The Chronicle Herald (Provincial)

Biodiversi­ty: Let’s move away from entrenched viewpoints

- JIM SIMMONS Jim Simmons lives in Porters Lake.

Perhaps for the first time, natural biodiversi­ty became one of the prominent subjects of debate in a provincial election.

For good reason, the campaignin­g party leaders were being asked this summer to make their commitment­s to its importance. All parties, of course, were careful to agree that the natural biodiversi­ty of the province is a high priority. It remains to be determined if the rural pushback and Biodiversi­ty Act controvers­y was a deciding factor in the election, as many private landowners were deeply opposed to the proposed Liberal legislatio­n.

Given the results of the vote, we can suppose that this topic likely did not win the Rankin Liberals an overwhelmi­ng number of rural seats. It’s likely, as well, that the other parties will have gained intelligen­ce from this outcome and would believe that it is foolhardy to venture into this legislativ­e minefield anytime soon.

While this appears to be a stalemate, it is also an opportunit­y to listen to and educate each other to make progress that will benefit future generation­s of Nova Scotians. Consider that biodiversi­ty — being roughly defined as the variety of life, the communitie­s they form, as well as the habitats they live in — is not a static reality. This includes genetic diversity, species diversity, and overall ecosystem diversity.

For example, post-hurricane Juan, our forests saw many natural diverse changes, most beautifull­y the abundance of various bird species attracted to the insects which had reduced the fallen trees to soil.

In considerin­g the amount of protected lands as a protective biodiversi­ty measure, there already is considerab­le protected land area in proximity to the city centre of the HRM. Mapping shows that east of Halifax, from Waverley to Tangier, there are numerous, large tracts of provincial­ly designated protected land. West of Halifax, there are protected lands as well and active considerat­ions to add more. These are great accomplish­ments.

It’s true that human activities, both innocent and deliberate, can have unmitigabl­e consequenc­es for richly biodiverse areas.

It is also true that the feared outcomes associated with specific developmen­ts are not inevitable, given the ability and mandate to plan for them. Parks Canada, for example, has excellent expertise and practices in building roadway corridors through biological­ly sensitive areas. The natural gas pipeline constructe­d over 20 years ago across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and which crosses over 600 watercours­es, is barely noticeable on the landscape. The royalties from that developmen­t have contribute­d over $1 billion to the provincial budget, offsetting health care, social services and debt servicing requiremen­ts over that period.

Nova Scotia graduates dozens of specialize­d life scientists and environmen­tal engineers each year who can develop and implement environmen­tally aware constructi­on practices to protect biodiversi­ty. There is now advanced knowledge on road salt management plans, soil erosion and sediment control (including practices that have been around for at least 60 years), and constructi­on sequencing measures to mitigate injurious effects on biodiversi­ty for particular projects.

My point is innovative solutions for sensitive developmen­ts are available and the loss of biodiversi­ty from developmen­t is not always inevitable.

If we have decided that we want population density in core areas of the province, we need to adequately service these areas with transporta­tion routes designed to safeguard the biodiversi­ty of the natural areas they traverse.

In 2021, can a golf course which has been proposed in an economical­ly depressed area containing valued ecosystem components be developed? We can neither say a definitive yes or no to this question with a locked-in mindset on what to accept and what to reject on biodiversi­ty. But we can have the discussion.

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