practices eradicated old-growth forests from coast to coast. In Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunswick, the predominant forest type is the Acadian forest – a diverse mix of over 30 native tree species. Today, less than 1% of original old-growth Acadian forest remains, making it one of the rarest forest types in North America. 

The Acadian Forest: Resources for Woodlot Owners

If you’d like to learn more about the various trees of the Acadian Forest, I’ll point you to a fantastic resource that I’ve come across. It’s called “Trees of the Acadian Forest” and it’s a linked PDF that allows you to look up and classify trees based on their characteristics. Whoever took the time to build this is badass – my hat’s off to you. I’ve used it more than once to identify a tree I was unfamiliar with, and it’s quite useful. You can download the file to your phone and use it in areas with no cell coverage.

Another useful resource, if you want to understand the general forest characteristics of an area in Nova Scotia, visit the Provincial Landscape Viewer. Click on the region you want to learn more about, and you’ll see an ecozone label. In my case “210 Cape Breton Highlands”. A quick Google search on that phrase turns up the detailed overview of that region.

An Important Topic for Woodlot Owners: Silviculture

If you’re considering how to manage a woodlot with some care for wildlife and the health of the forest ecosystem, you’re dabbling in silviculture. The US Forest Service defines silviculture as “the art and science of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests and woodlands to meet the diverse needs and values of landowners and society such as wildlife habitat, timber, water resources, restoration, and recreation on a sustainable basis.” So, rather than thinking “how much is all this timber worth?” you’re considering a sustainable approach to tending a tree stand, harvesting, and regeneration.

If you’re thinking that all sounds a bit flaky, consider this: there are government support programs with funding available for silviculture treatments. Ah, NOW you’re interested…

Canada Forest Regions

Getting Started with Woodlot Management

A good first step, and a fairly easy one, is simply taking the time to walk your forest and know it well. It’s amazing what you’ll see when you stop and look. A meadow with a lot of new saplings might be new growth replacing an area ravaged by fire years ago, giving new species an opportunity to change the forest composition. You’ll see mature trees dominate light in some areas, leaving room only for their seeds to grow. You’ll notice how one stand of trees changes abruptly to another, and with some practice you can likely spot the landscape factors causing the transition such as shade or soil composition.  

That’s all good, but when you’re ready to get into harvesting practices and regeneration, you may want to call in a professional. I own a 100-acre lot in Cape Breton that is primarily forest, so my approach has been to work with a forester to create a forest management plan for that property, and learn as much as I can so that I can apply some of the practices to smaller parcels of land that I own. 

Joining a Woodlot Owners Association

As a woodlot owner, it can really help if you can leverage the expertise of others to manage your forest. That’s where a Woodlot Association can help. For my property in Cape Breton, I joined the Cape Breton Privateland Partnership (CBPP). For a small annual fee, this association will prepare detailed maps on your woodlot showing species, age, wildlife considerations, and much more. The maps are free, and as a next step you can obtain a forest management plan prepared by a forester for a highly discounted rate. I’ll dive into that later. 

If you’re looking for an association, or just some valuable information to help you manage your woodlot, see the section on resources for woodlot owners in Nova Scotia below.

Getting a Woodlot Assessment Report

Through my woodlot owners association, I can receive woodlot maps and reports, for free! Now, they tend to only offer this service for lots of 10 acres or more. I truly value these reports – for one thing, it will give you extremely high-quality satellite imagery of your property (from GIS mapping tools) with the property boundaries clearly shown. Furthermore, the files are delivered as geo-linked PDF files. Without getting too tech-y, the benefit of this is you can load these files into a free map reading application like Avenza maps, and when you walk the lot you will know your precise location, even when cellular service isn’t available. This has been a game-changer for a guy who has often found himself wandering large lots not entirely sure if I’ve stumbled into the neighbouring lot of a drunken hunter.

But back to forestry. The woodlot assessment report contains some great information, gathered from forestry databases (not the first-hand observation of a forester – that is covered in a section below). You’ll find tables like this… showing the composition of your forest by age and area.

Basic stand information lets you know the specific species observed on your woodlot.

There is a section for sensitive areas (e.g. water supply zones) and wildlife habitat.

Based on Acadian Forest characteristics, you can explore the most dominant natural disturbance for an area, such as wind, fire, or insects.

The maps really are the best part of the report though. Here’s an example of a map showing forest cover type:

And here’s the same view using satellite imagery:

Creating a Woodlot Management Plan

Once you’ve received a woodlot assessment report, you may want to take the next step, which is engaging a forester to create a forest management plan. Through my woodlot association, I received a discounted price of $500 for creating a plan ($1,200 for non-members). With this service, a forester will walk the lot and provide more detailed documentation on your woodlot, as well as recommendations for sustainable harvesting in the years to come. As you can see from the image above, I own a long and incredibly steep 100-acre lot. Just walking it end-to-end is a workout. I can verify that the forester I hired trudged through the whole thing – he knew all areas of the land very well, with specific details.

The Forest Management Plan included over 45 pages of details on my woodlot – way too much to summarize here. For a sense of what’s included, here is the table of contents:

Let’s get to what I learned from the report. The most valuable section for me was the recommendations. In most cases, the answer is ‘leave it alone and let it grow’. In some zones, there were recommendations for a clear cut, a partial cut, or crop tree harvesting. I have opted to hold off until around 2026 so I can have work done on multiple forest sections at the same time. What’s that worth? It’s in the thousands, but not the 10s of thousands. 

The report also contained some useful information on soil types, threats to the tree species on my lot, and the annual allowable cut (the maximum amount of wood that can be cut off my woodlot in a year). 

The forester walked me through the report in detail, and answered every single question I had. He also informed me about silviculture grants that may be applicable for reforesting after any harvesting is done. All in all, well worth the money spent.

Working with a Forester for Harvesting

As mentioned, I haven’t yet harvested a single tree from my lots, so I’m no expert. But I do have a handy fact sheet from NSWOOA about hiring a contractor. Here are the things they recommend including in a contract:

  • Term: how long the contract is valid for
  • Estimated start date and end-date of operations
  • Property identification: The PIDs for the land
  • Method of Payment: Who is paying whom? This section should also include any estimates or quotes and commitment to meeting budget. If you are receiving payment for your forest products, it should be clear whether it’s lump-sum or a fixed rate based on mill scale. 
  • Proof of liability insurance: including Worker’s Compensation and liability insurance
  • Compliance with regulations: The contractor should agree in writing to comply with applicable laws
  • Signatures: including witnesses
  • Maps: Showing a clearly defined area of operations as well as loading spots, proposed roads, etc.
  • Prescription: It should be very clear what activity is occurring in each forest area, such as clear-cut, selection management, or tree planting.
  • Extent of responsibility: The contract should specify all areas of accountability for the contractor, including harvest, hauling, selling, or post-treatment assessments.
  • Safety Plans: should address any special considerations in treatment areas such as a steep slope, or fire prevention.
  • Post-harvest assessments: After harvest, the site should be inspected to ensure best practices have been followed, and a 2-year inspection post-harvest is also recommended to determine how the forest is responding.

Carbon Offset Programs for Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners

There has been a lot of promise, pilot programs, and scandal surrounding carbon credits. The premise is, woodlot owners opt to let trees grow instead of clear-cutting. This prevents the release of carbon into the environment and helps with global warming as forests are very effective at sequestering carbon. In return, woodlot owners receive carbon credits which have a free-market price (like a stock) that can then be sold.

I follow news in this area closely, and have yet to see a viable option/program for woodlot owners in Nova Scotia. However, this space is changing rapidly so time may change things. If you know of a carbon-credit-based program that Nova Scotia woodlot owners can apply for, please let me know!

Resources for Woodlot Owners in Nova Scotia

Family Forest Network: 11 organizations have networked to provide support to woodland owners. You can find some valuable resources on this site.

Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association (NSWOOA): This association offers resources and a mentorship program for woodlot owners in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables: Offers a free home-study program to learn the basics of woodlot management. Find events and conferences for woodlot owners in Nova Scotia

A Final Thought for Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners

One of the most beautiful elements of Nova Scotia are the boundless trees that we see everywhere. It’s easy to take these gentle giants for granted. And of course, people need money to pay bills, and for many, fuel to heat their homes. I’m not advocating a total hands-off approach to forestry – in fact, forests can become healthier through human involvement. It’s simply a matter of taking an informed approach, giving thought to the health of the forest, and what we’ll leave behind for the generations that follow.

Hurricane Fiona swept through Nova Scotia recently and caused significant damage to properties in Nova Scotia, particularly the Cape Breton area. If you are a landowner in Nova Scotia, there may be government financial assistance available to you. For a rundown of the various support available, visit

Homeowners have several support options available, but those with raw land may be eligible for financial assistance as well.  There is a forthcoming program to support private woodlot owners that have been impacted by forest damaging arising from Hurricane Fiona. As with the other programs, details will be made available here

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on both the buying and selling side for Nova Scotia land sale transactions. I’ve asked 100 questions, and fielded as many from potential buyers. Asking questions is always a good thing, but this post is designed to help you ask smart questions that help you refine your judgement toward a purchase decision versus… questions that don’t. Those that fall in the latter category are typically ones you could easily answer yourself with information at hand. These, what I’ll call “bad questions”, not only waste valuable interaction time, they typically signal a lack of serious buying intent. There’s plenty of tire-kickers out there, but you can be sure that sellers will be less responsive when they sense this is the case. Instead, focus your and the buyer’s energy on questions that really help illuminate the value of the property in question. Use the various tools highlighted in our Guide to Buying Land in Nova Scotia to fill in the gaps, both before and after you engage with the buyer. 

Like our Buyer’s Guide, this guidance is intended primarily for someone at-a-distance (e.g. out-of-province) who may not be able to visit the property with a short drive. It’s also intended for buyers engaging directly with sellers; for those with a realtor, many of these questions will be useful ones for them to answer.

Good Questions to ask when buying land…


What’s the PID?

The PID should always be listed alongside a description of a property for sale. But sometimes it isn’t. This is the most single useful piece of information, particularly for looking the property up on a map. If a seller is hesitant about providing the PID, something’s not right. If they have a long story about how it’s multiple PIDs, or if the PID doesn’t match what they’re selling, be cautious.

Here’s a few examples. A seller once gave me a PID for a 50-acre property, but their listing was only 20 acres. I asked about this and was told that the buyer was in the process of severing the lot into multiple parcels (with multiple PIDs). Now, severing land is a process that involves municipal approvals subject to Nova Scotia zoning bylaws and not inconsequential costs, including property migration. A responsible seller would have this completed and closed out before listing a property for sale. Another seller sent me a picture of a gorgeous oceanfront lot with a well-groomed road through it. Once I got the PID, I realized he was selling the adjacent lot, with no road. Factoring in the cost of adding a new laneway changed my buying decision completely.  


What’s the Assessment #?

Most people will ask “how much are taxes?” It’s a good question, but you’ll get much better information by asking for the assessment number (or AANN). You can use this number to lookup the property on where you’ll see a map, detail on any structures on the property, and assessment values for the last several years. 

This may seem like overkill when all you really want to know is what the annual tax bill will be, but there’s useful information here that can be overlooked. For example, a big drop in assessment value, say from $140,000 to $20,000, suggests to me that a residence or commercial building once existed on the property. Was it condemned, did it burn down, is it still standing? Doing a bit of digging once you have the assessment number can provide you with some great follow-up questions.


What’s the zoning?

You’ll rarely find any zoning information in online listings, but it can be quite important depending on your future plans. When you know the specific zoning of the property based on the local Muncipality’s land use bylaw, you can then go directly to the bylaw yourself and read the fine print. Most of these documents are readily available online and easy to access – though not fun to read!


How far is the nearest pole?

We’re talking about hydro lines here, but Nova Scotian’s use the term “power” rather than “hydro”. If you want electricity, it’s an important question to ask. Now, it’s not a matter of “yes” or “no” here – it’s simply a function of cost. Power is theoretically available to even the most remote areas, if someone is willing to pay to have a series of new poles installed to run the wires. 

According to NS Power, “Under normal circumstances, we supply — free of charge — up to 92 meters of pole and service line installation from an approved attachment point.” Beyond that distance I’ve been told anecdotally that you’re paying about $1,000 per pole. 


Tell me more about the road

There’s a few important things to assess here. 

  1. Is the road serviced year-round? Some “cottage country” areas don’t have snow-plow service in winter.
  2. Is it paved, gravel, etc. A rutted road can reduce the appeal and accessibility of your property and even cause damage to your vehicle. Flooding may also be an issue – a significant one when you find you can’t safely drive through the pooled water on the road.


What is the terrain like?

Viewing the property (by PID – see #1 above) should be your first step. Then, using a tool like Google Maps, you should look at the different layers of information, particularly the topographic view. This will show swampy areas, elevation, streams, etc. 

So once you’ve completed those steps, your questions here are around specifics. Ask about marshy areas, flooding, erosion, etc. based on your observations.


(for wooded areas) Has it been logged recently?

If timber value is important to you – or you just want a mature forest to call your own – ask specific questions about logging activity on the lot. 

Some lots will have a forest management plan available that’s been professionally prepared – a valuable document to review when one exists. There has been a big push for sustainable forestry practices in Nova Scotia. You can learn (a lot) more through the Woodlot Owners Association of Nova Scotia, and the resources they have on their site might prompt additional questions for you to ask. 


Where’s the nearest… ?

Nova Scotia can be quite remote, so here’s your opportunity to ask about proximity to the things that matter to you. 


Does the title have… ?

You want to ask about material items on the title that might affect your purchasing decision. Some examples include any rights of way or easements. This information is included in a typical title search by a lawyer, but it’s best to get the most relevant facts up-front rather than later in the buying process. 

It’s common for some form of easement to exist – don’t let it scare you off too easily. Just be sure you understand what it entails. 


What are the financing terms?

If you are considering seller financing, be up-front in asking about the downpayment, the repayment period, monthly payment amounts, interest rate, late-fee penalty, etc. Walk through each step in terms of obtaining and signing-off on a buyer agreement, from the initial down-payment to the final transfer of the deed.

You’ll also want to clearly understand any provisions about use of the land during the financing period – e.g. can you build on it with or without the owner’s permission? – in order to ensure that the terms suit your plans for the lot. 


Can I visit it on my own?

Most land sellers will be perfectly happy with you wandering in and taking a look on your own, but make sure first. Better yet, get it in writing so that you have written permission. Reason being, if you were to say.. fall down an abandoned well and injure yourself (please don’t!), a negligent seller might claim you were trespassing in the first place if it’s not in writing.


Are there natural water sources?

This one may not matter to most people, but a fresh spring is an asset that has material value, and is not often included in a property description. For off-grid enthusiasts this has the added appeal of microhydropower opportunities. 

With these questions, you can drill in on the most relevant information about the property you’re considering. You’ll show up as a knowledgeable prospect that should be answered promptly and taken seriously. My work is done here! Oh wait, that’s right I promised to include…

Bad questions to ask when buying land


What’s the street address?

Before you ever ask this question, go back to #1 above – get the PID! Land parcels don’t have numbered street addresses like residential homes. PID is the best way to view them in a mapping application like Viewpoint or ReMaxNova. Some prospects will go to their default mapping application (Apple Maps or Google Maps) – these are much better used as a secondary source of information. For example, if I’m viewing a property in Viewpoint and see houses nearby, I might grab the street address of one and enter it into Google Maps so I can see the quality of nearby homes and take a Street View stroll as close as I can get to the land for sale. But it all starts with a PID!


Can I build on it?

There’s legitimacy to the question of course, but … build what? An off-grid cabin? A casino? A coal mine? You’re much better off with the approach in #2 above – determine the zoning of the lot in question and then look up the permitted uses yourself. If you’re looking for a shortcut, that’s ok, just be specific. If your plan is to build a 4-season home, ask whether the zone allows for building a detached, single-family home.


Is it on the water?

I’ve listed many things above that may or may not appear in an online land for sale listing, but there’s one thing I can assure you of: if it’s on the water, it will be mentioned in the listing. No one says “oh that’s right I forgot – it’s got 300 metres of white sand oceanfront.” Furthermore, back to #1, if you have the PID you can look it up and see for yourself.


Is the price negotiable?

I love Canada, and Canadians, but sometimes we’re too polite! My view on it is, like residential real estate, everything is negotiable unless the listing specifically states the price is firm. So skip this formal parley and get to the good stuff – when you’re ready, make an offer. The worst that can happen is they say it’s too low. 


Is the obvious, obvious?

Not everyone catches every detail from a listing, but try to avoid making the owner answer questions that are clearly specified in the listing itself. Again, we’re all pressed for time and sometimes you’re pursuing multiple properties so the details get confusing, but I’m talking about egregious inquiries here. I listed a property with a title like this: “6 Acres Lakefront Lake Ainslie – $99,000” and one person came back asking:

  • Is it waterfront?
  • How big is it?
  • How much?

I’ll stop here – hopefully the obvious is obvious 🙂

That covers both the good and the bad questions. Happy hunting! If you should need any help along the way, contact us and we’ll be happy to provide free (and hopefully useful) advice, or explore our comprehensive Buyer’s Guide: How to Buy Land in Nova Scotia. No bad questions, we promise! While you’re at it, check out our current listings of land for sale in Nova Scotia. There are new gems being added all the time.