P.E.I. has 'a ways to go' to meet land protection commitment

Two years after the provincial government set a goal to double the amount of land protected in the province, a report has found the amount of protected land is largely unchanged.

Province promises ‘significant progress’

This section of shore on the Percival River was acquired by the Nature Conservancy of Canada last year. (Submitted by the Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Two years after the provincial government set a goal to double the amount of land protected on Prince Edward Island, a report has found the amount of protected land is largely unchanged.

A 2018 report the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society found 3.6 per cent of the province's land was set aside to be preserved as wilderness. The 2020 report, released last week, found the same percentage.

A statement sent to CBC News by the provincial government sets the amount of land protected a little higher than it was in the 2020 report, at 4.4 per cent.

A goal of seven per cent was originally set in the 1990s, to be achieved by 2000. The 2018 commitment was for the end of this year. 

"There is still a ways to go to meet that commitment," said Alison Woodley, strategic senior advisor for Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The goal set in 2018 was connected to a federal announcement of a nature fund that would invest $500 million per year for the next five years into land conservation across the country. The national goal was to have 17 per cent of land protected.

Some projects in progress

Local groups acknowledge that would be difficult for P.E.I., the most densely populated province in the country, but they believe a 10-per-cent goal is achievable. That challenge is increased by the fact that almost 90 per cent of the Island is privately owned.

Crown Point was purchased by the Island Nature Trust earlier this year. (Brett MacKinnon/Island Nature Trust)

There are some promising large projects underway, said Woodley.

There is a new partnership between Ottawa, the province, land trusts and the Mi'kmaq Confederacy to protect 4,400 hectares — and Parks Canada is talking to the Mi'kmaq Confederacy about making Hog Island, a 50-km long barrier island over Malpeque Bay, an expansion of P.E.I. National Park.

The province says it remains committed to its seven-per-cent goal.

"Islanders will see significant progress towards the goal in the coming months," said an emailed statement.

"We are working cooperatively with Island Nature Trust, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited, and the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. to add new lands to P.E.I.'s protected areas network, and are reviewing public lands to identify areas that will qualify for further protection."

'Parks have been overwhelmed'

With government deficits soaring as they fight to control the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing for spending on nature can be difficult, said Woodley. She said the society is making the point that nature and health are directly connected.

"[Nature] supports people's physical and mental health, and that's been really obvious during the pandemic when people have craved time in nature and parks have been overwhelmed," she said.

"We're trying to point out the benefits of investing in nature as part of that recovery, because it does have health benefits."

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With files from Island Morning