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Once a leader in conservation, N.S. now falls behind, report finds

'Owls Head is probably the most egregious example we have seen this year of the Nova Scotia government showing their disregard for the protected areas in this province,' says Caitlin Grady
St. Mary's River_NS_credit Irwin Barrett
St. Mary's River waterfall (Photo: Irwin Barrett)
Nova Scotia was once considered to be a leader in Canada for the creation of new protected areas, but in a new report, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) says that's no longer the case.

The non-profit, which is dedicated to the protection of public land, oceans and freshwater, released its annual parks report, 'Healthy Nature Healthy People,' on Wednesday. The publication reviews the state of Canada's parks, celebrating significant progress, noting slowdowns, and highlighting threats.

Caitlin Grady is the Conservation Campaigner for CPAWS-NS, and says Nova Scotia's reputation for establishing protected areas has been damaged.

She points to Nova Scotia's Parks and Protected Areas Plan which was finalized in 2013, but hasn't yet been fully implemented. Grady describes the plan as a roadmap of all the ecologically significant sites in the province that are in need of protection.

"We are now in 2020, and a large number of those sites have yet to receive the designation they were promised," she says. "The Nova Scotia government is really dragging its feet."

Nearly 200 sites listed in that plan haven't received legal protection, including Cherry Hill Beach, Sackville River-Lewis Lake, Giants Lake, and Economy River.

"Every day we delay completing the designation of these sites is one more day that they are vulnerable and don't have the legal mechanisms to ensure their protection in the long term," she says.

The provincial government's secret delisting of Owls Head Provincial Park from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan in March 2019, also earned Nova Scotia a failing grade in the CPAWS report.

"Owls Head is probably the most egregious example we have seen this year of the Nova Scotia government showing their disregard for our protected areas in this province," she says. "Here is a coastal gem on the eastern shore, that has been recognized as a significant conservation site for decades, and the government was all too comfortable secretly delisting the site without consultation."

She says the backdoor deal to sell Owls Head to a private developer for conversion into golf courses, was extremely disappointing and undermines the trust Nova Scotians have in their government to protect natural spaces.

CPAWS also is critical towards Nova Scotia's protected areas target, which currently sits at 13 per cent. The report says there is no basis in science for that specific target and it's too low given the global ecological crisis.

"Government is quite fixated on this 13 per cent target, but the reality is, that it is quite outdated and has been around for a long time in this province," she says. "National and international standards are way ahead of Nova Scotia."

The federal government committed in late 2019 to protecting 25 per cent of Canada’s land and ocean by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030 - a goal which CPAWS commends.

In the group's report however, it states that evidence shows at least 30 per cent and up to 70 per cent of land and ocean ecosystems need to be protected to sustain a healthy planet and secure essential ecosystem services for people.

"We need to see a more ambitious goal from the Nova Scotia government," Grady says.  

The overarching theme of this year's CPAWS report is how all levels of government in Canada need to put nature conservation at the heart of the country’s recovery from COVID-19.

Grady says protected nature is an essential service that supports Canadians’ mental and physical health.

"There is a strong connection between our own physical and mental wellbeing and our access to nature," she says. "As we as a province started to open up, one of the first things the government opened was the parks because people really wanted access to them."


Katie Hartai

About the Author: Katie Hartai

In addition to being a reporter for NEWS 95.7 and HalifaxToday.ca, Katie is the producer of The Rick Howe Show
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