9 Questions With: Chris Miller of CPAWS

The Place: Wilderness of Nova Scotia

The Treasure: Chris Miller


It’s time for another 9 Questions!

This time around we have Chris Miller, national conservation biologist for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS , CPAWS Nova Scotia).

A bit of background with information provided by Chris: He grew up in Halifax where his parents taught him a love of the outdoors.

He went on to study and get a Ph.D in ecology from the Univerity of Waterloo and a B.Sc. In biology and earth sciences from Dalhousie University.

Before working at CPAWS Chris did a lot of volunteer advocacy. He is also on the Global Forest Watch Canada board, FSC Canada and a long time advisor for NS Nature Trust.

And now…


9 Questions with: Chris Miller


Chris Miller - National Conservation Biologist with CPAWS
Photo Credit: Andrew Chow



1 – NST: Nova Scotia has a wide variety of physical features. Sandy beaches, rock beaches, highland mountains, farmlands, old forests, so on. Do you have a special affinity for one?


CM: One of the thing that is so great about Nova Scotia is the wide diversity of natural areas we have here; from the deep inland forests of southwestern Nova Scotia, to the rugged shoreline along the Eastern Shore, to the shear beauty of the Cape Breton Highlands. There is much to choose from. I can’t say I have a special affinity for one…I enjoy, and appreciate, them all.


2 – NST: You mentioned your parents teaching you to love the outdoors from an early age. What did they do and how could parents do that today?


CM: My parents taught me from a very young age to appreciate nature and enjoy spending time outdoors.  They would take me on hikes, or to the lake to swim in summer, or skate in the winter.  It always felt like an adventure to me, to go into the woods and play. It taught me that the world is this amazing, spectacular, awesome place…if you take the time to notice the things around you.


My advice: Take time to unplug and spend time in nature.  Learn to appreciate it and make it part of your normal routine.


3 – NST: CPAWS recently put out a report on Canada’s parks and it wasn’t good news, Nova Scotia did better than most – what can we as citizens do to get the message across to the various governments that this isn’t acceptable?


CM: Speak up. That’s the most important thing. Most people really do care about the natural world, even those who you may not expect.  But, people are often disconnected from it, or are so busy with their day-to-day lives (work, school, whatever) that it’s easy not to pay attention.  So, if you do slow down a bit, and realize that there’s not as much forest as there used to be, there’s less fish in the sea, the songbirds are in trouble, and the planet is warming up, please take a moment to do something about it. Don’t just let things happen.  Call your local politician and mention that you are concerned and want something done; talk to your friends and family about it; connect with people online.  Basically, stand up and be counted. The world is a precious place and it’s everyone’s responsibility to look after it.


4 – NST: The Birch Cove Lakes area park has been a long time in the making and there’s been some terrific progress in the past year. It’s a project you’ve worked very hard on, how rewarding is it to see it taking shape the way it has?


CM: The Birch Cove Lakes is a very special place for me.  I’ve spent a great deal of time there, at different stages in my life.  When I was a kid growing up, my parents used to take me there to spend time outdoors and when I got a bit older, I used to go camping there with my friends and just hung out and have fun.  Then when I was in university and started to develop my passion for the biological sciences, I would spend time there with a more critical or discerning eye, trying to understand what was going on, which species were associated with others, how did the ecosystems work, that sort of thing.  And then when I started my career in the field of conservation biology, and budding environmental activist, it was the place that I was fighting to protect. I’m very pleased with the progress that has been made protecting this important area and it has been really great having so many people rally to the cause of conserving this amazing place.  There is still much more work to do of course.  I look forward to the Birch Cove Lakes continuing to play a role in my life in the future, including stages yet to come. I hope that this wilderness will always be there, so that others can have the same sort of connection there that I do.


5 – NST:  NS is on track to protect about 14% of the provinces wilderness area putting us among the highest in the country. Where would you like to see the province go from here in terms of protection and conservation?


CM: Yes, Nova Scotia has certainly made good progress establishing new protected areas over the past few years, rising from the middle-of-the-pack to second in Canada for the total percentage of land protected.  What also should be pointed out is that most of the sites that are being protected in the past few years are high-quality sites. They are not the easy sites to protect.  In many cases they are the last best examples of big wilderness, or remote coastline, or entire watersheds remaining in the province.  Nova Scotia is to be commended for the progress it has made over the past few years and it’s interesting that other jurisdictions in Canada are starting to pay attention to find out what’s going on here.  I receive inquiries from all over the place about what is happening down here.  I like that.  It means we are just quietly getting stuff done, and doing it in our own way.


What concerns me though is what is happening on the lands between the protected areas.  There is far too much clearcutting occurring in this province and I worry that collectively we are pushing the natural environment too far.  Also, 14% is not enough for protection, and is even below the international target of 17%, which Canada has adopted.  More can be done, and Nova Scotia is in an enviable position of being able to show the way for reaching more ambitious protected area targets, rather than being a laggard that’s constantly having to catch up.  We should seize the moment and take the lead.


6 – NST:  We like to ask about favourite food and where to get it, but going to change it up a little: Favourite wild edible in NS? Where to get it is optional if you want to protect your source. 😉


CM: Wild blueberries.  And, I’ve noticed that the tastiest ones are always the most remote, hardest to get to, and atop the highest hill.


7 -NST:  Most memorable encounter with a woodland creature in NS?


CM: I’ve been very fortunate to spend a considerable amount of time in Nova Scotia’s wilderness, from one end of the province to the other.  And I’ve seen quite a bit of wildlife from bears to moose to wildcats.  So much of what we care about is often the result of something important that happened when we were young.  And if I were to pick one encounter with a woodland creature it would probably be from one of those times early on in my life.  For the first 10 years of school for me, I used to walk through the woods twice each day, to and from school. It was amazing being able to do that, to see the woods in the different seasons, to watch the flowers bloom in the spring and the leaves change colour in the fall…little changes every day.  On one particular day in the winter, when I was probably about fourteen or fifteen years old or so, I was walking to school in the snow.  It was a beautiful snowy day, with large snowflakes and no wind.  As I was walking down the narrow trail though the forest, which we called “The Buggy”, a snowy owl flew right over top of my head from behind (I had no idea it was coming and it was only a few feet overhead when it flew past me).  It landed on a low branch of a tree just in front and stayed perched there looking at me.  I was stunned and amazed and I just watched this beautiful creature for what seemed like an hour.  I had never seen a snowy owl before, but I knew very well what I was looking at, and I knew it was a real treat to see one so close.  I was late for school that day, but I didn’t mind.


I would like to add a footnote to a slightly modified question.  “Most memorable encounter with a woodland creature THAT USED TO LIVE in Nova Scotia”.  Woodland caribou.  Man, do I ever wish Nova Scotia still had caribou and I would have loved to have seen one across a lake or through a clearing in the woods.  It must have been quite the sight to behold back in the day.  Take a look at a map of Nova Scotia and you will see all sorts of place names for caribou (caribou lake, caribou bog, caribou hill).  Unfortunately, those place names are all that’s left now and the woodland caribou is just one of many species we have eliminated from this part of the world.


8 – NST:  I think some times when people hear “Protected” and “conservation” site they think it’s off limits. What are some activities people can go and enjoy in these areas?


CM: Protected areas are places where nature is, for the most part, left alone from industrial activities.  In Nova Scotia, the sorts of activities that are not allowed in most protected areas tend to be things like clearcutting, open-pit mining, road building, or development.  But there is a very long list of activities that are allowed in most protected areas, such as hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, education, research, skiing, snowshoeing, skating, etc., etc.


Protected areas are simply places on the landscape that collectively we have decided to leave more-or-less intact, and where nature has a better chance of surviving the sorts of human disturbances we generate elsewhere on the landscape.


9 – NST:  And lastly: Treasure Bear wanted to make sure: are stuffed yellow bears are welcome to all parks?


CM: Yes, absolutely. All bears are welcome in parks.



Huge thanks to Mr. Miller for the work he does, as well as to all the people that work so hard conserving and protecting our natural areas.

Please take a look at some of the parks and protected areas that Chris has help establish in Nova Scotia:  Parks and Protected Areas

Follow Chris Miller on Twitter , CPAWS Nova Scotia on Facebook.

Now go out and enjoy nature! 🙂

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