Nature Conservancy announces new protected land in Cape Breton
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.