N.S. to protect 684 hectares of wilderness, lake eyed by mining company
Archibald Lake Wilderness Area includes 3 lakes that feed into St. Marys River
A new wilderness area in Nova Scotia's Guysborough County will protect 300 hectares of old-growth forest as well as a lake that has been identified by a mining company as a water source for a proposed gold mine.
The Archibald Lake Wilderness Area will encompass 684 hectares of forest, wetland and three lakes that feed into a tributary of the St. Marys River, one of Nova Scotia's longest rivers.
The area also provides habitat for the endangered mainland moose and Canada warbler.
Greg Morrow, the province's agriculture minister and the MLA who represents the area, called it a "pristine natural gem" that "takes your breath away when you come to it."
He spoke at a riverside event in Sherbrooke, N.S., on Monday that about 50 people attended.
Morrow said he'd been looking forward to the announcement for years, in part, because he saw how much it meant to people when he was campaigning.
"What an impression was left on me, just everybody in the area who said to me, 'We want this area protected.' with tears in their eyes," he said.
Conservation groups have long sought protection for the area and stressed its importance to the watershed where a salmon restoration project has seen success.
Calling it a "joyous day," Scott Beaver, president of the St. Mary's River Association, said Archibald Lake plays a crucial role in the ecosystem.
"It really is one of the very first spots Atlantic salmon have, when they leave the estuary — the saltwater, the brackish water — and they move up the [river] waters and they hit the deep, cool refuge of Archibald Lake drainage basin. It's so very important," he said.
People from the area use it for birding, paddling, hiking and angling, Beaver said. His own parents had a guiding business and brought clients for trout fishing.
"This is a big win for biodiversity," he said in an interview.
"The salmon, turtles, moose, lichens, songbirds, bats, and forests will all benefit from this important conservation decision," said Chris Miller, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society in a provincial press release.
The group conducted fieldwork in the area over the last three years and identified 37 rare species, including seven that are endangered.
The province said people will be able to continue to hunt and fish in the wilderness area.
Proposed gold mine wants to use lake
Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Australia-based St Barbara Ltd., hopes to build an open-pit gold mine near the wilderness area. The Cochrane Hill project wants to draw water from Archibald Lake and discharge treated wastewater back into the lake.
The company reiterated in a statement to CBC News Monday morning that it remains committed to the project and said it will be assessing the designation's impact on its plans.
The new protections "are creating unexpected barriers and challenges for the industry" and the company urged the province to "reflect on the impact" they will have on the mining industry and rural communities, communications consultant Kenny Cameron said in an emailed statement.
It said the proposed mine never put Archibald Lake "in jeopardy."
"Mining operations across the globe co-exist with lakes, rivers and streams and do it in a way that balances mining operations with healthy ecosystems," the St Barbara statement said.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation in Nova Scotia has said it was concerned the Cochrane Hill project could hurt spawning areas and habitat for wild Atlantic salmon.
Morrow and Beaver would not comment on Atlantic Mining's statements.
The federal government previously terminated its environment assessment of the proposed mine in 2022, saying the company failed to submit the required information and studies by deadline.
A May 2023 provincial socio-economic analysis of protecting Archibald Lake said the designation would "prohibit future exploration and potential mine development within the wilderness area, except where pre-existing mineral exploration licenses exist."
Development could only proceed if it was determined the activities wouldn't "degrade the wilderness area."
With files from Paul Palmeter