$1-million Sobey donation will help protect Guysborough wilderness

·3 min read

HALIFAX – A $1-million donation from the Sobey family last week to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust will help protect more wilderness areas in Guysborough County as early as this spring, says the conservation organization’s executive director, Bonnie Sutherland.

“We’re probably going to secure close to 20 or 22 properties [in Nova Scotia] before the end of March, and [some of those are] definitely Guysborough County,” she told The Journal in an interview.

Asked whether any are along the St. Mary’s River, where conservation efforts – including public opposition to a proposed open pit gold mine at Cochrane Hill, northeast of Sherbrooke – have been ongoing for years, she said: “I don’t think there’s one set to close this year on the St. Mary’s River, but we’re certainly talking with lots of people [and] it’s certainly a real area of focus,” adding: “There are other parts of Guysborough County where we have some things that I hope will close very soon.”

In a release last week, the Nature Trust announced that The David and Faye Sobey Foundation, and Paul and Marsha Sobey, have committed $900,000 and $100,000, respectively, toward its $4-million Twice the Wild campaign – which aims to double the amount of land it protects and stewards across the province, from 15,000 to 30,000 acres – by 2023.

“The gift has certainly made a huge difference and really makes that possible,” said Sutherland, who pointed to the “need for urgent action” to stem biodiversity loss across the province. “Now that we have that funding in place, we can really start moving forward with a number of the land acquisitions.”

The endowment also sets an important precedent for other conservation-minded donors, she said. “We think and hope that their gift will be an inspiration to other people. Since the pandemic, people are spending more time outdoors, thinking more about biodiversity and climate change. It’s a really great opportunity to step up and make a difference themselves for the wild places they care about.”

The campaign’s four-to-one leveraging component makes the gift even more significant.

“Every dollar donated will unlock four more leveraged from federal [sources] and the Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust,” she said, adding that the endowment does not come with strings attached.

“It’s a sort of unrestricted campaign gift [to be used] as the opportunity arises anywhere in the province.”

The Sobey family has a long history of land conservation in St. Mary’s through the Nature Trust. According to the organization, Paul and Marsha Sobey have donated 231 acres near Cochrane Hill, and David and Faye Sobey have entrusted 50 acres at Mitchells Pool.

In the news release, Janis Sobey-Hames, chair of the David and Faye Sobey Foundation, stated: “We’re proud to be helping the Nova Scotia Nature Trust save our most beautiful and important natural areas so our children and grandchildren can continue to enjoy our wild rivers, lakes and forests, just as we have.”

Earlier this year, the Nature Trust purchased and protected 133 acres of environmentally sensitive land along the St. Mary’s River. The three parcels, located on the West Branch of the watercourse – upstream from Sherbrooke – complemented more than 1,400 acres it had already safeguarded from heavy commercial and industrial use.

The organization’s Twice the Wild campaign focuses on the St. Mary’s River, Mabou Highlands, Bras d’Or, Kespukwitk, South Shore Coast and Islands, Wentworth Valley and 100 Wild Islands, along with urban wildlands, such as Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal

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