New Brunswick plans to double amount of protected natural areas before 2021
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says it’s an unprecedented and welcome move
The New Brunswick government will more than double the amount of conserved land and freshwater within the next 14 months, the province announced Monday.
About 4.6 per cent of the province, or 3,386 square kilometres, is already protected, but the government aims to reach 10 per cent by the end of 2020.
"The government understands the importance of conserving natural areas as part of an overall approach to meeting forest and land management objectives," Mike Holland, minister for the newly renamed Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development, said in a release.
"This includes adapting to climate change, protecting biodiversity, protecting wetlands and watersheds, and protecting species at risk."
Roberta Clowater, executive director for the New Brunswick chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said she was "thrilled" by the announcement, describing it as unprecedented.
"The commitment to protect at least 10 per cent of New Brunswick for nature, in law, will help conserve water, wildlife and the natural areas that support all of our communities," Clowater told Shift New Brunswick.
A pathway to change
She said it's a "first step" that brings the province more in line with its Canadian counterparts. But Clowater hopes the conservation will continue.
A report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society released in July called on the federal government to protect or restore 30 per cent of land and inland waters in the country by 2030, or nearly triple what's currently protected.
New Brunswick's new plan is part of a nationwide bid to raise the percentage of protected natural areas from 11.8 per cent, as of spring 2019, to 17 per cent by the end of next year.
It's a joint plan among all levels of government, the private sector, Indigenous peoples, landowners and non-governmental organizations.
The province said it will receive $9.3 million from the federal Canada Nature Fund to achieve its goal.
Clowater said Monday's announcement is the result of a number of factors aligning at the right time.
She said there's political leadership in Ottawa allocating funds to take on these kinds of projects, and she credited Holland and New Brunswick Environment Minister Jeff Carr for taking action on this file.
Conversations with Indigenous groups have also improved, she said, to a point where all sides can work in "the spirit of peace and friendship" on issues like conservation.
She added that amid climate change activism, there's growing public support to protect more areas.
What will be protected?
It's unclear exactly which areas will be considered for conservation, but Clowater said the Restigouche River area in northwestern New Brunswick is likely to be on the list.
"It's a critical area for Atlantic salmon," among other species, she said.
"It's also very important for the whole of northern New Brunswick's tourism and lots of tourism jobs depend upon it."
In July, Clowater said New Brunswick will suffer a "nature emergency" if it doesn't conserve more land.
Clowater said coastal areas with beaches, dunes, cliffs and wetlands should also be considered.
Holland said his department is engaging First Nations, conservation groups as well as natural resource industries to chart a course to meet the target.
The department said more details will become available once agreements with local partners are finalized and new conservation areas are identified.
With files from Shift New Brunswick