Environmental group releases protection plan for Newfoundland, 25 years in the making
Former co-chair questions timing of release
The Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Advisory Council has unveiled its long-awaited protected-areas plan for the island of Newfoundland, entitled A Home for Nature.
It's something passionate biologist Victoria Neville has been waiting more than five years to have released to the public.
"It's essentially our legacy for our children," Neville told CBC News.
"We're setting aside a small piece of our natural heritage so that we can continue to see birds in the sky, caribou on the land and fish in our rivers."
A Home for Nature, released last week, represents 25 years of work, mapping and site surveying by scientists employed by the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and Memorial University.
The plan proposes 32 protected areas across the island that represent a wide variety of natural landscapes and habitats.
However, it took a long time — too long for Neville. The biologist sat as a general member for three years before becoming co-chair of the council.
Neville and well-known professor and scientist Bill Montevecchi stepped down from the volunteer group earlier this year.
"I stepped down in January and I waited for a little while," Neville said.
"I started contacting the media and really blowing on the horn in late February and it's now June. Despite a global pandemic the natural area system plan has already been released. So that isn't nothing."
Neville felt it was taking too long for the public to get their eyes on the report and have a chance to have their say.
"I'm ecstatic that it's finally been released," she said.
"The expansion of two protected areas and the creation of six transitional reserves [is] a huge progress toward our conservation goals for the island of Newfoundland."
Graham Wood, who serves as co-chair with Neville, called the release of the plan "a long road."
"The government and our scientists have been collecting advice and looking at conservation planning, then looking at selected reserves and doing assessments of those possible reserves while also meeting with various industry and resource development group," he said.
Right now, just under seven per cent of Newfoundland is protected. This plan aims to almost double that, bringing the figure up to just over 13 per cent.
But it falls short of the goal of 17 per cent that Canada tried to have in place by 2020.
"We needed to move ahead and we wanted to get this started," Wood said. "Get it out to the public so that we can have the debate and the discussion."
Suzanne Dooley, the conservation director for the Canadian Parks and Water Society NL, called the plan a good start.
"We've been so long trying to get to this point and I think this could help move forward to potential new perspectives."
The document is not a done deal; none of the proposed boundaries is set in stone. But with the release, people can see what the council has proposed and have their say.
Folks now have until Oct. 1 to offer feedback, thoughts and concerns.
That's something Neville hopes people will take the time to do.
"We are finally taking something that has been a closed and confusing internal process that hasn't been getting any traction and now we've turned it public facing," she said.
"Engagement is really important."
Wood said when the phase for feedback is over, the council will take the plan to the province and try to get it approved.
Then it has to bring the plan to the stakeholders in all of the regions and hold public meetings.
"It's not like they are going to happen instantly," he said.