Establishment of Sable Island National Park Reserve

Public Statement – October 17, 2011

National parks and national park reserves are established to protect and present outstanding examples of natural landscapes and natural phenomena, representing 39 natural regions as defined by Parks Canada. The goal is to protect for all time representative natural areas of Canadian significance in a system of national parks and to encourage public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of this natural heritage so as to leave it unimpaired for future generations.

Parks Canada is working to designate Sable Island as a national park reserve, which would improve representation of the Atlantic Coastal Plain natural region of the national park system, currently represented by Kejimkujik National Park. The establishment of this park reserve would add approximately 2,984 hectares or 30 km2 to Canada’s system of national parks and national park reserves. Sable Island and its intertidal zone out to the low water mark would be designated as a national park reserve under the Canada National Parks Act. In addition, drilling for petroleum would be legally prohibited from the boundary of the park reserve out to one nautical mile, constituting a de facto legislative buffer zone around the national park reserve.

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) was conducted in accordance with the guidelines for implementing the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (2010) ,wherein all policy, plan and program proposals of federal departments and agencies will consider, when appropriate, the potential environmental effects associated with their implementation. This SEA has also taken into consideration the goals and targets of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, specifically Theme 3 - Protecting Nature; Goal 6: Ecosystem/Habitat Conservation and Protection – maintain productive and resilient ecosystems with the capacity to recover and adapt; and protect areas in ways that leave them unimpaired for present and future generations.

The proposed national park reserve, located approximately 290 kilometres south-east of Nova Scotia would protect a unique geomorphic feature, an island composed entirely of unconsolidated sand forming the only remaining exposed portion of the outer continental shelf. It is partially vegetated, has one of the largest sand dune complexes in Eastern Canada and is home to over 190 plant species, a herd of feral horses, the world’s largest colony of grey seals as well as two species listed in the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) - the Ipswich Sparrow (Schedule 1, special concern) and the Roseate Tern (Schedule 1, endangered).

In 2004, a joint document developed by the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia recommending protection options indicated that it would be in the public interest to use a federal protected area designation to achieve conservation objectives for Sable Island. In 2008, funding to investigate a potential national wildlife area designation was provided as part of the Health of the Oceans Initiatives. Exchanges of correspondence between the Provincial Premier and the Minister of the Environment for Canada culminated in the January 2010 signature of a Memorandum of Understanding: The Establishment of a Federal Protected Area on Sable Island (hereafter, the MOU). The MOU provided for the Canada – Nova Scotia Sable Island Task Group, which was to recommend whether to establish Sable Island as a national wildlife area under the Canada Wildlife Act or a national park under the Canada National Parks Act (CNPA). The task group recommended the designation of Sable Island as a national park.

On May 18, 2010, former federal Minister of the Environment, the Honourable Jim Prentice, and former Nova Scotia Minister of Natural Resources, the Honourable John MacDonnell, announced that the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia would take the necessary steps, including public consultations, to designate Sable Island as a national park under the CNPA.

The expected result of designation as a national park reserve is to ensure that ecological integrity is maintained and cultural resources are protected while providing opportunities for meaningful visitor experiences either on site or off island. The designation as a national park reserve would bring Sable Island under the protection of the CNPA, which requires that the maintenance of ecological integrity be the first priority in managing a national park.

The Species at Risk Act would continue to apply to this area and birds designated as species at risk would continue to be protected under SARA and the Migratory Birds Convention Act. For the Roseate Tern (Schedule 1-Endangered), a Recovery Strategy (2010) has been developed by Environment Canada working in cooperation with the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec. Sable Island is one of three areas currently identified that has areas of critical habitat. Given the geographic distribution of the critical habitat across several provinces, Environment Canada would continue to be the lead for this species. For the Ipswich Sparrow (Schedule 1- Special Concern) a Management Plan (2006) has been developed by Environment Canada and the Province of Nova Scotia. As the Ipswich Sparrow nests almost exclusively on Sable Island, the lead for this species at risk would be assumed by Parks Canada when the area becomes a national park reserve.

The proposed bill to establish Sable Island National Park Reserve would amend the CNPA to add Sable Island to Schedule II of the Act and provide for the continuation of leases, easements and licences of occupation under the terms and conditions of the CNPA. It would also make consequential amendments to the Canada Shipping Act to repeal the Sable Island Regulations.

In addition, there would be a consequential amendment to the federal Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act. The effect of this proposed legislation and consequential amendments to the Accord Act would be to prohibit, by law, petroleum drilling from or on the surface of Sable Island and out to one nautical mile seaward of the low water mark. This would replace the current policy statement by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board with a legal prohibition. The proposed legislation would not amend the CNPA in such a manner as to create a precedent that would permit oil and gas exploration or extraction in existing or future national parks.

The Canada National Parks Act requires that the maintenance of ecological integrity is the first priority of managing the national park reserve. A park management plan would be required within five years of the establishment of the park reserve. Cultural resources would also be managed in a manner that ensures a level of protection consistent with the CNPA and the Parks Canada Cultural Resource Management Policy. Natural and cultural resources within the national park reserve would be monitored to ensure that the management actions are effective. Park management may require some small scale facility development. The requirement for park facilities would be assessed during park management planning. The park management plan would be subject to strategic environmental assessment. Any construction projects would be subject to project environmental assessment.

The establishment of Sable Island as a national park reserve would produce incremental environmental benefits, most particularly the benefits of increased protection and restoration of the ecosystem, increased protection of cultural resources, improved opportunities for visitor experiences, and enhanced opportunities for collaborative management. In particular, the legislative ban on drilling from the surface of Sable Island would guarantee an increased level of legal protection for the natural and cultural resources of the island. And the ban on drilling out to one nautical mile would ensure the creation of a legislative buffer around the national park reserve, a precedent within the national park system.

No negative environmental effects are anticipated.