Friday, March 1, 2024

Conservation groups critical over MODG's remarks on protected lands

Municipality supports protected lands; prioritizes jobs and services for residents, says warden

  • January 17 2024
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH — Nova Scotia conservation groups have come out swinging against the Municipality of the District of Guysborough’s (MODG) response to new wilderness designations in parts of Guysborough County.

“MODG is the worst municipal government in the province when it comes to nature protection, and they seem to be completely lopsided,” Ray Plourde, senior wilderness coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, told The Journal in an interview. “They seem to have a single-minded focus on large heavy industry and industrial extraction. [But] this is not their land; it belongs to all Nova Scotians as Crown land and is handled in trust by the provincial government.”

What’s more, added Chris Miller – executive director of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – in a separate interview, “They seem to imply that there wasn’t any public consultation, which is not the case at all. There were several rounds of consultations over a number of years – over 2,000 written letters [from] the public, 17 open houses, [as well as] individual sessions that the Department of Environment ran with municipalities.”

Plourde and Miller had contacted The Journal last week following its coverage of the Jan. 3 committee of the whole meeting where MODG council members and staff expressed reservations about the provincial government’s recent wilderness designation of 6,725 hectares of Guysborough County – much of which was located within the municipality – effectively shielding them from all forms of industrial resource extraction.

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

Noted Deputy Warden Janet Peitzsche at the meeting: “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?”

But, said Plourde, the municipality doesn’t own the land in question and that the designations shouldn’t have come as any surprise anyway.

“The parks and protected areas plan has been out since 2013, and it lists all the areas – every protected area in the province, as well as those still waiting to be protected. They’ve just been going through a long process ... It’s unfortunate that it has been a 10-year lag since the plan came out; that some of these sites are [only now] being designated. But that’s the way it goes ... The councillors [may] have forgotten about it. But I think they have a responsibility to be informed, and not say things that are completely wrong.”

As lands “that are owned and controlled by the public,” Miller said, the province has an obligation to extend protections over “really ecologically significant places ... Some of the most important sites for conservation in Guysborough County are ones that were designated. Sugar Harbour Island has seabird nesting colonies. The Nine Mile Woods wilderness area has really important old growth hardwood forests. It’s also the headwaters for McKeen’s Brook, which is a known river for salmon spawning and for the rare turtles and other species.”

MODG Warden Vernon Pitts responded to the criticisms on behalf of MODG in an email over the weekend.

“The Municipality of the District of Guysborough is proud to support the province’s protected lands initiative,” he said. “Currently the percentage of Crown land that is protected in our municipality exceeds the provincial target. We believe in, and will continue to do our part.

“It should also be noted that our county has had the highest population decline in the province and, while we support doing our fair share in protecting lands, we also believe that every child leaving our schools has an inherent right to be able to make a living in their own community over the long term. As such, we have a duty to point out to the province [that] land use planning is a municipal responsibility ... where land that has a value for further development is set aside for that purpose and zoned appropriately.”

He concluded: “As a municipality, we do prioritize the opportunity for our residents to be able to get good paying jobs, access services and to purchase goods right here at home ... to put food on the table for their families.”