An important meeting about Sable Island

In addition to her invaluable work on Sable Island, Zoe Lucas has, for the last five years,  hosted annual public meetings where scientists, government officials, industry representatives, and naturalists like herself have briefed the public on developments affecting the island.

The sixth of these sessions takes place at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 3, at the Theatre Auditorium, McNally Building, Saint Mary’s University. This year’s meeting takes on special significance because of the secret deliberations currently underway between the Harper and Dexter governments over the level of protection to be afforded Sable in years to come.

Federal Parks Minister Jim Prentice and provincial Natural Resources Minister John Macdonell announced the negotiations in January, when they signed an MOU promising to designate the island either a National Wildlife Area or a National Park. Unfortunately, the MOU also stipulated that bureaucrats would make the decision as to which behind closed doors, with the public consulted only after matters were settled.

What’s worse, Prentice raised fears about the Park option when he spoke of  “encouraging” more people to visit and enjoy Sable, and speculated that private operators could be invited to transport tourists to and from the island. Some people cannot gaze at a spectacular natural landscape* without imagining “improvements.”

Nevertheless, some people who have worked long and hard to protect Sable against government indifference and cupidity favor the park option because it would provide broader legislative protection than a National Wildlife Area. They point to a few very remote parks in the far north that limit visitors and eschew the usual array of parks structures. I worry that, once a park is established, it will take only a hot dog like the current minister, and a few craven Parks bureaucrats, to open the floodgates.

Whatever their view of the park vs. NWA decision, I think most participants in the debate object to the highhanded way the two governments are excluding the public from their deliberations. Officials from both Parks Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service have asked for time to speak at Wednesday’s meeting, so perhaps they will at least give us some insight into their private discussions.

All these issues are discussed and debated more fully at Zoe’s Green Horse Society website, at my Hands Off Sable Island Facebook Page (2,300 members!), and in previous Contrarian posts here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday’s meeting will also hear presentations from ornithologist Ian McLaren and biologist Bill Freedman—both eminent scientists with deep knowledge of Sable. Zoe Lucas, a highly accomplished autodidact whose life’s work has deepened public understanding of and respect for Sable, will report on the year’s happenings on the island. This will likely include a fresh round of her always inspiring photographs.

Finally, Zoe and Mark Butler of the Ecology Action Centre will lead a discussion on next steps for the island.

I hope that discussion will call on the bureaucrats to bring deliberations about the island’s future out into the open. I would like to hear whether legislation establishing a park (or a wildife area) could include provisions preventing a future minister from turning it into yet another ocean playground.  I would like to know why plans for protecting Sable are limited to those two options. Why not a unique legislative framework for protecting a unique island, rather than a cookie cutter approach?

Come early. It’s a big hall, but it’s always packed.

* To head off a flurry of email, I do recognize that Sable has been affected by human intervention over the last two centuries, most dramatically in the introduction of horses, who now play a significant role in the island’s ecology. But compared to any National Park in Atlantic Canada, it is pristine.