Protected Areas Plan A Home For Nature
On May 28, 2020, the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Advisory Council (WERAC) (an independent group of appointed volunteers, over the last 25 years, from across the province who have a wide variety of backgrounds but share an interest in conservation and an awareness of the importance of protected areas) was finally granted the opportunity to publicly release the long-awaited proposed Protected Areas Plan for the Island of Newfoundland, entitled A Home for Nature. The proposed plan for the Island of Newfoundland, which was devised and edited over the past several decades within the various governmental departments, is a blueprint for developing a system of protected areas for the Island.
The boundaries proposed in this plan are not final. The Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Advisory Council (WERAC) will engage the public in two ways. During the first phase, the public had until October 1, 2020 to submit feedback on the plan to WERAC, who used this feedback to provide recommendations to the government, and create the What We Heard Report. Once the overall plan is approved, consultations on each proposed site will proceed to ensure stakeholders and the government have the chance to review the proposed boundaries and determine what activities should be acceptable in each site, such as existing traditional uses.
Importance of Protected Areas
Protected areas are one of the core ways to help us conserve nature – all our species and their habitats. As we develop much of the landscape in our province for resource-based industries, we also need to create areas where the focus is on nature conservation. Creating this balance is fundamental to sustainable living in our province, not only for nature but for our own physical and mental health and well-being. They are areas dedicated to conserving nature and wildlife for current and future generations. They are places to experience and enjoy and learn about our natural and cultural heritage.
The areas put forth in the proposed plan will protect examples of some of the Island’s natural regions that do not have any type of protection or have only partial protection (i.e. some natural features are missing). There are also hotspots of biodiversity such as important breeding bird areas and rare plant sites that should receive protection. These areas have a lower level of impact from human activities. In some natural regions, there simply aren’t any areas without previous human disturbance (i.e. roads, trails, hydroelectric developments, and forestry or mining activities), so the areas selected have either grown back to some degree or are the most intact option remaining that still has representative characteristics. In some natural regions, more than one reserve is proposed so that all the typical features of a natural region are included in at least one of the reserves. If there were several options for a proposed reserve, the sites that had the least impact on potential resource development were selected.
In 2019, the federal government committed to protecting 25% of our land and water by 2025, and 30% by 2030. These are lofty goals and a small window of delivery given the rate at which conservation has historically progressed in Canada.
Currently, less than 7% of Newfoundland and Labrador carries any measure of protection. In fact, we’re considered one of the lowest across the country. Newfoundland remains the only province that does not even have a sustainable plan!
Since the early 90’s the provincial government has publicly committed to devising a subsequent network of protected areas but had yet to deliver. Based on science, the candidate 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.
Under the Current Liberal Government:
- 2015: the newly elected Liberal government committed to “ finalize and publicly release a Natural Areas System Plan in collaboration with your colleagues” in the responsible Ministers Mandate letter.
- 2017: in May a Private Members Bill was put forth in the House of Assembly to “Support the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador designating more protected areas in our province.” A motion that was approved and documented by all parties.
- 2019: the new Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Mandate Letter cited “Working in collaboration with your colleagues, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment and the Minister of Natural Resources, to continue work on a Natural Areas System Plan.”
In February 2020, after much debate, public pressure, and the resignation of 2 prominent members of the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Advisory Council (WERAC), the Minister responsible for Fisheries and Land Resources, publicly announced he will be giving WERAC an opportunity to release the latest version of the proposed Protected Areas Plan, after which was initially only 30 days to gauge public feedback, which has now been extended to 5 months, and then go to Cabinet.
Based on this, if there’s support for WERAC’s plan, the Minster could initiate a direct legislated enactment of the plan. In its first phase, the plan sought support and input so that WERAC can provide recommendations to the provincial government on what and how these new proposed protected areas could look like for the island while allowing ongoing traditional activities that are currently in place to continue. This is just the first phase of public dialogue and each site moving forward will have individual consultations in collaboration with stakeholders on the design.
Now more than 25 years later, the long-awaited proposed Protected Areas Plan, entitled A Home for Nature, has been released (May 2020).