Minister shrugs off Wolastoqey chiefs' concerns as he unveils new protected Crown lands

·4 min read
Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister revealed locations covering 90,000 hectares of newly protected Crown lands in New Brunswick. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister revealed locations covering 90,000 hectares of newly protected Crown lands in New Brunswick. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

The New Brunswick government has identified 90,000 hectares of Crown lands it says are now protected against timber harvesting, agriculture and mineral extraction.

But the selection of the 84 sites unveiled Thursday by Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland is already coming under fire from Wolastoqey chiefs, who accuse the government of failing to properly consult them.

"We have made repeated requests that the Province abandon its unilateral approach to the Nature Legacy Initiative," Neqotkuk First Nation Chief Ross Perley said in a news release issued by the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick before Holland's announcement.

"We are now asking publicly that the Province resume discussions with us to develop appropriate tools to achieve interim protection for candidate sites while we continue to work together on the recognition of protected areas."

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

The province announced in February that it would protect 400,000 hectares of Crown land by the end of 2023 as part of the Nature Legacy Initiative, which is being funded by the federal government.

The program will double the amount of Crown land that's protected from about 4.6 to 10 per cent.

On Thursday, Holland gathered in Fredericton with environmental advocates from the Nature Trust of New Brunswick, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society to unveil the locations of the first 90,000 hectares.

The newly protected areas include much of the Restigouche and Nepisiguit rivers, the headwaters of the Penniac Stream near Fredericton and the wetlands of Little Gaspereau, near Tracadie-Sheila.

"This is meant to ensure that populations aren't sustained but they grow, they develop and we see an increase of these wildlife populations well into the future," Holland said during the new conference.

Holland said another 10,000 hectares will soon be included to bring the total to 100,000, with more to be added over this year and next to reach the 400,000-hectare goal.

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Asked later about criticisms his government didn't consult with Indigenous groups on the initiative, Holland said he disagrees.

"I completely disagree with it because, like I said, I'm confident in the process of consultation that we have gone through," he said.

"That being the case, we will still continue to make sure that we engage, we work with, we identify — the First Nations have such incredible Indigenous knowledge that can help us determine the value of conservation areas. We've been sharing and collaborating that all along through the process, will continue to do so."

Mineral rights grandfathered in

The Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick said its representatives began "engaging" with the province last year on the basis of a proposed partnership.

They say provincial representatives committed to working with the Wolasoqiyik and other nations to develop pathways that could be used to create both Crown-protected areas that respect Indigenous rights, as well as Indigenous-protected conserved areas that would be managed directly by First Nations.

"What began as a process focused on a shared interest in true conservation quickly became a one-way conversation that kept the door open for mineral prospecting, but failed to protect the inherent rights my community members have to the land in question," Matawaskiye First Nation Chief Patricia Bernard said in the group's statement.

According to Holland, there are parts of the protected Crown lands that are subject to mineral claims that have been grandfathered in with the designation.

He said any requests to develop the areas subject to mineral claims would be met with "very strict regulations."

Concerns over treaty rights

The Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick says it also has significant concerns that "the proposed conservation easement mechanisms" will curb constitutionally protected treaty rights of the Wolastoqey.

The concern about the erosion of treaty rights on protected Crown lands is shared by Mi'kmaq in New Brunswick, said Tracy Ann Cloud, director of trilateral negotiations with Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Inc.

Submitted by Tracy Anne Cloud
Submitted by Tracy Anne Cloud

She said from what the province shared with her organization — which represents the province's Mi'kmaw chiefs — certain terms of the Crown land protections would infringe on the rights of Mi'kmaq to hunt, fish and forage for a moderate livelihood.

"We're happy to see lands being conserved in the province, of course, but not in this way," Cloud said.

"And certainly by not limiting our ability to be able to go in and practise our constitutionally protected rights on those lands."

Holland said that to his knowledge, Aboriginal treaty rights will not be affected by the protection of Crown lands.

Allowed activities on the protected Crown lands include hiking, biking, camping and campfires, hunting and trapping, sustainable foraging, and the use of snowmobiles and ATVs.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting