The year in conservation

  • Published on Dec 21 2017 |
  • by Chris Miller |
  • This article is tagged as:

(Giants Lake pending wilderness area; photo NS Environment)

The year in conservation

It has been another busy year for conservation in Nova Scotia. Important progress has been made, but there is still much work to do.

Here is a look back at some of the highlights for 2017 and a quick discussion of what’s likely in store for 2018.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank our many supporters and everyone who has taken the time to help protect Nova Scotia’s natural areas.

Enjoy the holidays.

~Chris Miller

St. Anns Bank Marine Protected Area now official

In June, St. Anns Bank Marine Protected Area, off the coast of Cape Breton, was officially created after seven long years of public consultation and negotiation. The new marine protected area is 4,364 square kilometres in size, making it the largest of any protected area in the province and only the second marine protected area established in Nova Scotia using the Oceans Act.

St. Anns Bank Marine Protected Area contains important habitat for the endangered leatherback sea turtle; significant occurrences of deep-sea corals, sponges, and sea pens; representative marine ecosystems typical of shelf, slope, and channel habitats; and important areas for recovering populations of Atlantic cod and Atlantic wolffish.

The new marine protected area will be entirely off-limits to oil and gas activities and entirely off-limits to bottom-trawling. Approximately 25% of the marine protected area remains open to existing, lower impact inshore fisheries. St. Anns Bank Marine Protected Area is an important achievement for conservation, especially as Canada attempts to catch-up with other nations that are much further ahead in creating effective networks of marine protected areas.

Fifteen new protected areas created by NS government

In March, the Nova Scotia government announced that it had established 15 new protected areas across the province, including Walton River Wilderness Area (which protects an important Bay of Fundy tidal river system) and an expansion for the Chignecto Isthmus Wilderness Area (which is crucial for maintaining landscape connectivity in the narrow land bridge between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick).  In total, about 7,000 hectares of new protected areas were established this year, as the Nova Scotia government continues to implement the Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan.

This progress is good, and welcome, but I think it’s fair to say that the overall “batch” of new protected areas this year was somewhat underwhelming for most, especially compared to previous batches. The batch from December 2015 was much larger (120,000 hectares) and contained many more sites than the current batch. CPAWS is growing increasingly concerned that implementation of the Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan is stalling internally within government, since it took more than a year for the Nova Scotia government to designate only 7,000 hectares. We published our concerns about this stalled implementation in our annual CPAWS Parks Report released in July.

In response to the CPAWS report, the Nova Scotia Minister of Environment indicated that additional new protected areas will be coming forward in the near future and that the priority would be placed on sites with greatest ecological significance.  At the moment, about 100 pending protected areas are still awaiting official designation by the Nova Scotia government. We hope that these sites will be announced fairly soon. CPAWS will continue to stay on top of this issue until ALL of the pending sites from the Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan are officially implemented.

Nipping at the edges of our protected areas

Nova Scotia’s forests are subject to relatively high rates of industrial disturbance, particularly from clearcutting. These impacts are encroaching on our protected areas and, in some cases, the clearcuts are coming right up to the protected area boundaries themselves, with no buffer zone at all. It’s crucial that Nova Scotia’s protected areas do not become islands of conservation in a sea of industrial disturbance. Under that scenario, it becomes essentially impossible to maintain ecological integrity within the protected areas.

Unfortunately, harvesting adjacent to protected area boundaries is quite common in Nova Scotia. In 2017, CPAWS helped raised awareness about potential impacts to Gully Lake Wilderness Area and Tobeatic Wilderness Area, but there are many other protected areas being affected as well. At the moment, managers of these protected areas (the Department of Environment) have no direct role in the decision-making process for reviewing and approving adjacent forest harvests. That needs to change, and in fact, the Nova Scotia Code of Forest Practices (Page 30) specifically calls for protected area managers to be directly involved. It’s inexcusable that they are not.

What might a responsible forest policy for harvesting in close proximity to protected areas look like? Well, it could include policies that establish buffer zones around protected areas, within which the amount of harvesting is less than elsewhere on the working landscape or where clearcutting is not permitted. It could also stagger the timing of adjacent harvests so that protected areas don’t suddenly become cut-off from the broader forested landscape. A better policy could also involve improved road design, to avoid creating “cul-de-sac” logging roads that end near protected area boundaries and subsequently encourage illegal motorized vehicle use. These are simple, proactive solutions, and would make a big difference.

First land purchase for Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park

In November, the Halifax Regional Municipality initiated the process for its first land purchase for the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park. Details of the land purchase have not yet been made public, but it’s likely good news. The regional park was promised as far back as the 1970’s, and is very clearly written within the planning blueprint for Halifax Regional Municipality, but the city has never successfully acquired lands for the regional park. So, if the first land purchase has occurred (or is soon to occur), this is potentially a very significant milestone for the Birch Cove Lakes, and is a long time coming indeed.

Halifax is lucky to have such an important wilderness area so close to the city centre. It is a huge opportunity for the city, and its residents, so hopefully this first land purchase is the start of more to come, until the full vision for the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park is realized. I think this place is so significant that is should be considered for a National Urban Park designation as well. Last year, the Birch Cove Lakes area was threatened by a proposed suburban development, but Halifax Regional Council ultimately voted that down after a sustained public campaign going back years and after receiving over 1400 letters from the public in support of the regional park.

Attacks on protected areas by mining industry

This year, Nova Scotia’s protected areas came under attack by an aggressive lobbying campaign by the Mining Association of Nova Scotia. They want a change in legislation that would allow mining inside areas that are currently protected. Such a change would be disastrous and can never be allowed to happen.

Fortunately, the provincial government has refused to take-the-bait on this and has shown zero interest in opening up Nova Scotia’s protected areas to mining activities. Several hundred people have written the government expressing their concerns about mining in protected areas. Even Kluscap Mountain is not off-limits to the lobbying efforts of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia. Protected lands at Kluscap Wilderness Area are sacred to the Mi’kmaq people and should not be disturbed.

I think the Mining Association is on the wrong side of history with their lobbying campaign and Nova Scotians will decisively slam-the-door shut on their ill-conceived proposal.

Looking ahead

2018 is shaping up to be an exciting year for conservation. The Federal government has indicated that the Marine Protected Area network plan for the Maritimes region will be released early in the New Year. Canada has committed to protecting at least 10% of the ocean by 2020, so has undertaken considerable work over the past few years to identify areas for protection.

Additionally, the Nova Scotia government has indicated that implementation of the Our Parks and Protected Areas plan will continue, with focus on the most ecologically-significant sites, so expect there to be a fifth batch of new protected areas announced fairly soon. With approximately 100 pending protected areas remaining to be designated from that plan, it’s crucial that the next batch of protected areas be substantial.

I’m also hoping that the Halifax Regional Municipality will continue to make progress in acquiring lands for the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park. With the first land acquisition soon to be completed, this could create momentum for additional land purchases.  Hopefully, other levels of government, and particularly the Federal government, will help contribute resources toward acquiring these lands. The price of land is only going up, so the longer they wait, the more expensive it will be.