New Brunswick will suffer a "nature emergency" if it doesn't conserve more land, beginning with wilderness around the Restigouche River, says the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
The province already protects 4.6 per cent of New Brunswick, or 3,386 square kilometres scattered around the province, but the society's Roberta Clowater says that's not enough.
She said the total needs to more than double fairly quickly to ward off a nature emergency, which the society describes as a catastrophic loss of nature combined with the effects of climate change.
"We're calling it a nature emergency because we want to increase the level of attention and urgency that people have when they think about what we need to do to protect nature," said Clowater, executive director of the New Brunswick chapter of the society.
A report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society this week called on the federal government to protect or restore 30 per cent of land and inland waters in the country by 2030, or triple what's currently protected.
In New Brunswick, Clowater said, pollution and degradation and loss of habitat have left species such as songbirds, Atlantic salmon, coastal birds and marine animals at risk or endangered.
And minimal conservation efforts also affect people in the province, she said.
"The natural areas that surround us, that often we think of as home for wildlife, is actually part of our own life support system, so we really rely upon the natural areas around all of our communities in New Brunswick," Clowater said.
She said having healthy natural areas can protect humans from heat waves, extreme cold and flooding and provide habitat for pollinators that contribute to a stable food supply.
"If we don't start dealing with our nature emergency, both in New Brunswick and across Canada, we are going to have to start putting millions and millions of dollars into replacing some of these services that we currently get for free," she said.
The national report suggests areas where land could be protected and the wilderness around the Restigouche River in northern New Brunswick is among them.
Clowater thinks the province could conserve 10 per cent of its land by next year if it did just that.
"But what we need now is the political will in the province to actually have an action plan for New Brunswick that fits in with the rest of Canada," she said.
Jean Bertin, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Resource Development, said the department is working on conserving more land.
"New Brunswick has the potential to significantly increase the area of land and freshwater that we permanently conserve," Bertin said in an email statement.
He said more details about conservation will be released in the coming months.
Clowater wants people to start talking about what needs to be done.
"This is the new normal, that we actually need to address what's happening with that life support system that we all depend on."