Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia government brings back Biodiversity Act

Nova Scotia's Lands and Forestry minister tabled a revised Biodiversity Act on Thursday, a version he hopes won't raise the ire of private landowners this time around.

Revisions aim to address concerns from private landowners about the bill

Lands and Forestry Minister Chuck Porter speaks during a bill briefing Thursday at Province House. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia's Lands and Forestry minister tabled a revised Biodiversity Act on Thursday, a version he hopes won't raise the ire of private landowners this time around.

Chuck Porter said the bill he introduced includes many of the same provisions as the one that died on the order paper last fall. It also applies to public and private lands, but includes changes to address key concerns identified during consultation.

Most notably, the government will require consent of private landowners before including their property in a biodiversity management zone. The zones are intended to help support conservation or sustainable use of specific biodiversity values, such as bird breeding habitat or areas where edible plants grow in the wild.

Porter told reporters it was important to the government that this be a collaborative effort, something some people felt was not the case with the previous incarnation of the bill. That collaborative effort will include drafting regulations that could allow for compensation in exchange for efforts to bring in management or conservation actions on private land, or if the government is required to intervene on private land in an emergency situation, such as the discovery of an invasive species.

"We want to work with landowners," said Porter. "They have to agree to us going in and being able to do the conservation that we're looking at doing."

Act to come into effect Oct. 1

What was previously referred to as a "biodiversity protection order" in the act, is now being called the "biodiversity emergency order." It can be used anywhere for "urgent, temporary situations" when someone is contravening the act.

Fines remain the same as the previous version of the act, something department officials said is in keeping with other related acts, including the Species at Risk Act and Wildlife Act.

For a first offence, an individual can face a fine of up to $500,000, six months in jail or both, while a corporation could face a fine of up to $1 million. Those fines would double for subsequent offences.

But Porter said the aim of the act is not to be punitive, but rather collaborative. The government wants to work with landowners and help them be in step with the legislation, he said.

"With these changes we believe the act will function more effectively in achieving its intended purpose."

Striking a balance

Premier Iain Rankin said the bill updates the deadline to file a first report on the state of biodiversity in the province from five years to three, with subsequent reports to come every five years.

"The act is just as powerful as it ever was and it's there to protect nature and it's there to make sure we have a thriving biodiversity for generations to come," he told reporters.

Ray Ploude, wilderness co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre said he's happy, on balance, with the updated bill and glad to see that this time around it will likely be passed.

While the bill might not contain all suggestions he and other environmentalists put forward, Plourde said he believes the government did a good job trying to address concerns from a variety of interested parties.

"What makes me proud, as a Nova Scotian, is that this is the first Biodiversity Act in all of North America," he said.

Waiting to hear feedback

The act will come into effect on Oct. 1 and is not subject to proclamation, something department officials said is because it allowed them to begin work sooner on regulations. The first area of focus will be invasive species.

Progressive Conservative Lands and Forestry critic Tory Rushton said he heard lots of concerns about the previous act and he'd wait to hear from farmers, landowners and other interested parties before passing judgments on the new bill.

Of primary concern for Rushton right now is the level of consultation that went into the drafting of the legislation tabled Thursday. He has concerns about some of those meetings being conducted by invitation only and using confidentiality forms.

"There's many ways that consultation can take place and there's many other ways the department and the minister can get a full description of what the feeling is out in Nova Scotia," he told reporters.

Rushton said the people he's talked with, including farmers and loggers, do not oppose efforts in favour of biodiversity, but they want a clear understanding of government's plans and to feel as though they've been included.

More to come on Lahey

Porter also introduced an amendment to the Crown Lands Act, which more broadly defines the purpose of the legislation.

The change shifts "the intent of the act to consider the broader range of societal values and use of public lands," said Porter, for purposes including conservation, recreation, forestry and tourism.

The minister said the two bills mark a big step toward acting on the recommendations of the Lahey report. While he couldn't say if more legislation would come this sitting, Porter repeated what Premier Iain Rankin has previously said, which is that acting on the recommendations is priority for this year.

"There'll be lots more to come on Lahey, I can assure you that," said Porter.

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