On August 1, 2013, the Province of Nova Scotia released Our Parks and Protected Areas: A Plan for Nova Scotia, and announced that it was legally protecting more than 13 percent of its landmass. The pathway to this achievement was laid six years earlier, when the Legislature passed the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, setting an ambitious goal of protecting 12 percent of its landmass by 2015.
Before the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, the province had protected about eight percent of its landmass, building on a province-wide plan in the 1990s and subsequent site-by-site protection initiatives. By the mid-2000s, this case-by-case approach was recognized as being inadequate to meet the province’s land protection goals. It also fell short of providing the level of land-use certainty desired to support resource development.
Nova Scotia’s parks and protected areas plan was the culmination of nearly a decade’s work. In 2004, a coalition of provincial non-government groups and forestry companies formed the Colin Stewart Forest Forum. With technical support from Nova Scotia’s Environment and Natural Resources departments, the forum identified potential areas for protection and opportunities to mitigate the impacts of land protection on the forest industry.
Building on this cooperative and science-based foundation, the province developed the plan through further detailed analysis and in consultation with environmental and industry leaders, municipalities, and a wide range of groups and organizations. The province is also engaging Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq in a meaningful and cooperative way that recognizes shared values around land use and protection. The public was involved in the planning process through a highly interactive web-based consultation, and open houses held across the province.
Through the parks and protected areas plan, Nova Scotia will add four new provincial parks, 44 new wilderness areas and 118 new nature reserves. Not stopping there, the province will expand 12 provincial parks, 31 wilderness areas and 11 nature reserves. This new plan protects ecosystems and species at risk, contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation, helps to provide clean water, supports healthy and active living, and enhances our quality of life.
Our Parks and Protected Areas was enthusiastically received by the public. Headlines in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald said: “N.S. conservationists cheer strides in wilderness protection.” The article’s lead read: “Loud cheers erupted Thursday from a crowd at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax as the Nova Scotia government announced it has exceeded its land protection goals and is now a national leader in the field.”
The Ecology Action Centre’s wilderness coordinator Ray Plourde told CBC-Sydney that, “…yesterday Nova Scotia went from middle of the pack, in terms of provinces meeting those [the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit] commitments, to second only to British Columbia…so we’ve become national leaders in meeting those commitments.”
In many ways, the parks and protected areas plan exemplifies the visionary approach set out in the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act. The planning process was anchored by the Act’s clear protection target and principles for integrating environmental and economic goals, and by the province’s 2011 natural resource strategy.
Building trusting relationships, sharing information, and collaborating across departmental and agency boundaries led to innovative solutions for protecting biodiversity and opportunities for outdoor recreation while continuing to support the sustainable use of forest and mineral resources. These solutions included completing over $100 million in strategic land acquisitions, selecting protected areas to minimize overlap with forestry investments and highly prospective mineral and energy interests, and delaying the protection of some areas to allow time for more detailed planning and forest restoration planning.
Nova Scotia is rich in biodiversity and internationally recognized for its natural, cultural and historic treasures. Through the parks and protected areas plan, well-known sites such as the rock barrens at Peggys Cove, rugged cliffs of Cape Split and Joggins, and scenic slopes of the Cape Breton Highlands, will be joined by a suite of coastlines, islands, forests, lakes, rivers and wetlands as a natural legacy for future generations. Built on the foundation and principles of the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, the benefits resulting from Our Parks and Protected Areas plan will extend well beyond ecological protection, and help position Nova Scotia as a clean, green place to visit, live, work, and invest.