Proposed protected areas in eastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton put at risk

HALIFAX – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is extremely disappointed to learn that proposed protected areas in eastern mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton have NOT, in fact, been excluded from the license agreement with Port Hawkesbury Paper Ltd.

In August, the Nova Scotia government stated that designated and proposed protected areas were removed from the license agreement.  The following is a quote from a technical briefing prepared by the Nova Scotia government for the media at an announcement in Port Hawkesbury on August 20, 2012.

“Agreement Lands include all Crown lands previously licensed to NewPage except designated and proposed protected areas” (Nova Scotia government, technical briefing document, August 20, 2012)

That language is pretty clear.  Unfortunately, CPAWS has since learned that the proposed protected areas needed to achieve the 12% protected areas target have not actually been excluded from the license agreement, as previously reported.  Instead, it appears that all of the proposed protected areas currently under consideration for protection as part of the government’s 12% protected areas target are within the License Agreement lands.  This includes about 100,000 hectares of public lands, or roughly half of all proposed protected areas currently under consideration in the province.

“It’s a big disappointment to hear that the government has placed the proposed protected areas in the License Agreement,” says Chris Miller, National Conservation Biologist for CPAWS, based in Nova Scotia. “It unnecessarily adds uncertainty into the process to establish these sites as legally designated protected areas”.

Approximately 100,000 hectares of public land under consideration for protection have been included in the Port Hawkesbury Paper license.  This includes high priority conservation sites along the St. Mary’s River, Kelly’s Mountain, Mabou Highlands, and long stretches of wilderness coastline in eastern Cape Breton.  It also includes examples of large intact forests, old-growth forests, species-at-risk habitat, significant waterways, important wetland ecosystems, coastal beaches and marshes, and sites adjacent to existing protected areas.

“It makes no sense to include these public lands in the newly negotiated license agreement with the company”, says Miller. “These are some of the best remaining sites for conservation in the province and all are in urgent need of legal protection”.

Apparently, the Nova Scotia government reserves the right to remove these areas from the license agreement for conservation, but it’s unusual to offer up these areas to the company only to take them away a few months down the road.

“There’s a big difference between removing the proposed protected areas from the lease upfront, and maybe potentially removing them from the lease at some point down the road”, says Miller. “If the government really does still have the ability to remove these proposed conservation zones from the lease, they need to exercise those rights immediately.”

The Nova Scotia government has a legislated commitment to legally-protect at least 12% of Nova Scotia’s landmass by 2015.  Currently, about 9.4% of the province is designated as protected.  Overall, the provincial government has been making steady progress toward achieving this goal, so the decision to place conservation sites into the forestry license agreement with Port Hawkesbury Paper comes as a big disappointment to CPAWS.

Chris Miller, Ph.D.
National Conservation Biologist
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
twitter: @NSwilderness