On January 9th, 150 people packed into the Riverside-Albert Recreation Centre. They were there to learn more about the nomination submitted by Water and Environmental Protection for Albert County (WEPAC) to have Shepody Mountain designated for protection.
The nomination was part of a provincial plan to increase protected areas in New Brunswick from 4.6% to 10% before the end of 2020. The goal of the meeting was to share information about the background of the nomination and the merits of Shepody as a conservation area, as well as rally community support.
Following the presentation, WEPAC turned the meeting over to Minister Holland who promptly shocked the audience by announcing that the nomination met the criteria of the initiative and he was setting aside the entire 700 hectares of Crown land on Shepody as a Protected Natural Area (PNA), which allows for low-impact recreation, but does not permit industrial activity.
He said, “Never before has a parcel included in a Crown License forest management plan in New Brunswick been set aside for conservation.”
However, before this happened, 50 acres might be subjected to a “select cut” by industry.
While the audience was clearly relieved to hear that the full 700 hectares of Shepody Crown land would be conserved, many questioned the logic and precedent of allowing cuts before conserving.
A “select cut” (which removes certain larger trees to open up access to light) on a few dozen acres hardly appeared worth the economic investment and effort to get the wood out. Normally select cuts are done to improve the health and growth of the forest. Forests in Protected Natural Areas (PNAs) are, by definition, allowed to grow and die naturally with minimal human interference.
Additional concerns were raised about the impacts of the road-upgrade required to get the machines in and the trees out. The existing old road, which has three creek crossings, is stable now, but upgrading would allow for larger vehicular traffic and increase the potential for erosion.
Commenting on a Facebook post the following day, Minister Mike Holland said: “First, locals, myself and the forestry company are still discussing whether this [harvest] will even happen. If it does, it's select cut only and I will have the cut supervised by DNR [Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development] staff. And also, once conserved, all forestry will be off limits on the Crown land of Shepody mountain.”
But beyond this, the phenomenal news is that Shepody Mountain will be legally protected for future generations. Shepody Mountain has the attributes that a PNA should have. This was a solid nomination that stands on its own merit. As several conservation folks said, “It’s a no brainer.”
Perhaps what tipped the scales towards this speedy decision was the level of support that the local community delivered. They clearly said that the conservation of public lands is important to them and that the movement toward protecting such areas is both long overdue and heartily supported. They stepped up and made their voices heard.
In addition, the thoughtful stewardship and commitment of adjacent landowners who carefully maintain their own woodlots for forest health increases the effectiveness and reach of the conserved land.
Albert County is a meeting place geologically, geographically and culturally. And Shepody embodies the convergence of the tidal waters, marshes, fields, forests of our region. The first Acadian settlement in New Brunswick was on its slopes. Original Mi’kmaq inhabitants helped Acadian settlers acclimatize to their new surroundings, and then both shared their local knowledge and wisdom with the subsequent German and Anglophone settlers.
We’ve already made an important move acknowledging our combined histories with the Chipoudie Acadian monument in Riverside-Albert, NB. Fort Folly (Amlamgog) First Nation has been a strong supporter of the nomination as Shepody Mountain is within their territories. Collaborating for the protection of Shepody Mountain is an opportunity to honour, reweave and celebrate these early relationships and secure them for future generations.
Following the public meeting, we requested details from the Minister on the steps still required to reach enactment of the PNA designation and expected time frame, as well as whether there’s a time limit within which the harvest must take place. Once Shepody is designated as a PNA, no industrial activity is permitted, therefore a delay in the cut means a delay in actually signing Shepody into conservation legislation.
Overall, it was a very good day for conservation and our forests. This commitment by Minister Holland is evidence that the province is adopting a new ethic for conservation by protecting important forests, wetlands and other ecosystems.
We’re grateful to all who helped make this happen: the folks in the conservation agencies who shared the wealth of their own experience–hard-gained through the decades; the landowners who let their hearts choose the words they spoke; the people from near and far who wrote to express their support and share their own love of the land and special memories; and everyone who showed up to let their voices be counted.
The protection of Shepody Mountain heralds a new era in improving our relationship with the land, and with each other.