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JIM VIBERT: Mother Nature's on the run in Nova Scotia

A carpet of green was starting to regrow in some areas in September 2017 after the Seven Mile Lake forest fire in Annapolis County a year earlier. Nova Scotia’s Lands and Forestry Department said the dry lightning that hit some parts of the province earlier this week is a concern because no rain accompanied it.
In 2013, the Liberals were elected after pledging to protect, at a minimum, 13 per cent of the province’s land for nature. Seven years on, and they still haven’t achieved that very modest target. - Ian Fairclough / File

World leaders gathered — virtually of course — at the United Nations this week to hand-wring once again over unkept promises to protect nature, and then pledged to do better before it’s too late.

Mother Nature was on the run in the 1970s, but she’s been chased to the cliff’s edge in the 50 years since Neil Young wrote the song.

If you’re into the old environmental axiom to think globally and act locally, consider that, according to the UN, two-thirds of the world’s wildlife has been wiped out over the past half-century and more than a million species of plants and animals teeter on the brink of extinction.

And, if you want to act locally, a good place to start is with your nearest Liberal MLA, who you could help to understand that his or her political extinction will be your mission until and unless the government cleans up the boneyard of its own broken promises related to Nova Scotia’s natural environment.

The McNeil government’s signature environmental achievement is the closure of Boat Harbour. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty much its only environmental achievement.

After all, this is the government that was found to be in contravention of the province’s endangered species law for the rather obvious reason that it was failing to protect the province’s endangered species.

While that was a breathtaking dereliction of duty, it’s debatable whether it tops the list of environmental sins of omission and commission committed by Nova Scotia’s governing Liberals.

As galling as the government’s bluster and bluff about protecting nature can be, more galling yet is the fact that much of the heavy lifting was done before they arrived in office. All they had to do was take credit for the work of previous governments, but when it comes to protecting nature they can’t, or won’t, even do that.

In 2013, the Liberals were elected after pledging to protect, at a minimum, 13 per cent of the province’s land for nature. Seven years on, and they still haven’t achieved that very modest target.

This, too, is dereliction of duty, because Nova Scotia’s parks and protected areas plan was complete — following years of consultation and consideration — when the Liberal government arrived.

All they had to do was designate those places as parks and protected areas and — Bob’s your uncle — they’d achieve their promised 13 per cent.

Instead, they chipped away at the plan, protecting a few places on the list every now and again and issuing a self-congratulatory news release like Jack Horner with a plum on his thumb.

Meanwhile, when there was a sniff of lucre in the air, these same Liberals surreptitiously delisted the designated park at Owl’s Head to make way for a golf course development.

This week’s UN summit is on biodiversity, or more accurately the alarming global depletion thereof.

During the 2017 election campaign, the McNeil Liberals promised Nova Scotians a law to conserve Nova Scotia’s biodiversity.

It’s more than a little telling that the Liberals alternate between environmental activists during election campaigns and environmental scofflaws once they’re safely in government.

But, true to their word, they brought in a bill in 2019 “to provide for an integrated framework of legislation that supports the stewardship, conservation, sustainable use and governance of biodiversity in the Province” — otherwise known as the Biodiversity Act.

The bill is mostly milquetoast and motherhood, but nevertheless a step in the right direction.

However, it stalled on its way to becoming a law when it bumped up against some vested interests and now it remains marooned on the legislature’s order paper, unpassed to this day.

And then, finally, there is Bill Lahey’s much acclaimed — and properly so — report on sustainable forestry practices in Nova Scotia.

The Liberals promised the study during the 2017 election campaign because they’d run afoul of Nova Scotians who were outraged by the prevalence of clearcutting in Nova Scotia’s forests.

They commissioned Kings University president and former deputy minister Bill Lahey to conduct the study and issue a report, which the McNeil government subsequently accepted and promised to implement.

Except to date, much of the report gathers dust, while the government plows ahead with that part that permits so-called industrial forestry (clearcutting) on Crown lands.

Lahey, of course, said that kind of forestry should be part of the mix, but only part. More selective cutting and Crown land set aside for other purposes — like protecting biodiversity — were given equal importance in his report, but not by the provincial government, at least not yet.

There’s really only one thing we all need to recognize about nature and the natural world. It can and will exist without humans. But humanity can’t survive without nature.

It would be comforting if Nova Scotia had a government that understood that and acted accordingly.

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