ST. MARY’S – The president of the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA) says a long-awaited provincial government report on Archibald Lake — an ecologically sensitive tract of land near Sherbrooke — is promising for the eventual wilderness designation of the area.
“We are excited here in St. Mary’s to see this report completed,” Scott Beaver told The Journal in an email on May 29 about the assessment, released May 26, of the 684-hectare tract of provincially owned woodland, lakes and wetlands, which has been under consideration for wilderness designation for at least three years.
“This report is required under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act [and] we are confident that [Environment and Climate Change] Minister [Timothy] Halman and the cabinet will soon make a positive decision on this matter.”
He added: “[The report] highlights the importance [that] locals place on the area for intergenerational fishing, hunting camp use and other recreation, and states [that] without designation the potential loss of biodiversity and decline in some outdoor recreation values could happen.”
The report, Socio-economic Analysis of Designation the Proposed Archibald Lake Wilderness Area, stipulates that Archibald Brook watershed “helps maintain water quality and flow in the lower St. Mary’s River, a noted Atlantic salmon river [and] provides habitat for brook trout and other aquatic species. The lakes [also] support a recreational trout fishery, as confirmed by public consultation feedback.”
It states that “about 262 hectares of the 454 hectares forested land within the proposed wilderness area is classified as old forest under the Department of Natural Resources and Renewable’s Old-Growth Forest Policy for Nova Scotia. This forest provides habitat for species that depend on, or prefer, old forest, and supports wildlife movement or migration across the landscape (ecological connectivity value). Older forests also store more carbon than younger forests, keeping this carbon out of the atmosphere and helping Nova Scotia meet its 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets.”
Furthermore, it notes that “nearly the entire site consists of ecosystem elements which are poorly represented in Nova Scotia’s protected areas network, particularly the well-drained, hardwood drumlins… In 2021-2022, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (Nova Scotia Chapter), sponsored a series of field surveys at the proposed Archibald Lake Wilderness Area with help of specialists from Acadia University, the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre (ACCDC) and an independent contractor. The resulting report identifies a total of 26 species-at-risk documented in the area.”
Finally, the assessment acknowledges research underway to economically quantify the “value of natural ecosystems to society, typically referred to as ‘ecosystem services,’” including carbon storage and sequestration; conservation of species and genetic resources; water quality; and maintenance of habitat for pollinators, wildlife and recreation.
It concludes “a 2013 assessment by Global Forest Watch Canada of Nova Scotia’s protected areas system estimates an average annual value of $5,827 per hectare for ecosystem services of the system. Another example is a 2017 assessment by TD Bank Group and the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), which estimates the value of ecosystem services of NCC’s Long Tusket Lake lands, in southwestern Nova Scotia, at a minimum of $26,250 per hectare annually. These local examples illustrate that the value of ecosystem services in Nova Scotia may be quite significant [although] neither of these reports assess to what extent these values would differ if the lands were not protected.”
Beaver said he was “happy to see Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s extensive work towards identifying rare species highlighted,” adding: “It was also nice to see, for the first time, references in terms of dollar values made by research in general to quantify the value of natural ecosystems to society.”
According to a statement from the Department of Environment and Climate Change on May 29, the purpose of the analysis prepared by staff is “to present factual information to help informed decision-making by Government, not provide advice or recommendations [however] the completion of this legislatively required analysis moves Government one step closer to being able to make a decision [about] wilderness designation,” which would limit, or ban, certain types of commercial activity in area, including industrial mining and forestry. “The Province is also legally obligated to consult with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia,” it said.
“Our government is committed to protecting 20 per cent of our land and water by 2030,” Halmon added in the statement. “We must reach this goal for many reasons. Protected areas capture and store carbon, spending time in them supports our physical and mental health, and they help provide us with clean drinking water. They protect essential habitat for our plants, animals, birds and trees and help protect species-at-risk. These are just some of the many reasons that we are working to protect more of our land and water. This area is being considered for Wilderness Area designation for all of these reasons — as soon as our Government makes a decision, we will share it with Nova Scotians.”
Said Beaver: “I think it’s important that folks realize nearly the entire site consists of ecosystem elements that are poorly represented in Nova Scotia’s protected areas network and, for these reasons and more, the St. Mary’s River Association and our broader community support the protection of Archibald Lake as a new wilderness area.”