CPAWS NL Concerned About Status of Natural Areas System Plan
St. John’s – The Newfoundland and Labrador Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS NL) is concerned about the recent changes made by the provincial government to the Department of Environment and Climate Change.
“We are very concerned about the restructuring of the Department of Environment and Climate Change,” says Ms. Suzanne Dooley, Co-Executive Director, CPAWS-NL. “By chopping it up and sending it to other departments, there is a very real risk that important conservation work will fall through the cracks”.
“It is crucial that there is a Minister who’s sole responsibility is to consider impacts on the environment, as various issues are discussed at the cabinet table”, adds Dooley. “That no longer appears to be the case”.
Last week, Premier Dwight Ball announced that the Department of Environment and Climate Change was being split up and reassigned to other departments.
“We are still assessing exactly what happened and who is now responsible for various conservation files”, says Ms. Tanya Edwards, Co-Executive Director, CPAWS-NL.
Of particular concern for CPAWS-NL are the changes to the Parks and Natural Areas Division. Newfoundland and Labrador is way behind other jurisdictions for the amount of land dedicated toward conservation.
The current government has indicated that they will address this poor performance on protected areas by finally releasing the Natural Areas Systems Plan. The Ministerial Mandate letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change states the following:
“Advancing protected areas planning is central to environmental and cultural conservation, as well as to sustainable development. A well-governed and scientifically-based system for designating protected areas has the potential to benefit not only our environment, but our economy, through ecotourism and research endeavors. You are expected to finalize and publicly release a Natural Areas System Plan in collaboration with your colleagues. You must also develop a provincial wetlands strategy which will, among other things, guide development to avoid or reduce effects on our valuable wetlands. This strategy will provide a formal framework to support conservation work presently being undertaken by municipalities.”
“It was our understanding that the provincial government was making good progress internally to finalize the NASP and to protect these ecologically significant areas. All of that has now been thrown into question. We would like assurances from the provincial government that the restructuring of the department will not slow down the release of the NASP and we want to know when we can expect this plan to be released publicly”, says Ms. Edwards.
The Natural Areas System Plan has been in limbo for over 20 years. It is a long overdue network of protected areas developed by the Newfoundland and Labrador government several decades ago, but never released publicly.
“These stalled protected areas represent some of the best remaining natural areas in the province, including incredibly significant coastal seabird colonies, species-at-risk habitat, and important wetland habitat.”, adds Edwards.
The time has long since passed for the provincial government to finalize the NASP and ensure that these precious remaining natural areas of Newfoundland and Labrador are protected once and for all.