Tuesday, May 28, 2024

MODG surprised, upset by province’s wilderness protections

Council pushes for meeting with MLA

  • January 10 2024
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH — “Dissatisfied” by the province’s unexpected protection of thousands of hectares of Crown land in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) last month, council is requesting a hearing with the area’s MLA on the potential economic fallout.

“I’d like to make a motion that we invite our [Guysborough-Tracadie representative] Mr. [Greg] Morrow in and let him know our dissatisfaction with this,” Deputy Warden Janet Peitzsche told the committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 3.

In a move applauded by many conservationists, but catching most residents off guard, the provincial government passed an order in council on Dec. 19 – issuing a public statement the following day – to shield nearly 6,725 hectares (16,617 acres) of Guysborough County from all forms of industrial resource extraction. More than half of that lay within MODG; the remainder were in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s.

New and/or expanded designations in MODG include: Guysborough Headlands Wilderness Area, incorporating a swath of coastal headlands and communities from Country Harbour to Tor Bay; Big Plains Wilderness Area, southwest of Middle Country Harbour; Nine Mile Woods Wilderness Area, southwest of Fisher Mills; and 134 hectares to Ogden Round Lake Wilderness Area, just west of Guysborough. New nature reserves include Mulgrave Hills Nature Reserve south of Mulgrave; and Sugar Harbour Islands Nature Reserve, off the coast between Tor Bay and Lower Whitehead.

The protections were part of the Department of Environment and Climate Change’s larger program 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.

Under the province’s Environment Act, low-impact recreation and tourism are permitted in designated wilderness areas, but commercial resource industries – forestry and mining, for example – are forbidden. Nature reserves are even more restrictive, generally allowing only scientific research and educationl activities.

“They [the province] kind of kept it quiet,” a delighted Scott Beaver of the St. Mary’s River Association told The Journal last month. “I had no idea it was coming ... This really promotes the kind of sustainable [development] that we are trying to do here.”

MODG Economic Development Director Gordon Macdonald – though equally surprised – was less laudatory at the committee of the whole meeting last week.

“It is certainly disconcerting that this was done in the manner that it was, without any consultation with the municipality,” he told councillors. “Some of [these areas] are sizeable and [could] have potential impacts on developments within our municipality.”

In particular, he noted that the Guysborough Headlands Wilderness Area contains lands that MODG has already zoned for heavy industrial use and has had “discussions with developers about investing in ... There’s the area they are calling Nine Mile Woods that’s really more eastward towards Erinville that includes, or has, a pipeline [corridor] through it... [And] there’s another area that looks to us like the area that’s already been awarded to EverWind [Fuels] as part of the properties proposed for wind development.... I’m not sure what recourse we have; probably none.”

Council voted unanimously to send an email, asking for a sit down with Morrow. Said Peitzsche at the committee of the whole: “We’ve been trying to make our municipality open for business and make it a place where you can live and make a good living and get projects here ... And then somebody goes and protects our land?”

In an interview with The Journal last week, Morrow said, “I’m hearing a lot of this for the first time ... To my understanding, there was extensive consultation [with MODG] done through the years. A lot of that may have occurred before my, in our time in government. But, I’m always happy to work with the municipality on any issue. And, if there’s issue with these protected areas, we’ll certainly work with the Department of Environment and Climate Change to see what solutions are possible.”