People attending a public meeting in Riverside-Albert Thursday night to hear about a nomination to the provincial government to protect Shepody Mountain instead heard a surprise announcement that it would become conserved Crown land.
Mike Holland, minister of Natural Resources and Energy Development and MLA for Albert told those in attendance 700 hectares of Crown land would be set aside as conserved lands.
“Holland said he had just came out of a meeting with industry and he was taking the steps to put the entire 700 hectares of Shepody crown land into conservation protection,” said Deborah Carr, a member of the group Water and Environmental Protection for Albert County, or WEPAC.
“It was sort of a shocked silence,” she said about the reaction to Holland’s announcement. “Then came the but.”
Carr said the ‘but’ is JD Irving Ltd. will be permitted to go in and do a supervised select cut on about 20 hectares (50 acres) of land within the 700 hectares.
While details are still scarce, Carr said WEPAC and community members are now waiting to learn what it all means.
“This has not happened in New Brunswick before. This was a really big thing.”
Work to protect the Crown lands on Shepody Mountain began in late summer when landowners became aware JD Irving had plans for a harvest cut on the mountain in the spring of 2020.
“We heard about the cut and we weren’t quite sure what to do,” said Carr.
Harvest plan prompts action
WEPAC obtained a copy of JDI’s harvest plan which Carr said showed the extent of what was going to be cut on the mountain.
“That was a big concern and landowners, especially in that particular area, were concerned with what the impacts could be.”
Carr said they also learned this harvest had been approved years before, but no one in the area was made aware of it.
She added, while many wanted the mountain protected, there was no mechanism to increase the amount of conserved land before now.
But with an announcement by Holland in Oct. 2019 of a new federal/provincial initiative to increase conserved lands to 10 per cent before 2021, the group saw an opportunity to nominate Shepody Mountain as one of those areas.
While WEPAC was formed to fight against fracking in the area, the group stayed together after to provide education and advocacy on different issues affecting the environment.
“We decided rather than wait, we’d just jump in and figure it out as we went along,” said Carr after WEPAC realized there was no process or guidelines to follow to submit the nomination.
Connection to mountain
“We pulled together what we thought were the highlights of Shepody and how meaningful it was.”
Holland, who Carr said told them he was onside with the idea from the start, was invited to hear from local landowners at a meeting organized by WEPAC in December.
“We went around the room and everyone talked about what their connection to Shepody was and what their feelings were on Shepody. It was so moving to see people put into words this deep profound connection they have to this mountain.”
While Carr said the group had a strong case for protecting the mountain in the nomination, she believes the tipping point was the support shown by the community.
“There’s a very strong generational spiritual connection with this mountain.
“It’s a very very special place. You can see it from as far away as Amherst. Shepody is a landmark mountain.”
Carr said the threat of logging operations made many people in the community realize how much it meant to them.
“People stood up and just said ‘we’re not going to sit back and let this happen again’.”
“There was a gentlemen there from the Nature Trust of New Brunswick and he said, you know, what just happened here tonight he said, this never happens. You know, you don’t get what you asked for.”
Carr is hopeful this is a precedent for future announcements of protection of provincial Crown lands.
“I’m hoping that this is a change in how we’re viewing our forests, less as a commodity and more as the intrinsic value of the forests.”
In a written statement, Holland said his government understands the importance of conserving natural areas as part of an overall approach to meeting forest and land management objectives.
“We are working to protect and conserve freshwater, forests and other wild spaces for future generations. We are committed to more than doubling the amount of protected and conserved land in our province, and I’m pleased that 700 hectares in the Shepody Mountain area will be protected.”
Holland added there is a process to follow to get this area officially designated, but that work will be starting very soon.
“An important part of that process will be consultation with First Nations. In the meantime, no industrial work will be taking place in this area.”
In an email, JDI spokesperson Mary Keith said the company recognized the importance of the mountain and the viewscape it offers.
“We respected the feedback we received and our foresters developed the 50 acre, low touch select harvest area that was designed to protect the viewscape on Shepody Mountain. It is important to note that our proposed harvesting plans for the viewscape area never involved any form of clear cutting and were designed to protect the mountain viewscape.”
Keith continued, saying JDI respects Holland’s decisions on how to ‘achieve the Province’s conservation targets and maintain the wood supply.’
This content was originally published here.