2013 Sable Update: a peaceable kingdom

SableUpdate The three Parks Canada bureaucrats who tag-teamed an illustrated talk at tonight’s ninth annual Sable Island Update faced a skeptical, though not overtly hostile, audience.

The first time Canadians heard about plans to turn Sable Island into a National Park, Jim Prentice, environment minister at the time, launched into an addle-pated discourse on how great a park would be for private businesses that could could ferry boatloads of tourists out to Sable and put them up for the night in hotels.

You want to hope this was a spontaneous outburst by a know-nothing minister, but with Harper’s crew, who can be sure? Parks Canada bureaucrats have struggled ever since to convince Sable’s large, passionate constituency that they are not the advance guard for a mob of gun-toting Reform Party vandals bent on paving Sable and putting up Ferris wheels.

In the process, they appear to have persuaded the naturalist and longtime Sable champion Zoe Lucas. (Disclosure: Zoe and I have been friends for years.)

zoe_lucas copyIn her talk last night, Zoe, who is principal organizer of the meeting, gave her usual fascinating and witty précis of events on Sable over the last 18 months—a spell-binding catalog of weather highlights, scientific discoveries, critter strandings, beach debris, and whatnot. She followed this with a useful history of tourism to the island, gently driving home the point that people have always visited Sable (albeit in small numbers) and properly managed, such visits cause little damage while helping build the passionate constituency for conservation that is Sable’s best protection from Cretins like Prentice.

Zoe and I have not spoken about this, but it appeared to me that she and the Parks Canada officials charged with setting up the new park have established a productive and mutually respectful relationship. This has not always been the case. Zoe is a woman of strong views and a willingness to express them. She has not always enjoyed a blissful rapport with Sable’s federal overseers.

In their presentation, the Parks Canada officials made the obligatory gestures you would expect toward Zoe’s revered role as unofficial steward of the island, including the invaluable scientific work she has carried out over nearly four decades. Beyond that, they peppered their inventory of preparations for park status with signals they have been listening, and thinking about imaginative ways to fulfill Parks Canada’s mandate to provide visitor opportunities without wrecking the place.

Two small examples: They hope to get Google to carry out Street View mapping of the island, so Sable buffs can treat themselves to virtual tours from the comfort of their living rooms. When challenged about regulations that ban petroleum drilling on the island, but permit seismic testing, they agreed with a marine geologist in the audience that sufficient seismic testing has already been carried out, and it’s unlikely future tests would be permitted.

I don’t want to go overboard here. The trio of officials did sometimes lapse into practiced talking points whose purpose was to mollify, rather than inform. They professed not to remember what the park’s annual budget was, but when pressed (by me) they agreed to give Zoe this information for publication on her Green Horse Society website (specifically, the park’s 2013-2014 annual budget, and the annual operating budget they expect once startup costs are behind them).

I’m no @Tim_Bousquet, but I did my best to live-tweet the event. With occasional help from seat-mate Alan Ruffman, I think I did capture the gist of most, if not all, the questions. You can find these tweets by searching for my Twitter handle (@kempthead) or the hashtag #Sable. Those outside the Twitter realm can view the live-tweets in bullet form after the jump. If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, reading from the bottom up will give you my account in chronological order. Errors and omissions are mine.

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  • In past years door prizes have include #Sable treasures – shells etc. This year: books. PC won’t allow removal of artifacts. #good
  • #Sable Update Session is wrapping up. Who will win the door prizes?
  • Q: (by me) ask again, what is the budget? A: we will provide Zoe with the numbers on Green Horse Society website.
  • A: (cont.) DFO has ecosystem responsibility but they would require a permit from us.
  • Q: There have been calls for seal cull. A: no current proposal and PC has legislated obligation to consult
  • A: the board would ask that question of any applicant b/c we agree that the work to date seems sufficient.
  • Q: rules permit seismic. But detailed seismic has already been done. Isn’t it sufficient? #Sable
  • Q: What does PC consider the visitor carrying capacity to be? A: to be determined as part of the management plan.
  • A: ( cont. ) horses dig for water and drink snow melt. (Zoe )
  • Q: concern about horses’ access to H2O. A: freshwater lens is stable but ponds are localized at west end and getting filled by sand
  • Q: what is Mi’kmaq history there? A: Mi’kmaq have a claim to all NS. History on #Sable, if any, TBDetermined
  • Q: how did horses get there? A: (Zoe ) deliberately in 1700s to graze. Incl some Canadian livestock. Common practice on offshore isles
  • Q: what happened to plan for wind power? A: challenging environment for wind. Reviewing all options but esp. green options.
  • Q: how much is the budget? A: Don’t know (!) exact number.
  • Q: how have PC budget cuts affected process? A: Sable Park has stable long term funding
  • Q: is plastic debris a cultural resource? A: Ambiguous. PC will determine what is a cultural resource.
  • Well informed questioner asks about longstanding weather data collection. Upper atmosphere ( balloon ) program will continue says PC
  • Q&A now #Sable
  • Also seeking ways to enable people on the mainland to experience #Sable through things like Google Street View.
  • Looking at ways to give a limited number of people #Sable experience, leave “only footprints,” and become ambassadors.
  • 70 visitors in 2012. 94 so far in 2013.
  • Trompa acknowledges facilitating visitors is part of Parks Canada mandate
  • 4. Facilitating applied research including cultural history (including possible Mi’kmaq involvement)
  • 3. ecological and biodiversity assessment (gathering all the research that had been do e over the years) #Sable
  • 2. Protecting species at risk, ie Ipswich Sparrow and Roseate Tern. #sable
  • 1. ecological integrity monitoring for baseline data
  • Trompa reviews natural resources conservation program with 4 areas
  • Parks Canada will reduce the footprint of the #Sable base station with more efficient energy production and fewer heated spaces.
  • From tone & content of presentations, my impression is that Parks Canada has listened to her counsel and she is pleased with their approach
  • I know from experience that Zoe Lucas has not always had a convivial relationship with #Sable’s federal managers. (1/2)
  • Shepard reviews visitor management systems — mandatory permitting, orientation.
  • About 250 people are attending #Sable update meeting tonight.
  • #Sable Park Manager Jonathan Shepard introduces park staff (by photo)
  • “We — (Parks Canada) — have inherited a legacy of protection of #Sable Island” – MacNamee
  • MacNamee delineates limits on drilling on drilling for oil and gas, and on seismic studies on #Sable
  • National Park “Reserve” reflects unsettled Mi’kmaq land claim.
  • Public consultation *followed* decision to create park. #cart #horse #Sable
  • MacNamee reviews process leading to park designation. #Sable
  • One audience member had written one of those letters. #Sable
  • This sparked avalanche of letters from school children and led to federal regulation protecting #Sable horses
  • MacNamee reviews history of demands for conservation starting with public backlash against 1959 proposal to remove horses
  • Tompa starts by recognizing passionate public interest in and support for #Sable
  • #Sable update pic.twitter.com/zH3P0atxlh
  • Next up: 3 Parks Canada officials: Julie Tompa, Kevin MacNamee, and Jonathan Shepard (spellings approx) #Sable
  • Zoe recounts many reasons people have visited #Sable over the years.
  • Zoe credits Parks Canada with cataloging material artifacts for the first time.
  • Various new-to-#Sable species of plants and micro-organisms found
  • Many plastic bottles, often with notes, including 10 from one available 30-year-old who did a mass mailing #Sable
  • Balloons recovered from New Jersey and Indiana. Also a greater shearwater killed by balloon cord.
  • Recorded a bee that had not been seen on #Sable for years
  • Zoe Lucas knows most of the horses by sight. High summer temp 23.7 degrees #Sable
  • Begins with a weather review. Mild fall in 2012. Snow lingered for longer than usual last winter. Low -12. High +11. Top winds 125 k
  • 18 months since last “annual” #Sable update
  • Quite an old crowd at #Sable update session
  • Next up: Zoe Lucas
  • This new data has enabled researchers to construct a 30-year family tree–useful in designing management strategies for #Sable horses
  • 1987 to 2011 #Sable horse pop varied from 150 to 400 but only 50 animals were contributing DNA to next gen. Concerningly small number.
  • Key factor is not total populations but # of horses contributing DNA to the next generation. #Sable
  • Small isolated populations are at greater risk of extinction due to inbreeding. #Sable
  • Currently seeking methods to gather high quality DNA from bones of #Sable horses
  • Lucas collected skin from #Sable horse carcasses (best source of genetic data)
  • Recently, Frasier has added genetic analysis to this field data of #Sable horses.
  • For 30+ years Zoe Lucas has non-invasively gathered family info and genetic samples from most #Sable horses
  • First up: Saint Mary’s biology pro Tim Frasier on genetics of #Sable horse
  • A smaller than usual crowd gathers at Saint Mary ‘s for the annual #Sable Island update pic.twitter.com/54bT6MhjX2

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