Forester Elbert Murray has seen plenty of terrible storms in his 78 years, but nothing like post-tropical storm Fiona that left its woodlots in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, nothing but a massive, tangled mess.
“It’s gone and I lost a hundred years,” said Murray, who predicts the forest will recover over the next century. “Eventually he will return to where he was.”
Meanwhile, Murray says he won’t be able to work his Hodson woodlot this fall and winter because the damage is too bad. So far he has only been able to look at the perimeter of his woodlots, but expects the damage to be just as severe, if not worse, deeper.
And the only way to get further into the woods is to fight his way through the damaged trees, but he has no workers to help him with a job that could take years.
Murray says there are thousands and thousands of fallen trees that will be left to rot.
“He’s in bad shape, really bad,” he said. “The trees will rot in a year or two and then they’re gone.”
To make matters worse, Murray lost two large barns on his property – like many other farmers in Pictou County – when strong Fiona winds blew in from the nearby Northumberland Strait, leveling buildings.
One of the barns contained all the heavy equipment he uses in the woodlot. Many of the barn’s timbers and sleepers were machined from its own trees. Now they were lying on the ground under twisted metal.
At Big Oak Farm in River John, the roof of the barn housing Enid Schaller’s cattle, sheep and hay blew off, leaving the animals trapped inside the lower level by fallen timber.
“We went running and we were so happy to see them all alive,” Schaller said. “The only injury was that one of our sheep was lame.”
Schaller says the barn’s steel roof was extended over the farm property.
He will leave 800 square bales of hay from this summer’s harvest inside what remains of the barn, although they are now exposed and wet. The bales will act as a buffer to keep rain and snow from reaching the animals on the lower level until the barn can be replaced, he says. But that also means he will have to buy more hay to feed himself.
“We never thought that in a million years we would lose this barn,” Schaller said. “It had stood for 200 years through every storm and hurricane and never moved an inch, but this one took it down.”
So when one of Schaller’s cows gave birth to a calf this week, they named it Fiona.
Dozens of farms in the region have suffered extensive damage and many are still without electricity.
“What I have right now is a sense of dread, of what’s going to happen this winter,” Schaller said. “I feel so much pain for the older farmers here looking at their wreckage and trying to figure out what they’re going to do.”