Pictured is the Newtown area which is beiing protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

BADDECK: As part of a new conservation effort in Cape Breton, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) announced today that it has protected three extraordinary habitats totalling 274 hectares (676 acres).

These conservation areas are NCC’s first in Cape Breton in more than a decade, and the first in the organization’s long-term plan to protect some of the unique habitats and ecosystems in central Cape Breton.

The new conservation areas include unusually rich and diverse habitats of unique wetlands, mature Acadian forest, and in particular, rare gypsum karst landscapes, in locations near Lake Ainslie and around the northwestern shore of Bras d’Or Lake.

Cape Breton is home to some of the best remaining undisturbed gypsum-based ecosystems in the Atlantic region and eastern North America. Most of these areas are privately owned and have not yet been the focus of government-initiated conservation efforts.

“The properties we have conserved near the Bras d’Or Lake include some of the best remaining gypsum-based landscapes in Nova Scotia and perhaps North America,” said Craig Smith, Nova Scotia program director, with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. ”We are thrilled to have protected them for the benefit of wildlife, the protection of rare species and the enjoyment of residents and visitors.”

Participating in a media conference today were Mark Eyking, MP for Sydney-Victoria, Rodger Cuzner, MP for Cape Breton-Canso, Nature Conservancy of Canada staff, and local donors and supporters.

Contributed photo
The Black River bog is one of the area’s being protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The project areas announced include 69 hectares (170 acres) of mainly Acadian forest near Marble Mountain at the Bras d’Or Lake. Due to extensive harvesting over hundreds of years, less than five per cent of the Maritime provinces’ original Acadian forest remains intact.

Another area is a 43-hectare (106-acre) site at West Lake Ainslie, near the Black River Bog Nature Reserve, managed by the Province of Nova Scotia. The area surrounding Lake Ainslie has one of the most significant groups of rare plants in Nova Scotia.

Three species of birds listed under the federal Species at Risk Act have been identified on NCC’s new Cape Breton conservation areas: rusty blackbird, Canada warbler and olive-sided flycatcher. NCC has strategically acquired these properties to provide wildlife corridors and habitat connectivity to nearby existing provincially protected sites, such as North Mountain Wilderness Area, Cain’s Mountain Wilderness Area and the Black River Bog Nature Reserve. Habitat connectivity is considered to be one of the most important factors in maintaining biological diversity and reducing loss of plant and animal species.

Conservation of these Cape Breton properties was made possible with funding support from the Government of Canada through the Natural Areas Conservation Program. In addition, a portion of this project was donated to the NCC under the Canadian government’s Ecological Gifts Program, which provides enhanced tax benefits for individuals or corporations donating ecologically significant land. The Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust, US Fish and Wildlife Service through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and many private donors also contributed to the success of these projects.

“Conserving and protecting our land and water not only supports biodiversity, but also helps to address climate change by creating carbon sinks,” Rodger Cuzner, Member of Parliament for Cape Breton-Canso noted. “By working together, we can ensure that Canada’s natural environment is preserved for generations to come.”

The unique landscape and communities of central Cape Breton were recognized in 2011 by UNESCO when it designated the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve. There are only 18 biosphere reserves in Canada deemed to demonstrate a balanced relationship between humans and the natural world.

Gypsum-based habitats are valuable to conserve due to their rarity within Nova Scotia, and because they support many rare plant species that thrive in the high-pH, calcium-rich environment.

Gypsum and limestone are soluble and erode easily due to the effects of rain and snow, resulting in karst topography. Karst includes sinkholes and cliffs visible on the land as well as underground networks of caves and tunnels found in areas of gypsum and limestone. Karst is found almost entirely on private land in Nova Scotia.

There is less than five per cent of the original extent of Acadian forest remaining intact in the Maritimes. Acadian forest is found mainly in the Maritimes and New England, and, as one of the world’s most diverse forests, comprises 32 species of trees, predominantly red spruce. Other common species are red maple, American beech, white ash, eastern hemlock, white pine, white birch, trembling aspen, tamarack, balsam fir and black spruce.