Nova Scotia government should buy these Bowater properties

The Nova Scotia government has recently announced it will spend $23.7 million buying lands from the Bowater mill in southwestern Nova Scotia in the next few months.  That amount of money should be able to purchase about 10,000 hectares of land, based on previous land purchases.

CPAWS welcomes this investment in purchasing lands for conservation, since Nova Scotia has very little public land and because several Bowater properties contain high conservation value, including old-growth forests, species-at-risk habitat, important wetlands, significant lakeshore frontage, and sites adjacent to existing protected areas.

In Province House yesterday, Premier Darrell Dexter reaffirmed that the priority for the land purchases is conservation and, in particular, to help the province achieve its target of protecting 12% of Nova Scotia’s landmass by 2015.

In case you’re not a regular Hansard reader (like many of us environmentalists are), this is what the Premier said yesterday at Province House when asked about the land purchases in Question Period.

Premier Dexter: “Mr. Spearker, this is a purchase of land.  We are purchasing from them [Bowater] some 25,000 acres of land.  The reason why we’re doing that is to fulfill our responsibility to reach the 12 per cent protected goal…”.

Bowater is one of the largest landowners in Nova Scotia.  They own about 235,000 hectares of land, or about 5% of the province.

CPAWS has spent a lot of time analyzing the Bowater land holdings over the past few years and we know which properties are of the highest conservation value.  Properties listed below are the ones that the Nova Scotia government should purchase as part of the agreement with the company.

~Chris Miller

Fisher Lake
Size: 2,330 hectares
Location: Annapolis County
Conservation Significance:
• Large intact forest
• Significant shoreline frontage on Fisher Lake
• Concentration of old forest (white pine/red spruce)
• Concentration of rich hardwood forest
• High quality Acadian forest
• Landscape representation (contains all major ecosystem types in region)
• Lakeshore islands
• Wilderness recreation (canoeing, hiking)

Roseway and Tobeatic Lakes
Size: 3,126 hectares
Location: Shelburne and Queens Co.
Conservation Significance:
• Large intact forest
• Significant lakeshore habitat
• Concentration of old forest (red spruce, white pine)
• Concentration of rare plants (coastal plain flora)
• Endangered mainland moose habitat
• Significant wetland complexes
• Adjacent existing protected area
• Wilderness recreation (canoeing)

Jordan River
Size: 1,794 hectares
Location: Shelburne Co.
Conservation Significance:
• Extensive river frontage on the Jordan (>20km)
• Large intact forest
• Concentration of rare plants (coastal plain flora)
• Concentration of old forest (red spruce, white pine, red oak)
• Diverse forest ecoystems
• High quality Acadian forest
• Endangered mainland moose habitat
• Significant wetland complexes
• Adjacent existing protected area
• Wilderness recreation (canoeing)

Lake Torment
Size: 1,606 hectares
Location: Annapolis Co.
Conservation Significance:
• Concentration of old forest (black spruce, white pine)
• Large wetland complex
• High quality Acadian forest
• Adjacent Kejimkujik National Park

Alma Lake
Size: 1435 hectares
Location: Annapolis Co.
Conservation Significance:
• Landscape connectivity
• Concenration of old forest (red spruce/hemlock/white pine & hardwoods)
• Large intact forests
• Significant river frontage on the Medway
• Wilderness recreation (hiking, canoeing)

Long Lake
Size: 303 hectares
Location: Lunenburg Co.
Conservation Significance:
• Concentration of old forest (red spruce, white pine, hardwoods)
• High quality Acadian forest
• Adjacent existing nature reserve

Big Indian Lake
Size: 481 hectares
Location: Halifax Co.
Conservation Significance:
• Concentration of old forest (red spruce, white pine, hemlock)
• High quality Acadian forest
• Important lakeshore habitat
• Wilderness recreation (hiking)

Straighten road…destroy a park

Prince Edward Island has a reputation for being a warm and welcoming province, with friendly people and great seafood.

Every time I’ve been to the island, I’ve always had an amazing time and formed memories that will last a lifetime.  Anyone who has walked the beaches near Greenwich dunes, can’t help but be impressed with the awesomeness of Prince Edward Island.

But, every now and then, something whacky comes out of Prince Edward Island that catches people off-guard.  Like a proposal to change the alignment of the Trans-Canada Highway so that it goes through a provincial park.

And, it’s not just any provincial park, but Strathgartney Provincial Park, which contains some of the best remaining old forest on the island.

Quickly, here’s a bit of background.  The PEI government has a pot of federal money it needs to spend for the Atlantic Gateway initiative.  Three potential projects are being considered, mostly to straighten roads, including the proposal near Churchill to change the highway alignment so it goes through the provincial park.  CPAWS is asking for the proposal that will destroy Strathgartney Provincial Park to be taken off-the-table immediately.

The proposal won’t actually remove the curve, it will just make it less curvy.  And, having travelled all over the Maritimes, this strikes me as a funny way to spend taxpayers money since Prince Edward Island already has (by far) the straightest roads in the Maritimes.  Anybody who has driven down the #7 Highway on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia knows that.

Putting this aside - that the province with the straightest roads in the Maritimes wants its roads to become even straighter – we’re still left with the odd situation of a provincial government shopping around for projects to spend money on and short-listing a project that will destroy a provincial park.

Only 2.1% of Prince Edward Island is protected.  That’s the smallest percentage of any province in Canada.  Quite frankly, PEI needs more parks and protected areas, not fewer.  Nearby Nova Scotia is at 9% protection and well on its way to 12%.  The federal target is 17%.  When it comes to protection, Prince Edward Island stands out as the worst in Canada.

Now, there are reasons for this.  PEI doesn’t have much public land remaining, which makes it hard to establish big protected areas without considerable investment over a long period of time, even compared to its Maritime neighbours which also don’t have much public land.  But, that also means that the few areas that are already protected need to be safeguarded from ill-conceived infrastructure projects like that being considered near Churchill, since there are so few other options for creating new protected areas on the island and boosting the percent protection from its current place at the bottom-of-the-pack.

Here’s hoping cooler heads prevail and that the proposal to destroy Strathgartney Provincial Park is taken off-the-table at once.

Let’s face it.  The province with the straightest roads in the Maritimes, doesn’t really need to make them any straighter.  Especially, when the cost of doing so comes at the expense of one of the few protected areas on the island.

~Chris Miller


Nova Scotia has very little public land…we need more

Earlier this week, the Nova Scotia government announced that it will invest $6.5 million in strategic land purchases, in the upcoming fiscal year, for the creation of new protected areas.  This is about five or six times higher than the usual annual allotment for this purpose, and follows on the heels of several major land purchases by the government over the past few years.

CPAWS welcomes this announcement for several reasons:

1) Nova Scotia has very little public land.  Only about 30% of Nova Scotia is publicly-owned, one of the lowest percentages of any province in Canada.  Only Prince Edward Island has less.

2) Many rare ecosystems in Nova Scotia occur on private land.  This includes old-growth forests, certain types of wetlands, intervals, and karst areas with caves and sinkholes.  Without protecting private lands, key areas of our natural diversity will remain threatened.

3) Some of the rarest species in Nova Scotia occur on private land.  This includes the rare coastal plain flora of southwestern Nova Scotia, which grow on lakeshores also popular for cottage developments.  These are some of the rarest plants in Canada and cannot be protected on public lands alone.

4) Very little of our coastline is publicly-owned.  About 95% of Nova Scotia’s coastline is private and much of that is under development pressure.  Without acquiring more public land along the coast, many of our most significant beaches, dunes, estuaries, headlands, islands, and salt marshes will be at risk.

5) Several of our most significant protected areas have holes in them.  These holes are private inholdings that occur in some of Nova Scotia’s parks.  They can be developed, even with huge impacts on the adjacent protected area.  By purchasing these private properties, the government is helping to ensure the ecological integrity of existing protected areas is maintained.

6) Our parks and protected areas are too small.  Only a few protected areas in Nova Scotia are larger than 10,000 hectares in size.  Most are significantly smaller than that.  In many cases, the size of the protected areas is constrained by the lack of public ownership, so purchasing adjacent private lands allows the parks to expand.  Larger parks are more resilient to ecosystem stressors and less susceptible to harmful edge-effects.

7) Only about 9% of Nova Scotia is legally-protected.  We need to expand the amount of protection in the province.  This must include a dual approach of protecting existing public lands and acquiring ecologically-significant private lands for conservation.

~Chris Miller


Sable Island’s tireless champion

Sable Island is on track to become a new Canadian national park. But you can’t really talk about Sable without mentioning Zoe Lucas and her work there.  She’s lived on the remote sandy island, 160km off the coast of Nova Scotia, for the past 40 years, 30 of them year-round. In that time, she’s become well known as a passionate defender of Sable Island and a strong advocate for its protection.

That’s why CPAWS is pleased to have formed a coalition with Zoe and her organization, the Sable Island Green Horse Society, as well as the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre. Together we’re advocating for a national park management plan that truly puts ecological integrity first.

Nobody knows the island more intimately, or better understands its uniqueness, its vulnerability, its isolation, or its natural rhythms than Zoe.  When the federal and Nova Scotia governments announced their intention to designate Sable Island as a national park last year, many in the province reserved judgment based on concerns that it might increase visitation.  They wanted to hear from Zoe first about how she thought this would impact the island that Nova Scotians hold so dear.  That trust has developed over many years.

Interested in the island from an early age, Zoe first arrived on Sable in 1971 as a student at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design for a few days to help out on a project with a journalist.  Moving to the island wasn’t part of the plan.  It just kind of happened after setting foot on the island.  “Like a seed, I took root immediately”, she says.

Living in a modest dwelling in one of the old research buildings on the island, with solar panels for satellite radio, her laptop, and a couple of lights, Zoe has been undertaking valuable scientific research for years.  In addition to monitoring the wild horses, which usually number between 250 and 350, and keeping track of their ancestry going back generations, Zoe monitors the beaches, recording the litter that washes up on the island each year and detecting changes over time. 

Plastic is becoming much more prevalent on the island.  She gathers thousands of balloons washed ashore on Sable Island each year, tracking their origins from the advertising written on the balloons. Most come from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and the mid-western States.

Zoe also collects oiled seabirds that wash up on the island, killed by the bilge oil pumped into the sea illegally from passing ships.  Over the years her research has shown a dramatic decrease in the number of birds killed from bilge oil -- down from about 75% to 5% within the past five years.   This happy news may be a result of efforts to educate ship crews on the dangers of pumping bilge oil at sea, and increased enforcement and better technologies.  This is just one of many examples of the benefits of Zoe’s research in understanding changes in the environment not just on Sable Island, but more broadly in the North Atlantic as well. 

Several years ago, when the federal government decided to cut funding to the research station on Sable Island, Zoe sounded the alarm and ultimately saved the station.  Now she’s working to ensure that the national park designation for Sable Island will help protect the island’s ecological integrity and that the management plan developed by Parks Canada gets it right when managing the number of visitors allowed on the island each year. 

Zoe is also an advocate for “fair access” to the island, so that the island doesn’t become a place where only the wealthy can go, since it is so expensive to get there.  She notes that visitation is increasing to the island, particularly for commercial interests, and managing this properly is vital.

Home to the largest dune systems in eastern North America, the largest breeding colony of grey seals in the world, and a number of species-at-risk including the Ipswich Savannah sparrow and roseate tern, Sable Island is truly an extraordinary wilderness gem that we will all benefit by protecting.

We congratulate Zoe on her tireless efforts to protect Sable Island.

~Chris Miller

This article appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Canadian Wilderness


Bay of Fundy already on CPAWS natural wonder list

The Bay of Fundy is the only Canadian entry in the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World competition, and it is going up against some steep competition: Great Barrier Reef, Amazon rainforest, and Grand Canyon to name a few.  Tomorrow, the votes will be revealed and the winners announced.

But, to anyone who has gone for a walk along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, or seen the majestic whales who visit there each year, it’s obvious that the Bay is already a global treasure regardless of what some competition says.

Watching the world’s highest tides go up and down puts us humans in our place.  All that water rushing in and rushing out, raising and dropping the level of the ocean by up to 50 feet, one can’t help but feel tiny on this planet.  When the tide goes out, the fishing boats at the wharfs are left high-and-dry, tipped over on their sides on the mud well below the wharfs.

Near Apple River, NS, where the nearby inlet almost entirely drains of water at low tide, the fishermen don’t really even bother with a wharf.  They just tie their boats to large poles stuck in the mud and make sure they get back to shore before the tides empty their harbour.  It’s an impressive site indeed.

And, if you’ve ever seen the whales of the Bay of Fundy, you’ll know just how rich the marine life here is.  There are twelve species of whales in the Bay, including the very endangered North Atlantic Right whale.  Nothing beats being out on the Bay in a zodiac and watching these majestic creatures go about their business.

Surprisingly, however, even though the governments of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are asking the world to vote for the Bay of Fundy, one doesn’t need to dig too far to realize that we’re not doing much at all to protect the magnificent ecosystems of the Bay.  Fundy lacks a system of genuine marine protected areas, even for the areas of critical significance for the whales, leaving much of its rich diversity at risk, even as the Bay is increasingly used for industrial activities.

One of the sea lanes has been moved in recent years, which is helping reduce collisions between ships and whales.  It’s a welcome step, but more needs to be done.

CPAWS has been calling on the government of Canada, with support from the provincial governments, to establish a National Marine Conservation Area for the outer Bay of Fundy region for years.  Parks Canada has commissioned a study, but hasn’t released the results.  And, our governments are oddly silent on the need to truly protect the Bay of Fundy and stand behind the call-to-action to vote for the Bay.

So, with the release of the New Seven Wonders results tomorrow, CPAWS is hoping that the Bay of Fundy will be on that list, but regardless of the outcome we’ll keep up the pressure to finally protect the Bay, and its ecological riches, once and for all.

~Chris Miller


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