There has been a lot of conversations lately about the new Biodiversity Act and the potential implications on the agricultural industry. The initial opinions on the Act were as wide ranging as the commodities we grow in this province.
In March of 2019, the provincial government introduced legislation to make it easier to protect the province’s wild animals, plants and water species. The Biodiversity Act was intended to create a platform for regulations to manage threats to rare ecosystems and to better protect wildlife against invasive species. Following consultations and review, Bill No. 4 was re-introduced as an Act to Provide for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in Nova Scotia. Amid concerns raised by private landowners, the government removed biodiversity emergency orders, offences and fines from the Act, and limited the scope to Crown lands unless permission is given on private lands.
The Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture will await the regulations to better understand the potential impact to farms, however the new changes that have been passed address the primary concerns raised by Federation members. While much of the conversations in the news and on social media had focused on private landowners and fears of overarching powers in the Act, it is unfortunate that the opportunities to enhance education and collaboration with private landowners is getting off to another poor start.
According to a report by the United Nations, up to one million species could face extinction in the near future due to human influence on the natural world; this was highlighted in another EFP News and Views article last year (March 2020). This is a global issue, and Nova Scotia would be the first province in Canada to pass biodiversity legislation. Being a leader can be a great opportunity to affect change, but it can also create fear and uncertainty when there is so much that is not known as the path is being forged. What is known is that plant and animal species are being threatened at an unprecedented rate around the world and more effort is needed within our province and across this country.
The Federation has been supporting various biodiversity initiatives for years as farmers already play an important role in preserving habitat. In our agricultural landscape, a wide variety of ecosystems are present, ranging from cropland to woodland, and pasture to wetlands. Numerous ecosystems often exist within an individual farm operation that support biodiversity and provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species.
Since 2016, the NSFA has received funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada through the Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL) program. The Wood Turtle Strides project was an incentive-based stewardship program working directly with farmers to adjust farming practices to better protect Wood Turtle habitat. Current SARPAL funding is aiming to partner with farms to demonstrate conservation practices for additional species and increase awareness and opportunities for conservation.
The Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) program has supported Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry providing Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation Plans for individual farms for many years. Numerous farms across the province have had a plan completed to identify current and potential activities that support biodiversity within the farm operation and include a biodiversity assessment and a riparian health assessment of the farm. The plans highlight the positive aspects of current farming activities and recommend changes that could be implemented to further enhance conservation efforts.
Nova Scotia is also one of three provinces currently participating in the first phase of a Canadian Forage and Grassland Association (CFGA) project to develop province-specific, on-line habitat and biodiversity management tools. The NSFA and EFP program are supporting the project activities to be incorporated into the Environmental Farm Plan program later this year.
These projects are helping to develop relationships with government and other organizations to increase our knowledge and understanding of biodiversity and habitats on the farm. For all of these efforts, farming activities can still have a significant impact on some species and it is important that we continue to learn best management practices to ensure that we, as an industry, are doing the best job we can at balancing production with habitat conservation.
Biodiversity is important to protect our abundance of plants and animals and prevent more being added to the list of at-risk species in Nova Scotia. Our province and agricultural industry have historically worked well together and have approached industry issues and concerns collaboratively and developed guidelines (e.g. Manure Management Guidelines) and best management practices as opposed to imposing legislation. This has worked because our local producers are willing to be proactive on issues.
Although the recent changes remove the immediate concerns of emergency orders and penalties for this new Act, similar legislation and penalties have been in place for many years through the province’s Endangered Species Act. Although enforcement is rare for our industry, it has occurred. Farmers should take this opportunity to assess their current farming practices and become more aware of the opportunities to support habitat and biodiversity on the farm. Keep your Environmental Farm Plan up to date, review the list of species at risk in Nova Scotia: https://novascotia.ca/natr/wildlife/species-at-risk/, contact Lands and Forestry about an Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation Plan or reach out to local non-governmental organizations doing conservation work in the province.
The Environmental Farm Plan program is committed to helping farmers with all of their environmental concerns. The EFP program will be adding new SARPAL factsheets to the EFP website shortly and hope to have the CFGA on-line habitat and biodiversity tool available soon. For more information on the program, visit the EFP website: https://nsefp.ca/ or contact the NSFA office to speak to an EFP coordinator for any farm specific questions.