An important purchase helps safeguard Halifax’s own piece of pristine wilderness


wo years ago, the Friends of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes, the Ecology Action Centre, and many concerned citizens asked the Nova Scotia Nature Trust to help preserve the wilderness area.

After much effort, Nova Scotia Nature Trust has completed the Blue Mountain Wilderness Connector’s purchase. Spanning 220 hectares, the property strengthens the protection of about 2,023 hectares of undeveloped forest, just a 20-minute drive from downtown Halifax.

“It was very significant connecting that large wilderness; there were concerns that this property was going to be developed, and neither the province nor the municipality had this particular piece on their radar,” explains Nature Trust executive director Bonnie Sutherland. “Those groups have been doing great work on the advocacy side by public education and stewardship, but they’re not a land trust fund organization.”

Approaching the property owners was the first step of the process. Getting to know them and explaining why selling or donating their land is something to consider was crucial.

Bonnie Sutherland. Photo: Nick Hawkins

“If we weren’t successful with that, then there’s no way we can protect land,” Sutherland says. “That’s the big challenge of land conservation; it only works if we have a willing landowner, so we ended up very lucky in that regard, even though the owners had intended to develop the property for residential development.”

She adds that the landowners were excited once they saw maps, seeing how their land could help conservation efforts. Sutherland recalls that they warmed up to the notion of how close nature was to the city and that it would enable people to experience it.

Once they finalized the sale with the landowners, Nature Trust moved on to the less glamourous parts of the process, including determining boundaries, appraisals, surveys, plus legal and taxation issues. For this purchase, the landowners sold their property at a discount, donating a significant portion of their property’s value as an ecological gift.

“That process…took a bit of time to work through all the logistics of that, but in the end, it worked out, it is wonderful, and it made it much more affordable to us,” Sutherland adds. “It allowed the landowners to feel part of this legacy because they made a very significant charitable donation.”

The most significant challenge Nature Trust faced was trying to raise $2.8 million. The organization brought on many partners, including the federal government, HRM, and the Nova Scotia Crown Chair Land Legacy. Then they turned to the public.

“It ended up generating tremendous public support, and the timing was just right, which seems odd in that we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Sutherland says. “It’s also a time when people are reflecting on what’s important for them, and nature is just this shining light in the pandemic. It’s become something that people really appreciate and value.”

Sutherland hopes people understand the benefits of this hidden gem—environmental, ecological, educational, recreational, research, health and economic.

“The Halifax’s Green Network Plan that has to map out where we need to connect natural areas to have nature survive long-term and to provide corridors for wildlife,” Sutherland explains. “In light of climate change, large natural areas provide so many benefits to people and the environment… Having many trees around help to provide shade, stops the rivers and lakes from becoming too warm for wildlife, and changes the water quality for drinking water. The trees are sequestering carbon and filtering pollution, so there are all kinds of ecological services.”

The Friends of Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lake believe the long-awaited regional park is now much closer.

“The Friends of Blue Mountain- Birch Cove Lakes are thrilled that the connector lands have been purchased by Nature Trust,” co-founder Diana Whalen says. “We celebrate their success, which adds a critical piece of land to the future Regional Wilderness Park. This is a major step forward.”

Diana Whalen

The work of creating the Blue Mountain Birch Coves Lake park isn’t over for the Nature Trust. The organization continues to work with partners to plan the area’s future, including what additional lands they must secure. Part of the planning process involves ensuring public access.

Talks continue with other landowners to acquire and protect more areas of wilderness.

“If landowners have land in that area and they are interested in exploring various options, even where people can maintain the land as a conservation easement,” Sutherland says. “They still own it, but they get a charitable tax credit for the lands that they protect.

It’s a real win-win for everybody; they can still pass on the land to their kids or sell, and it remains protected forever. It’s an incredible way to leave a legacy that will benefit generations to come and make it a huge difference for the natural environment.”

Halifax Magazine