Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Province protects thousands of acres across Guysborough County

New and expanded wilderness designations, nature reserves announced

  • January 3 2024
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH — In a move that one leading conservationist hails as “a wonderful surprise,” the provincial government has permanently shielded nearly 6,725 hectares (16,617 acres) of Guysborough County from all forms of industrial resource extraction.

“It’s really fantastic,” said Scott Beaver, president of the St. Mary’s River Association, in an interview with The Journal following the Dec. 20 announcement extending official wilderness protection to vast tracts of Crown land including in local county municipalities: the District of St. Mary’s and District of Guysborough (MODG).

“They [the province] kind of kept it quiet. I really had no idea was coming,” said Beaver. “This really promotes the kind of sustainable [development] that we are trying to do here.”

Newly designated wilderness areas are Nine Mile Woods Wilderness Area (1,031 hectares), northeast of Sherbrooke; Big Plains Wilderness Area (2,112 hectares), northeast of Jordanville; and Guysborough Headlands Wilderness Area (3,012 hectares), incorporating a contiguous swath of coastal territory and communities stretching from Gegogan Harbour to Tor Bay, including coastal headlands at Cape Gegogan, Cape St. Marys, Country Harbour Head, and New Harbour. New expansions include 144 hectares to the Liscomb River Wilderness Area, southwest of Sherbrooke, and 134 hectares to Ogden Round Lake Wilderness Area, just west of Guysborough.

New nature reserves include Mulgrave Hills Nature Reserve (242 hectares), south of Mulgrave; Sugar Harbour Islands Nature Reserve (36 hectares), off the coast between Tor Bay and Lower Whitehead; Tobacco Island Nature Reserve (nine hectares), off the coast of Little Liscomb; and East River St. Marys Nature Reserve (five hectares), on the St. Mary’s River at the Guysborough and Pictou County line.

The new and expanded designations were part of the Department of Environment and Climate Change’s broader initiatives to set aside 14,000 hectares of forest, water, wetlands, coastline and coastal habitats across the province – bringing the total area of Nova Scotia under protection to 13.45 per cent towards its land and water protection target of 20 per cent by 2030.

“Protecting nature benefits all of us today and ensures future generations of Nova Scotians can also enjoy these special places, as they will remain parts of our communities for perpetuity,” Environment and Climate Change Minister Timothy Halman said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Our government is protecting more of Nova Scotia’s land, wetlands and water for the many benefits they give us – helping us stay physically and mentally healthy, giving us clean air and drinking water, helping us fight climate change, strengthening biodiversity and preventing further biodiversity loss, providing habitat for wildlife.”

Under the province’s Environment Act, commercial resource activities – such as forestry, energy infrastructure, and road building – are not permitted in designated wilderness areas. They can, however, be used for a broad range of low-impact recreation and tourism, including hiking, canoeing, sea-kayaking, sport-fishing, and hunting. Nature reserves, which are generally smaller and more environmentally fragile than wilderness areas, are more restrictive – typically allowing little else but scientific research and education.

In recent months, councils for St. Mary’s and MODG have adopted master plans that acknowledge sustainability and “livability” as cornerstones and point to the large tracts of pristine woodland, wetland, and coastline in the county as key assets for sustainable development.

Said Beaver: “If you think about it, we’ve had all these properties – a huge backlog, really – sitting here in Guysborough County waiting to be designated. A lot of them really hadn’t been pushed over the finish line.”

He noted, for example, that Nine Mile Woods Wilderness Area sits within a few kilometres of the Archibald Lake Wilderness Area, which only received formal provincial protection in August after two years of robust debate over its use as a potential source of water for a proposed open pit gold mine.

“We’ve been advocating for protection of Nine Mile for quite a long time,” he said, adding: “The announcement certainly came as a surprise, [but] I think there’s been a bunch of low-hanging fruit here that’s been ready to go for a while ... These really are some wonderful places [that will help meet] the 20 per cent target.”