The Department of Natural Resources heard from 60 people in Fredericton on Tuesday night about a proposal to increase protection for wilderness areas in the province.

Over the next week, the Department of Natural Resources will be holding open houses in Edmundston, Bathurst, Blackville and Richibucto to display maps of locations being considered for permanent bans on tree harvesting or development and to get public input.

The department has identified 190 candidate sites, totalling 143,000 hectares. The provincial government expects about 122,000 hectares will be designated Protected Natural Areas, which would double the amount of forested Crown land under permanent protection to eight per cent.

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The Department of Natural Resources has chosen 190 candidate sites for the Protected Natural Areas designation. (Department of Natural Resources)

The proposed areas fall within already designated conservation forest areas, but that gives a lesser level of protection. These smaller areas will be completely protected, officials have said.

Blake Brunsden, the chief forester for J.D. Irving Ltd., said his company has no problem with the provincial government’s plan as long as the wider conservation areas themselves don't grow.

"We've supported, in the conservation zone, having more areas that are outright protected. We're not fans of having more forest taken out of the use of forest management," he said.

The views of the province's largest forest company ran counter to some people at the public meeting.

Roberta Clowater, an official with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said the areas identified by the provincial government as potential areas to protect is a good start.

'Most of them are too small, too far apart, and not enough to really do the job of protecting our wilderness heritage.'—Roberta Clowater, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

But Clowater said the provincial government should protect more Crown land in the future.

"Most of them are too small, too far apart, and not enough to really do the job of protecting our wilderness heritage," she said.

"But they're all very high-quality sites, the ones they have identified."

New Brunswick currently ranks second last in the country for protecting its wilderness. Nova Scotia, for example, currently protects 12 per cent of forested areas.

The provincial government is accepting feedback until Nov. 15 before it decides which four per cent of the forest to protect.

William Clark and Kathryne Crocco, who are members of the Skiff Lake Cottage Owners Association, attended the session on Tuesday night to make sure their cottage areas are protected.

"Two sides of the lake are hills, and if they're cut, the question is whether they're going to drain into the lake. We're a contained lake, spring fed, and we don't want that to happen. Any silt will kill the lake," Clark said.