Wetlands, like this one north of Kentville, are disappearing at an alarming rate and should be protected by a government wetland policy, say environmentalists.
As the province held an open house Wednesday to celebrate its water conservation policies, the Ecology Action Centre wondered what happened to a long-promised strategy to protect fragile wetlands.
Jennifer Graham, the centre’s coastal co-ordinator, said the province’s plan to prevent further erosion of Nova Scotia’s marshes and swamps has not seen the light of day, despite being made public in late 2009.
“There’s been no wetlands policy as promised,” she said.
Held in Halifax, the open house was hosted by the province to celebrate World Wetlands Day and to promote its Water for Life: Nova Scotia’s Water Resource Management Strategy, which was released in December.
Graham said the wetlands strategy is likely being held up due to concerns raised by developers, foresters and others who worry about the impact the policy will have on their industries.
“We think the government got cold feet in the face of all of this and it’s been stalling and stalling,” she said.
Who determines if a site is or isn’t a wetland is one of the contentious issues. Graham said the Ecology Action Centre believes that could be resolved if the province used the New Brunswick model, which uses independent “delineators” to make the final decision.
The draft policy, supported by the centre, also called for a “no net loss” provision, which would ensure that filled in wetlands would be replaced elsewhere by a developer.
“We’re worried that (the strategy’s) been delayed so long,” Graham said. “We don’t want to see a weakened policy.”
Jodi Sibley of the Nova Scotia Environment Department, said the input of others is being considered before a final policy is drafted.
“It is a very complex policy . . . and I know everybody is anxious to have this out,” she said. “But we do need to consider the fact that there are a great number of responses and interests that . . . need to be considered in the details of that policy.”
A strengthened wetland policy was promised in the 2007 Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act.
Graham said wetlands have been severely eroded with about 80 per cent of the Bay of Fundy salt marshes lost to development.
Along with sustaining wildlife and acting as water purifiers, wetlands also help ease the impact of severe weather, felt in many parts of the region in recent years.
“The cheapest most cost-effective way to protect us and all of our infrastructure from floods and damage is to have good wetlands in place. They play the role of storing flood water and reducing run-off,” she said.