Na­ture Con­ser­vancy an­nounces new pro­tected land in Cape Bre­ton

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - AN­DREW BROOKS

Three new parcels of land to­talling 274 hectares (676 acres) in cen­tral Cape Bre­ton are now pro­tected due to the ef­forts of the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada (NCC), the Govern­ment of Canada and pri­vate land donors. The con­ser­va­tion ar­eas an­nounced Oct. 11 are NCC’S first in Cape Bre­ton in more than a decade, and the first in a long-term NCC plan to pro­tect unique habi­tats and ecosys­tems in the area.

The new con­ser­va­tion ar­eas in­clude un­usu­ally rich and di­verse habi­tats con­sist­ing of unique wet­lands, ma­ture Aca­dian for­est and rare gyp­sum karst land­scapes, in lo­ca­tions around the north­west­ern shore of the Bras d’or Lakes and Lake Ainslie.

Cape Bre­ton is home to some of the best re­main­ing undis­turbed gyp­sum-based ecosys­tems in At­lantic Canada and eastern North Amer­ica. Many ‘cal­care­ous’ ar­eas on the is­land have been mined by both large and small-scale op­er­a­tions for ev­ery­thing from fer­til­izer to drive­way stones to sheet rock. Much of the land is pri­vately owned and has not been the fo­cus of govern­ment-ini­ti­ated con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. NCC Nova Sco­tia Pro­gram Di­rec­tor Craig Smith said in an Oct. 6 phone in­ter­view that the Con­ser­vancy took about a year to iden­tify po­ten­tial parcels of land and con­duct a let­ter-writ­ing cam­paign to pri­vate landown­ers.

Aca­dian for­est is a mixed-wood tran­si­tion zone between south­ern hard­wood dom­i­nated forests and the soft­wood dom­i­nated for­est of the Bo­real in the north. It re­mains the dominant for­est type in Eastern Canada though a long his­tory of har­vest­ing has taken its toll.

“Set­tlers have been here for 400 years do­ing the things that they do. That means we have very lit­tle pri­mary for­est left in the Mar­itimes. There are forests still stand­ing that were here when the first set­tlers ar­rived, but not much of it,” said Smith.

Smith says mod­ern forestry ac­tiv­ity that uses a ‘cut and plant’ method fo­cuses more on yield ob­jec­tives and less on bio­di­ver­sity.

“We have what peo­ple are call­ing the Bo­re­al­iza­tion of the Aca­dian for­est where Black Spruce or Bal­sam Fir and other kinds of soft­wood dom­i­nated species that drive the pulp mar­ket had been planted on a sig­nif­i­cant scale. We’ve lost

the mixed wood for­est com­po­si­tion that typ­i­fies the Aca­di­ans for­est.”

Four species of birds listed un­der the fed­eral Species at Risk Act have been iden­ti­fied in NCC’S new Cape Bre­ton con­ser­va­tion ar­eas: rusty black­bird, eastern wood-pee­wee, Canada war­bler and olive-sided fly­catcher. NCC ac­quired these prop­er­ties strate­gi­cally to pro­vide wildlife cor­ri­dors and habi­tat con­nec­tiv­ity to nearby ex­ist­ing provin­cial pro­tected sites, such as North Moun­tain Wilder­ness Area, Cain’s Moun­tain Wilder­ness Area and the Black River Bog Na­ture Re­serve. Habi­tat con­nec­tiv­ity is one of the most im­por­tant fac­tors in main­tain­ing bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity.

Smith says these new land des­ig­na­tions will not in­hibit recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties or eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

“The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy is pro­tect­ing small, highly sig­nif­i­cant eco-sites. 676 acres is prob­a­bly less than one half of one per­cent of the pro­tected crown lands in the re­gion. We are not pro­tect­ing vast land­scapes with high lev­els of in­dus­trial po­ten­tial or high eco­nomic out­puts. I think that's very im­por­tant for peo­ple to un­der­stand. These are small, dis­crete eco­log­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant sites.”

Pro­tec­tion of NCC lands is de­rived al­most ex­clu­sively from pri­vate prop­erty law. Once in the NCC trust, land can never be re­verted, elim­i­nat­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of all ma­jor land use threats. No har­vest­ing or ma­jor de­vel­op­ment is al­lowed though light restora­tion and in­fra­struc­ture, such as park­ing lots, trail­head fa­cil­i­ties and trails for na­ture ap­pre­ci­a­tion may be per­mit­ted.

Smith says, in gen­eral, NCC land is open and avail­able for recre­ational use, in­clud­ing hik­ing, bird­watch­ing and con­sump­tive ac­tiv­i­ties like hunt­ing, fish­ing and berry pick­ing. In the case of the New­ton-do­nated Karst land­scape, the num­ber of sink­holes may make it less safe for pub­lic use.

Con­ser­va­tion of these Cape Bre­ton prop­er­ties was made pos­si­ble with fund­ing sup­port from the Govern­ment of Canada through the Nat­u­ral Ar­eas Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram. In ad­di­tion, a por­tion of this project was do­nated to NCC un­der the Cana­dian govern­ment’s Eco­log­i­cal Gifts Pro­gram which pro­vides en­hanced tax in­cen­tives for in­di­vid­u­als or cor­po­ra­tions do­nat­ing eco­log­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant land. The Nova Sco­tia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust, U.S. Fish & Wildlife un­der the North Amer­i­can Wet­lands Con­ser­va­tion Act and many pri­vate donors also con­trib­uted to the suc­cess of these projects.

The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy has been op­er­at­ing in Canada since 1962. It cur­rently pro­tects 35,000 acres in Nova Sco­tia and ap­prox­i­mately 73,000 acres across At­lantic Canada.

Karst, gyp­sum cliffs are seen along the edge of a pond near Ot­tawa Brook, west of Iona. The site is one of three parcels of land newly-pro­tected by the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada. Photo by Mike Dem­beck.

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