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HomeWorld NewsCanada newsOttawa moves to protect 'exceptional' Nova Scotia island bird sanctuaries

Ottawa moves to protect ‘exceptional’ Nova Scotia island bird sanctuaries

The federal government wants to designate three isolated Nova Scotia islands as national wildlife areas.

The move would provide additional protections to prevent destruction of habitat, restrict access and limit human use of the sites.

“I think it is actually a very big deal,” says Bob Bancroft, a biologist and president of Nature Nova Scotia, an ecology advocacy group. “All of these three sites are exceptional.”

The proposed wildlife areas are St. Paul Island, located 24 kilometres off northern Cape Breton, Country Island in Guysborough County and Isle Haute in the upper Bay of Fundy.

For the birds

Country Island is home to 25 per cent of Canada’s nesting population of endangered roseate terns.

Isle Haute features 100-metre cliffs and provides undisturbed habitat for 60 species of birds.

Entry to both would be prohibited year round without a permit. Permission is currently required, as is authorization for some activities like campfires.

The wildlife designation adds prohibitions on moving, damaging or removing artifacts or natural objects to protect habitats for migratory birds and species at risk at each location.

An old, balding white man is seen being interviewed by reporters. He's wearing thin wire-rim glasses and a short sleeved, green button up shirt.
‘I think it is actually a very big deal,’ says biologist Bob Bancroft. (CBC)

Entry to St. Paul Island would require a permit from April to the end of August. Hiking, nature watching, foraging for edible plants and mushrooms and boat landings would be allowed between September and March.

St. Paul Island supports threatened Bicknell’s thrush and Leach’s storm petrel, and is a stopover for migrating songbirds.

“The reality is these places are better off without a lot of people being on them anyway,” says Bancroft. “I think we must learn to let nature be the dominant force in a few parts of this province.”

Environment Canada takeover of islands

Environment and Climate Change Canada published a notice about its plans earlier this month, triggering a 30-day public comment period.

The department recently took over administration of the islands — which total 588 hectares — from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which retains control of small parcels on each island for navigational aids.

Environment Canada did not provide anyone to discuss its plan.

But the official notice says: “National Wildlife Area designation under the proposed Regulations would afford protection of a large number and wide range of species, enhancing conservation and protection of local wildlife species, including species at risk, and their habitats.”

It says the current situation does not prevent hunting or provide protection against the destruction of habitat and does not allow for direct management of human use of the sites.

“In comparison, the National Wildlife Area designation … would afford protection of a large number and wide range of species, enhancing conservation and protection of local wildlife species, including species at risk, and their habitats.”

Mi’kmaw connection recognized

Treaty rights negotiators for the Mi’kmaq lobbied Ottawa to restrict public access to Isle Haute.

The department says there are records of Indigenous use there going back 600 to 800 years, and evidence that artifacts have been looted.

Indigenous people would not be required to obtain a permit to visit Isle Haute if they are visiting for the purposes of exercising an established treaty right.

No one was available to comment from the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs.

The department says it is also working with the Mi’kmaq to identify Indigenous names for the national wildlife areas, and discussing what role the Mi’kmaq would like to undertake with respect to co-managing them.

Praise from group suing Environment Canada

Nature Nova Scotia and East Coast Environmental Law are currently taking the federal environment minister to court, alleging the department has weakened habitat protection for the endangered piping plover

But on this designation, Bancroft has nothing but praise.

“It’s wonderful to see the federal government actually doing something like this,” he says. “That’s super.”


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