Nova Scotia’s wildest remaining river must now contend with the realities of open pit mining, putting decades of concerted conservation at odds with the high price of gold.
How, then, to reconcile the uncomfortable realities of modern mining with those of climate change, environmental integrity and the rights of Canadians to health and natural beauty? It’s a messy maze at best, but Jamie Kneen of MiningWatch Canada, a coalition of sorts concerned with the shortcomings of Canadian mining nationally and abroad, had plenty to say.
I found my first Ram’s Head Lady Slipper while on hands and knees along an obscure walking trail in Hants County, Nova Scotia, its delicate purple flower, no larger than my fingernail, now the focal point of a groundbreaking lawsuit in the provincial capital.
For years now, members of the conservation community and even anonymous government employees have expressed to me their worry that exactly this would happen – that years of lethargy from our provincial government would result, finally, in their abandoning the Parks and Protected Areas Plan.
Let’s go back to 2013, when our provincial government, in partnership with numerous stakeholders, created the Parks and Protected Areas Plan. It was an inspired document, identifying huge tracts of land which were ripe for formal protection either as wilderness areas, nature reserves or provincial parks, most of which were mapped, surveyed, studied and consulted upon ahead of time, gift-wrapped and, in most cases, simply awaiting a order in council to make them official.
The Migratory Bird Convention Act (MBCA) is a fine piece of legislation, stipulating in no uncertain terms than an exhaustive list of our native birds – chiefly those who come and go with the seasons – cannot be legally killed, nor their nests lawfully destroyed. It’s an emblem of protection for those species who face enough danger on their epic annual migration, more or less ensuring their safety within our borders. Yes, permits do exist for the killing of some listed birds, but these are typically for hunting waterfowl, and are never granted to industrial undertakings such as forestry.
The health of the Shubenacadie River is time and again the focus of resistance to Alton Gas, the Stewiacke company intent on hollowing out local salt caverns and dumping the resulting brine into this fragile watershed. A local geologist, however, is equally concerned with the caverns themselves.
Our Fisheries Act is quite old – in fact one of the oldest acts in Canada – protecting native fish and their habitat since 1868 and evolving over decades to suit the government of the day.
Legislation dedicated to the protection of species-at-risk is relatively new to Canada. Our federal Species-At-Risk Act (SARA), only came into force in 2002. Recognizing the need for complimentary legislation several provinces established their own, some after, like Ontario’s 2007 Endangered Species Act, and others before, like Nova Scotia’s 1999 Endangered Species Act, among the first in Canada. But, as the decades rolled by, these various acts have proven flimsy, while federal and provincial governments alike leave them unenforced.
Point Pelee has always been unique among Canada’s national parks. It was the first to be established for primarily conservation purposes in 1918, its importance to the migratory songbirds of North America made evident by local ornithologist Jack Miner and others. Because it jutted so far south into Lake Erie from southern Ontario, it offered birds flying north their first opportunity to make landfall in Canada, sharing unorthodox company on this 15 square kilometre spit of land for a few weeks before scattering across the Canadian north.