An excellent year for conservation in Nova Scotia

The following is an opinion piece by Chris Miller looking back at the year in conservation in Nova Scotia

Canoeists enjoying the Birch Cove Lakes wilderness near Halifax (credit: Irwin Barrett)

This has been an impressive year for conservation in Nova Scotia.  Lots of new protected areas have been established and some of the most ecologically significant areas remaining in the province have been conserved.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society advocates for the protection of public lands in Nova Scotia, as well as key support for private land conservation.  Given the conservation significance of what has been achieved this year, it is worthwhile to have a quick look back.

The biggest conservation announcement of the year came in August, with the release of the final protected areas plan by the Nova Scotia government, which led to the protection of an additional quarter million hectares of public lands in the province.

With the protection of these lands, Nova Scotia rises from middle-of-the-pack in the country to second in Canada for the total percentage of land protected, behind only British Columbia. A total of 13% of the Nova Scotia landmass is now protected, with sites identified to achieve 14% protection in the coming years.  By comparison, only 3% of New Brunswick is protected and even less on Prince Edward Island.

The new protected areas established in Nova Scotia include an impressive list of conservation sites, such as (1) the rich floodplains and old growth forests along the West Branch of the St. Mary’s River, (2) large intact forests in the Cape Breton Highlands, including near Mabou, Margaree River, and Ingonish Valley, (3) coastal areas, including dozens of islands along the Eastern Shore and a long stretch of rugged coastline near Fourchu in Cape Breton, (4) deep interior forests of southwestern Nova Scotia near the Tobeatic and lands acquired from Bowater, (5) impressive areas of the Cobequid Mountains containing old tolerant hardwood forests, particularly new conservation sites near Folly Lake in the Wentworth Valley,  and (6) well-known landmark sites in Nova Scotia, such as Kelly’s Mountain and Cape Smokey.

Overall, the final protected areas plan that was released over the summer months resulted in the largest expansion of protected lands in Nova Scotia since the late 1990’s. This plan went through multiple rounds of public and stakeholder consultations and generated several thousand submissions from Nova Scotians in support of the conservation efforts.

Also this year, Sable Island was officially established as a national park reserve in June.  This is Nova Scotia’s third national park and the first one established in the province in almost a half century.  The national park designation for Sable Island will bring about an increased level of protection for the ecosystems and wildlife of this famous Nova Scotian island.  For Sable, several outstanding issues still need to be addressed, including limiting the number of visitors to the island, developing off-island visitor experiences, and ensuring that no oil and gas exploration is allowed to occur there.

Some progress has also been made this year to protect the Birch Cove Lakes wilderness near Halifax.  For the first time in a long time, the Municipality has advanced land negotiations to protect this near-urban wilderness gem, which contains over a dozen lakes and large tracts of forest less than 10km from downtown Halifax.  In a unanimous decision by Regional Council in September, the City agreed to enter into land negotiations with the developers who own these lands.  Finally, some progress toward the City’s long-standing commitment to protect these lands as a wilderness park.  The leadership by Mayor Savage on this issue is a refreshing change from the past.

Land Trusts in Nova Scotia have also been busy over this past year acquiring key properties for conservation.  These properties are smaller than conservation sites on public lands, but contain excellent examples of old-growth forests, coastal islands, wetlands, and important species-at-risk habitat.  The Nova Scotia Nature Trust and the Nature Conservancy of Canada have protected key private land holdings along the Eastern Shore, in southwestern Nova Scotia, and along the Chignecto Isthmus.  The Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy, St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association, Mahone Bay Islands Conservation Association, and Bras d’Or Nature Preservation Trust are also making important progress protecting private lands for conservation.

Overall, 2013 has been a landmark year for conservation resulting in many sites being protected across the province.  No wonder Nova Scotia is starting to garner national and international attention for the important conservation work that is being accomplished here.

Nova Scotia is a pretty spectacular place to call home and it’s our responsibility to look after our little corner of the world. Let’s keep up the good work into the coming year, and beyond.  Future generations of Nova Scotians will benefit from the hard work that’s being done today to protect our natural areas.

Chris Miller, Ph.D., is the National Conservation Biologist for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and an advocate for the protection of Nova Scotia’s wilderness.