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Do your letters on wilderness conservation make any difference?

Last week a new Crown forest plan was announced for New Brunswick.  As CPAWS’ New Brunswick Executive Director, I’ve spent many years raising awareness with the public and government of the need for a steep increase in protected areas for our province.  We’ve consistently been at the bottom of the pack in Canada, with a meagre 3% of the province protected from development (the national average is about 9%).

We’re a small province with a small population.  It’s difficult for us to amplify those voices that care about nature protection.  So, we took our campaign to Keep the Restigouche Wild to the national stage – online, in Mountain Equipment Co-op stores, postcard tables at events – all to show the public support for New Brunswick wilderness protection.   The result?  Over 11,500 supporters – New Brunswickers, Québécois, tourists, ex-pats who moved away - but their hearts are still here.

Pretty impressive display, I thought.  Should make an impact for a lot more wilderness protection.

The best I can say about the new public forest plan is that it’s not as bad as the previous government had proposed, and it didn’t give over as much forest to industrial development as industry had been requesting.  We’ll move up a little with protected areas, to 4.5% of the province.  Still the 2nd lowest, just above PEI!  Other previously conserved wildlife habitats and riverbank buffers will be opened for clearcutting.  Over one-quarter of the forest will be turned into plantations.

Disappointing.  How do I explain to all those folks who signed those postcards, wrote letters, and signed online petitions? 

Conservation decisions seem to come in waves, and right now we are riding the down side of a wave that is focused on the economic recession, a weakened forestry industry, and desperate times for jobs.  It should not be a “jobs versus environment” discussion, but many politicians and decision-makers still cling to that old dichotomy.  This means we need to re-double our efforts to explain how wilderness protection is good for the economy, how economic diversification can revitalize those parts of our province that used to be supported by forestry and mining jobs. 

All those people who joined their voice with CPAWS’ have helped to make sure we didn’t lose a lot more old forests to clearcutting.  They helped show politicians that it was OK to approve an increase in protected areas – off limits to mining, forestry and other development.  Some of our spectacular Restigouche wilderness areas will be protected – forever wild. 

Did we reach the wilderness protection goals we wanted?  No.  However, we can now stand even more sturdily on the shoulders of those 11,500+ supporters as we call for a further doubling of protected areas in New Brunswick.  Talk about amplifying our voices for nature!  That’s a giant megaphone for which I and all the staff and volunteers in NB are truly thankful.