Proposed protected area lies within planned Cochrane Hill mine site

By Helen Murphy    
January 15 2020

SHERBROOKE – The St. Mary’s River Assoc. is thrilled to see the Archibald Lake area added to a list of proposed Protected Wildnerness Areas. Environment Minister Gordon Wilson launched public consultations on six new protected areas on Jan. 10.

“Adding the Archibald Lake Wilderness Area is a great addition to the St. Mary’s River Valley protected areas,” Scott Beaver, SMRA president says in a news release. He says recognizing the area's ecological and social value “and not allowing it to merely become an industrial water supply to a multinational corporation's destructive mining operation” is a major success for the local community and Nova Scotians.

Archibald Lake is identified in Atlantic Gold’s description for its proposed Cochrane Hill Gold Project. The company’s proposed use of Archibald Lake cannot be permitted within a wilderness area.

The Archibald Lake Wilderness Area would protect 684 hectares of woodlands, lakes and several small wetlands in the watershed of Archibald Brook, an important tributary of the St. Mary’s River. It consists of Archibald, McDonald and Rocky lakes, along with surrounding provincial lands. At least 300 hectares are old hardwood forest. The remainder is primarily mature or older hardwood forest on hills and mature softwood forest on flatter terrain.

According to the Dept. of Environment, the forested area provides important habitat for species that depend on or prefer old forest. The watershed of Archibald Brook provides quality habitat for brook trout and other aquatic species. Nearly the entire site consists of ecosystem elements that are poorly represented in Nova Scotia’s protected areas networks. It also overlaps with a mainland moose concentration zone.

The area is used and enjoyed for a variety of outdoor activities, including sport fishing, hunting, camping and camp use. Three campsite leases occur on Archibald Lake. The dept. says these will be honoured under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act.

The proposed boundary avoids forest access roads and trails wherever practical, according to the site description. Depending on interest, the final boundary can be adjusted to accommodate public vehicle access to one or more of the lakes.

About 10 hectares around Archibald Brook are subject to mineral exploration rights. These rights can be honoured under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act, provided activities do not degrade the wilderness area.

“I am very pleased that the provincial government recognizes this value and has acted accordingly,” says Beaver. “Together we can and will protect these important ecosystems for present and future generations.”

The Ecology Action Centre (EAC) echoes those sentiments.

“These additional protected areas will help Nova Scotia do its part to combat biodiversity collapse,” says Raymond Plourde, Senior Wilderness Coordinator at the EAC. “I feel confident the province will hear that Nova Scotians want continued progress on protected areas."

Plourde says he is pleased that the Archibald Lake area is among the new sites being considered for protection.

“St. Mary’s River has been at the top of our list of priority areas for protection,” he says. “The addition of Archibald Lake would extend protection at St. Mary’s to include important rivers, lakes and old forest.”

In a statement, Atlantic Gold said it is aware of Archibald Lake being considered for designation as a Wilderness Area.

“The Company will review the proposal and assess any potential impacts on the proposed Cochrane Hill Gold Mine,” the statement said. “Atlantic Gold acts to protect the environment around its operations and projects, while providing opportunity and prosperity for families and communities along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. Atlantic Gold looks forward to the opportunity to consult with the provincial government on this proposal during the consultation period.”

Kevin Spencer, a Halifax doctor, created a video showing where Archibald Lake is and what it has to offer, posting it to the SMRA Facebook page.

“I have spent a lot of wonderful time in these woods and would love the experience to be available for future generations,” Spencer said in his post.

The recent addition of Archibald Lake to the list of areas proposed for protection was news to the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s. Warden Michael Mosher told The Journal Monday that council will invite provincial officials to meet with them and provide more information.

“We’re going to try to arrange a meeting to talk with them about it, just to get a little more detail,” he said.

In September, the province designated 17 new protected areas and promised more once consultation and survey work were complete. Nova Scotians can have their say online by visiting https://novascotia.ca/parksandprotectedareas/.

Feedback can also be submitted online to protectedareas@novascotia.ca, by calling 902-476-4012, or by writing to: Protected Areas and Ecosystems - PO Box 442, Halifax, NS, B3J 2P8.

The deadline to comment is March 9.

The proposed new sites cover about 8,000 hectares. Once they are designated, Nova Scotia would have 12.75 per cent protected land, or 705,000 hectares.