Two people hike along a lake. On the right is a woman with a blue backpack, and on the left, in front, is a man with a red backpack. It's an overcast day, and along the shores of the lake there are evergreen trees and steep hills.
Caitlin Grady, conservation campaigner with the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and Chris Miller, CPAWS Nova Scotia’s executive director, left, hike along the shore of Charlie’s Lake in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area. On Thursday, Ottawa and Nova Scotia announced work would be done to make the area the country’s first urban park. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Representatives from the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, Friends of Blue Mountain, and the Nature Conservancy of Canada were on hand Thursday when federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault made an announcement with his provincial counterpart promising to protect more of Nova Scotia’s land and biodiversity. The event was held at the Maskwa Aquatic Club, which borders the proposed Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area.

“Today’s commitments represent a major step forward for the protection of nature in Nova Scotia,” said Guilbeault. “With commitments for an urban park, new ecological corridors, and other protected areas in the province, Nova Scotians will be happy to see a strong foundation for the establishment of a federal-provincial Nature Agreement by 2023.”

“Nova Scotia’s leadership in supporting Canada’s conservation goals is something we would like to see from all provinces and territories in Canada, particularly as we are about to host the major United Nations biodiversity conference this December and champion more international conservation efforts.”

The two levels of government have committed to several initiatives :

  • to advance negotiations on a funded Nature Agreement that will include protecting more natural spaces in Nova Scotia and increasing habitat protection for species at risk and migratory birds, to be finalized by 2023
  • complete the pre-feasibility assessment and work toward the designation of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area as Canada’s first urban wilderness park, together with the Halifax Regional Municipality, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, and the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq. The federal government has committed to making a major investment, either land acquisition or infrastructure, by the end of 2023
  • develop a funding agreement to conserve Old-growth Forests and address the hemlock woolly adelgid (an invasive pest). Under the Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund, Environment and Climate Change Canada has agreed to commit up to $10 million which will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration
  • seek new opportunities for connecting key areas of protected and conserved lands, including completing a pilot project under Parks Canada’s National Program for Ecological Corridors by 2025, in collaboration with partners

“Last fall, Nova Scotia placed in legislation a conservation goal of protecting 20% of Nova Scotia’s lands and water to be preserved by 2030,” recalled Tim Halman, Minister for Environment and Climate Change. “But we can’t achieve this goal alone. Collaboration and partnerships are essential.”

“By 2023 we will have a new strategy for designating protected areas that will provide a road map for the next eight years as to what and where to protect,” Halman said.

The agreement comes in the wake of a protracted controversy over whether to designate Owls Head on the Eastern Shore as a protected area after the previous Liberal government approved the sale of the land to a private developer to build a golf course.

The area was quietly removed from a long list of approximately 260 sites identified as potential candidates for conservation or protection. The Houston government has since declared Owls Head a provincial park.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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    1. Yet even further nitpicking. They’re saying this will be the first ‘urban wilderness national park’, which Rouge is not.