Nova Scotia to become first province to regulate biodiversity

The provincial government is taking the first steps in better protecting biodiversity in Nova Scotia.

Bill aims to close gaps between Endangered Species Act, Wildlife Act and other legislation

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin introduced the Biodiversity Act on Thursday. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The provincial government is taking the first steps to better protect biodiversity in Nova Scotia.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin tabled the Biodiversity Act on Thursday. The move is something requested in the independent review of forest practices.

The act will help manage threats to ecosystems and better protect wild species, said Rankin. It closes gaps where the Wildlife Act, Endangered Species Act and other legislation might not have applied, he said.

In particular, Rankin said the bill would better protect invertebrates, plants and their ecosystems along with species before they become endangered.

"We needed something proactive to help keep common species common."

A focus on Crown land

The minister pointed to bats as an example of a species that could have benefited from protection sooner before they reached a critical situation, but said there are many other examples.

There will also be the ability to create a biodiversity management zone when certain protections are required quickly or for finite amounts of time.

The bill allows government to create biodiversity protection orders that would prevent the import, selling or distribution of an invasive species that isn't listed in regulation and prevent destruction of a rare ecosystem or habitat.

Rankin said the focus on the legislation would be Crown land.

Waiting for more details

Kate Sherren, an associate professor in Dalhousie University's school for resource and environmental studies and a member of the province's biodiversity council, said the bill is a good starting point, but there's lots of work still to do.

"Biodiversity is the engine of the ecosystem services that drive us," she said. "And so we don't know necessarily some of the things we're going to be up against, and so we needed a piece of legislation like this to fit in the gap and enable those movements."

Craig Smith, conservation program director with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, called the bill a positive and progressive step, noting Nova Scotia will become the first province to regulate biodiversity.

Smith said he'll be looking to see more details around invasive species and and how common species and ecosystems are treated.

"The specific wording around those types of issues, and the authority of the minister to regulate and issue emergency orders surrounding land use activities that are degrading those ecosystems and species, is going to be really important."

Regulations implemented as ready

Smith said he'd like to see the bill eventually contemplate private land.

"Biodiversity is, in fact, concentrated on private land."

Ray Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre said biodiversity is in collapse around the world and he welcomed the step by the government.

He said he'd like to see more "shalls" than "mays" in the bill, but said he and others are putting their faith in the government to get it right.

"This is a good first step."

Regulations supporting the act will be developed with First Nations, conservation groups and members of the public. A government official said that work would begin right away and regulations would be put in place as they become ready.

Even without the regulations to provide more detail, Rankin said the intent of the bill is clear.

"I think it's strong legislation in itself, but it can be stronger through regulations."

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About the Author

Michael Gorman

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Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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