We are very lucky on the island of Newfoundland. We have an abundance of public land to roam and explore with many animals and fish to watch, hunt, and eat. Many of us Newfoundlanders take for granted this wild and wonderful place we call home. It may seem unimaginable, but some of the island’s most incredible places and the animals that live there are in danger. A Home For Nature: Protected Areas Plan for the Island of Newfoundland is a rare opportunity to protect some of the island’s most ecologically significant areas.
With only 6.3% of the island currently protected, there is good reason to be concerned about the future of our most ecologically significant habitats.
Earlier this year “A Home for Nature” was released for public comment. For over 20 years, the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Advisory Council (WERAC), on behalf of the provincial government, has been developing the plan. Feedback for phase one of the plan is open until October 1, 2020. After the deadline, WERAC will summarize its findings and make a recommendation to the government whether or not to enter phase two. In phase two there will be extensive consultations for each proposed location to determine reserve boundaries and permitted activities. The development of management plans unique to each reserve ensures that the people who live closest to the reserves can continue to utilize these areas as they always have. By having strong legislation in place, we can guarantee that our traditional land use activities can continue for generations to come.
One of the many reasons why the proposed locations are under threat is because of the province’s dire financial situation brought on by Muskrat Falls, the collapse of the oil industry, and Covid-19. There have only been a few times in history when the NL economy has been in greater turmoil. For some of us, Covid-19 has been a flashback to when the cod moratorium rocked our province. When the economy is in a slump and politicians are flooded with calls for more employment, it is easy to see why they would want more development because development equals jobs. However, like any situation when the government is financially strained, it is more likely to make short-sighted decisions for immediate benefits that ultimately carry long-term environmental costs.
For some, finding out about the plan was an exciting long overdue announcement and a step in the right direction for conservation. For others it was a shock and as some have put it a “punch in the gut.” Some Newfoundlanders believe that the proposed protected areas will impact their ability to access cabins, hunt, fish, cut firewood, and go berry picking, all of which are a way of life in Newfoundland. Out of frustrations, many people have lost sight of what the plan proposes and have focused their attention toward calling on the government to dismantle WERAC. The proposed protected areas plan is not an attempt to evict Newfoundlanders from the land, it is not a “land grab” by the government, and it certainly is not intended to eliminate economic opportunities for rural communities. It is, however, an attempt to safeguard pockets of our most unique landscapes and species, while also ensuring people can use the land as they always have.
As a young outdoors person, I am incredibly grateful for the people who have come before me and protected some of the most incredible places in our province.
Newfoundlanders need to recognize that when a province is as desperate as ours for economic activity, it is easy for decision-makers to turn a blind eye to the environmental impacts associated with development and resource extraction. A series of protected areas can ensure we are protecting our most ecologically significant locations before it’s too late. By doing so we can find a balance between conservation and development. Creating places that serve both as conservation areas and areas that can be utilized by local people is what A Home For Nature is all about. Whether you are for the plan or against the plan, I think we can all agree, some places deserve to be left intact. This is an opportunity to do just that. The deadline to provide feedback for A Home For Nature is October 1st 2020.
Main Photo: Bottle Cove, Western Newfoundland. All photos by Brendan Kelly.
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