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Get on with protecting lands, says wilderness protection group

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says the Wentworth Valley is an area that’s in need of protection. IRWIN BARRETT
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says the Wentworth Valley is an area that’s in need of protection. IRWIN BARRETT - Contributed

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is calling on Nova Scotia to “pick up the pace” in creating protected areas.

Chris Miller, executive director of the Nova Scotia branch of CPAWS, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that the charity identified the Nova Scotia need in its annual Parks Report.

“There’s actually a pretty good plan in place, called the Nova Scotia Parks and Protected Areas Plan,” Miller said. “But it’s been around for five years now and there’s still many sites that are recommended for protection in that plan that have yet to be designated. In total there’s about 100 sites that we’re still waiting for.”

He said that there’s broad support for creating protected areas across political party lines.

“The original targets were established by the Progressive Conservatives, the plan was developed by the NDP and the Liberals are implementing it, so this is an issue that really crosses the political divide,” Miller said.

“The current government needs to finish the job and to implement the plan that’s already in place.”

Miller said the province’s industrial history has left a “really heavy footprint,” making it that much more important to have protected areas.

“Some of the places that have been identified thatare in need of protection but have not yet beendesignated that are really important include theWentworth Valley, St. Mary’s River (and) Mabou

highlands. Now, these are important places and the government really needs to hurry up and finish the job.”

Miller said all that’s required to make these sites official is an order-in-council.

“So cabinet just needs to review the documents that the bureaucracy brings to them and then make the final decision to make this happen.”

He said clear legislation is already in place, it just needs to be made official.

“All of these areas have gone through multiple rounds of public consultation over a several-year period,” he said. “The government has already approved the final version of the plan.”

Peter Labor, director of protected areas and wetlands for the Department of Environment, said in an emailed statement that Nova Scotia has about 12.4 per cent of the province’s land mass legally protected. The goal is 13 per cent.

“Prior to formally designating sites we need to ensure that all legal and survey work is complete,” he said in the email.

Labor wrote that the department is working with the Department of Lands and Forestry to fully evaluate the next group of potential protected areas.

“We are optimistic that several properties will be designated this fiscal year.”

Miller said CPAWS knew it would take some time to implement the plan when it was first approved.

“There’s some tasks that are required, legal descriptions to surveying on the ground — we understand that it takes time but now that five years have passed, we really feel that’s more than enough time to have completely implemented the plan that’s in place now.”

The group is concerned that industry may be putting pressure on the government to roll back some its commitments.

The Nova Scotia-specific recommendations in the CPAWS report include:

• Completing the full implementation of the Nova Scotia Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan

• Undertaking a provincewide gap analysis to identify priority conservation sites and opportunities for improving connectivity between protected areas

• Initiating a wilderness area assessment for the Ingram River watershed on the former Bowater lands

• Seeking matching funding from the new federal Nature Fund for protected area establishment and conservation planning

• Re-establishing a land acquisition budget for the Nova Scotia Department of Environment so that key private lands can be purchased for conservation.

The society is a non-government charitable organization that works specifically on protected areas across Canada. It has been in operation for more than 50 years.

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