Nova Scotia announced its intention Tuesday to protect 20 new sites, achieving the goal of protecting 13 per cent of its land — a milestone that environmental advocates applauded and urged the government to surpass.
One of the sites to be protected will form the Sackville River Wilderness area, the first of its kind in that area of the Halifax Regional Municipality.
The news was three decades in the making for an elated Walter Regan, president of the Sackville Rivers Association.
"I couldn't breathe for two minutes," he said. "And then after I started breathing, I started hooraying, hooraying, hooraying."
Regan said his organization and others have been lobbying for this protection since 2011, although he has personally been working to conserve the river for 32 years.
"COVID has shown us the importance of inexpensive, easy, accessible wilderness and wild areas. Blue Mountain, Sandy Lake, Lewis Lake would become refuges — refuges of peace and quiet that people will go there with their families," he said.
Regan said there are seven developments near the Sackville River and he calls it a "fight" to protect as much green space as possible.
"We are becoming more and more of an urban civilization, and we need areas that we can call green and wild," he said.
Chris Miller, executive director of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said his organization is very excited by the news.
"For a lot of these sites, we've been waiting a long time," he said, noting the Sackville River site is important for species such as the Atlantic salmon and wood turtles.
Other sites include Cherry Hill Beach, which forms a publicly owned protected coastal area and is important for piping plovers, said Miller. The Barneys River site contains one of the only publicly owned old-growth forest areas left in Pictou County.
The Eastern Shore islands site contains temperate rainforest while the Wentworth Valley site contains large areas of ecologically significant forest.
"We've been waiting for a period of a couple of years for all of these sites to be officially announced," Miller said.
In some cases, more land will be added to sites that are already protected. A public consultation process is required for those areas, which will happen over the course of 60 days online. The government said it will launch the consultation website soon.
Decisions on formal protection will take place in the coming months, after the province gathers and assesses feedback from the consultation process.
"Although we are a small province, Nova Scotia continues to be a leader in land protection," Environment Minister Gordon Wilson said in a news release. "I'm very pleased to move these sites forward for protection."
Miller urged Nova Scotians to have their say.
"This is the final, final step in a very lengthy process to protect these sites," Miller said. "It's really important that people who care about nature, people who like to spend time in the woods and in remote places, that they write in and they participate in this public consultation."
Miller added that he encourages the province to be even more ambitious about land protection by matching the federal government's targets of 25 per cent of Canada by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.
The sites to be protected include:
Cherry Hill Beach Nature Reserve, Lunenburg County.
Barneys River Nature Reserve, Pictou County.
Big Meadow Brook Nature Reserve, Hants County.
Blue Sea Beach Provincial Park, Cumberland County.
Dunns Beach Provincial Park, Antigonish County.
Eastern Shore Islands Wilderness Area (expansion), Halifax Regional Municipality.
Economy River Wilderness Area (expansion), Cumberland and Colchester counties.
Eigg Mountain-James River Wilderness Area (expansion), Antigonish.
Five Islands Provincial Park (expansion), Colchester County.
Glendyer Nature Reserve, Inverness County.
Les Caps Nature Reserve, Inverness County.
Medway Lakes Wilderness Area (expansion), Annapolis County.
Middle River-Framboise Wilderness Area (expansion), Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
Monks Head Provincial Park, Antigonish County.
Pomquet Beach Provincial Park, Antigonish County.
Porcupine Brook Nature Reserve, Annapolis County.
Portapique River Wilderness Area (expansion), Cumberland and Colchester counties.
Sackville River Wilderness Area, Halifax Regional Municipality.
Staples Brook Nature Reserve, Colchester County.
Wentworth Valley Wilderness Area (expansion), Cumberland County.
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