Nova Scotia

Nature Trust completes purchase of Halifax wilderness area

The Nova Scotia Nature Trust announced on Tuesday morning that it has successfully completed the purchase of the Blue Mountain Wilderness Connector.

'It's a fantastic thing today — but it will be an absolutely astounding thing in 30, 50, 100 years'

The Blue Mountain Wilderness Connector is 230 hectares of land near Hammonds Plains, Timberlea and Halifax. (Irwin Barrett)

The Nova Scotia Nature Trust has completed its purchase of a wilderness area just 20 minutes from downtown Halifax.

The Blue Mountain Wilderness Connector is 220 hectares, three times the size of Point Pleasant Park, between two sections of provincially protected land — the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes in Hammonds Plains.

"It's a fantastic thing today — but it will be an absolutely astounding thing in 30, 50, 100 years," said Robin Wilber, one of the two landowners, in the news release. He and Bill Fenton agreed to forgo housing development on the land and sell it to the Nature Trust.

"As the surrounding area continues to develop over the next decades, the value of having such a large and wild green space within a major city will be more and more deeply appreciated."

In October 2019, the Nature Trust inked the deal to purchase the land. They had until June 2020 to raise the $2.8 million needed to acquire it.

The Blue Mountain area is home to over 150 species of birds, including threatened species like the Canada Warbler, pictured here. (Scott Leslie)

The area is home to 150 different birds, including several species that are classified as threatened, such as the Canada Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher and the Common Nighthawk.

While conservation groups have been calling to protect this area for more than a decade, executive director of the Nature Trust said the purchase comes at an important time, as the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired more Nova Scotians to spend time outdoors.

"I think the change in heart that people have had during the pandemic in terms of really valuing being out in nature, how important it is for our physical health and our mental health and as a place to spend quality time with family ... I don't think that's going to change," Bonnie Sutherland told CBC's Maritime Noon.

The area is also accessible by public transit and its proximity to Halifax gives hope that more people will use the land on evenings and weekends. Sutherland said it's one of the top five largest intact urban wilderness areas in Canada.

"We're so lucky to have wild places like this still so close to the city," she said.

"You're just in your own backyard hiking, canoeing, kayaking, swimming. It's just an amazing resource for Haligonians and for visitors to Nova Scotia, too."

The newly purchased area is undeveloped wildlands between Hammonds Plains, Timberlea and Halifax. (Irwin Barrett)

Help from federal, local governments

According to the release, the final boundaries and type of protected area are still in the works for the broader Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area.

Part of the land's value" was donated by the landowners under the federal government's Ecological Gifts Program, which provides tax incentives for those who donate land of ecological significance.

"It was obvious that this would be the best use for this piece of land," Wilber told CBC's Maritime Noon. 

"I hope people look after it and use it so that they can see what a beautiful piece of land it is."

The Nova Scotia Nature Trust says the boundaries for the area are still somewhat unclear. (Nova Scotia Nature Trust)

The federal Natural Conservation Heritage Program, funded by the Canada Nature Fund, also supported preserving the area as part of its goal to conserve a quarter of Canada's lands by 2025.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is reminding Canadians how important it is to connect with nature for our health and well-being," said Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson in the release.

"The Blue Mountain Wilderness Connector will support our iconic wildlife in Nova Scotia and provide more protected nature for Canadians to enjoy."

The purchase of the connector was also thanks to several significant financial backers, such as the Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust, the City of Halifax, the Nova Scotia Habitat Conservation Fund and the Five Bridges Wilderness Heritage Trust.

Bonnie Sutherland says if the land had been developed, the canoe route that goes through the Nine Mile River would have been destroyed. (Andrew Chow)

Community support and local organizations such as the Ecology Action Centre also helped achieve the campaign goals, the Nature Trust says.

Sutherland said people were "very worried" about the impact on habitat linkage if this piece of land was developed.

"Animals like the endangered mainland moose need these corridors of wild space that are uninterrupted for them to be able to move through the landscape," she said.

"So I think people have a huge sense of relief today knowing that that area is now protected forever."

With files from CBC's Maritime Noon