Opinion

Time to revisit approach to protected lands

By Warden Vernon Pitts on behalf of the Guysborough Municipal Council    

GUYSBOROUGH – Recently, the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS) proposed changes to the Province of Nova Scotia’s Parks and Protected Areas Plan.

The Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) expressed concern with the approach of the Nova Scotia Government when the Protected Area targets were set in 2009. The approach taken to meet these targets have done little to assuage these concerns.

One of the key responsibilities of any Municipal government is related to land-use planning. We are one of the very few Nova Scotia municipalities that have completed a comprehensive Land Use Strategy, achieved through broad consultation with our residents. Intuitively, one would think there would be some linkage to the selection of areas identified for protection. Ironically, one of the areas originally proposed for protection was within the 14,500 acre Melford Industrial Land Reserve – owned by the Province of Nova Scotia.

Economic life in Nova Scotia’s rural municipalities is particularly challenging. We are experiencing, generally, outward migration, which makes it increasingly difficult to both finance and sustain the services expected by citizens of a modern society. This consideration was seemingly lost upon the architects of the Provincial Strategy.

In the rush to meet artificially established targets we have, seemingly pursued the “low-hanging fruit” – that is those areas that avoid public conflict or comment.

It was interesting to read recent comments from government officials touting the process utilized to identify the most prospective areas for protection – “environment, ecological values of the protected areas, biodiversity values, recreation, wildlife, social aspects, natural resources planning, and the potential for economic development”.

If we were to look at these goals individually we have clearly missed the mark and continue marching forward based on the same flawed process.

Among protected areas within MODG there is little diversity of landscapes; recreational usage has been negatively impacted; traditional community / social aspects have suffered and most glaringly there has never been an economic development potential assessment of any of the properties protected, or proposed for protection.

In fact, the only visible assessment of economic impact is the avoidance of protecting lands with standing timber. Our Council has proposed areas of old-growth forest for protection to no avail. We understand the importance of the forest industry in Nova Scotia and also the commitment of the provinces wood fiber from Crown Land. This commitment has seemingly had a significant impact on areas proposed for protection. Barren coastal areas do not tend to support forest growth.

The MODG strives to achieve a balance between environmental stewardship and economic growth. We were the first municipality in Canada to take a majority ownership stake in a windfarm – producing green energy for Nova Scotian’s. We have won provincial and national awards for our stewardship.

Our residents – the people that actually live in our communities, are our greatest stewards of the environment. Their voices are not being heard. NGO’s and special interest groups seem to have much greater influence on the direction of government policy.

The MANS Proposal (A Better Balance – How Can We Protect Jobs and Land?) provides an opportunity to reset our priorities. No one is suggesting that highly sensitive or unique lands be opened up for mineral exploration or development. What is proposed, is that lands of equal or greater value be “swapped” for lands currently protected. This creates a net-gain or win-win situation for everyone.

We are fortunate to live in a beautiful part of Nova Scotia. We have vast, open landscapes that are simply stunning. Historically, our economy was built on the resource sector – forestry, fishery and mining. Declines in all of these sectors has resulted in dramatic population decline.

Mineral exploration and development offers a significant opportunity to address the population decline through its root-cause – employment.

It is for these reasons that the MODG stands with MANS in its call for the Province of Nova Scotia to revisit it’s policy related to Parks and Protected Lands and strike a balance between land protection and the elimination of economic opportunities in rural Nova Scotia. The MANS proposal offers an opportunity to do just that.

For further information please contact Warden Vernon Pitts at vpitts@modg.ca or (902) 533-3597 or Barry Carroll, CAO at bcarroll@modg.ca or (902) 533-3705 ext. 228