1. The Halifax Green Network Plan (HGNP) was formally approved in 2018, but it was not until 2023 that the Regional Municipality approved the appointment of a paid HGNP Coordinator to oversee the implementation of this plan. Regrettably, the HGNP Coordinator position remains vacant. We believe this fact reflects badly on the will of the municipality to make the HGNP an effective part of the Regional Plan. HaliFACT, comparable to HGNP, has a paid coordinator and a growing staff to support the position. What the Regional Plan says about the importance of HGNP is excellent. Nevertheless, without a coordinator to help in the implementation of its goals, words without action are only a reminder that the municipal government lacks the vision to reap the benefits of the HGNP for improving the mental and physical health of the citizens of HRM, reducing climate change, protecting biodiversity, and preserving the uniqueness of HRM as a place to live.
A case in point is how a HGNP coordinator could help realize the Community Based Wilderness Stewardship plan (CBWS) proposed in 2020 by Our HRM Alliance (62 community organizations in HRM).
Community-Based Wilderness Stewardship in HRM link: https://www.halifax.ca/media/73989
In HRM there are at least 12 nature reserves, 36 provincial parks, 6 municipal parks, and other open space, comprising some 84% of HRM (as of 2015). Much of our open space is connected through trails. The Regional Plan (RP) notes that “trail systems have become the backbone of a system of interconnected open space” that provide enormous recreational opportunities (RP 2.7.1). We know only too well how quickly these immense natural assets can be lost to fire and other threats. One of the greatest threats is the impact of human use. The Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail, one of the most intensely used hiking trails in HRM, almost shut down six years ago because of damage from overuse. Instead, its caretakers created a highly successful volunteer stewardship program. Statistics on its success have been carefully collected for the last six years.
The Bluff Trail Stewardship Program link: https://wrweo.ca/wp/the-bluff-trail/the-bluff-trail-stewardship-program/
This program is the model for CBWS that was proposed to HRM through various avenues such as the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee and the Active Transportation Advisory Committee. Though CBWS was favourably received, the need for a paid coordinator who could oversee the efforts of stewardship programs across areas relevant to HGNP did not fit with the current employment structure. It is worth noting that the problem could be solved if HRM appointed a coordinator for HGNP.
2. Open space in HRM is sometimes owned by developers who have speculated that at some point there will be a demand to build housing in such space, even if it means cutting down forest, cutting off wildlife corridors, destroying endangered and rare species, draining wetlands, and depriving citizens of recreation. After all, they own the land and presumably have a right to develop it as they please, especially if they are providing housing that the public desires. The RP in recognizing the potential conflict with environmental values directs developers to “consider” any harmful environmental impacts. But the sad truth is that when there is a conflict of the kind just described, the RP has no teeth. All the developer must do is to “consider” the bad effects. There is no wording that requires the environmental values to be respected so that in a case of conflict development can be forbidden by law. Yet in these times of environmental crisis, development should be forbidden when there exist alternative areas of land that are not forested and do not entail the negative impacts set out above. If the RP does not have that kind of authority, then for all its good words, it is business as usual, and the environment loses. Given what we now know about the deadliness and the speed of climate change, future lives are sacrificed for profit margins when there are alternatives in which the developer can still make money and the environment is preserved.
3. There is a housing crisis, and it is bound to get even worse if the provincial population grows as is predicted to two million by 2050. There is now a provincial Housing Task Force whose authority trumps the RP, as well as draft legislation being considered. For example, the Province is poised to develop on wilderness sites at Sandy Lake, despite decades of environment assessment and review that indicate that such development will have all the dire environmental consequences listed above. HRM needs to make its wording stronger, to clearly put the environment and wilderness above development, to conform to its well-articulated concern for them. If it is overruled, then so be it. HRM has stood up for what most citizens in HRM want.
This applies especially to the Sandy Lake area and the Regional Plan should recognize the environmental importance of Sandy Lake and protect it as a unique wilderness area.
4. We noted earlier that the RP tells us: “trails are the backbone” of the interconnected open spaces in HRM. But the trails that are discussed are mostly municipal trails. There are many trails in HRM that are entirely on provincial land or almost so, such as The Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail. These trails are supported by both levels of government, and the RP should be worded, however gently, to reflect this positive cooperation on which the overall interconnected trail system depends. We understand that HRM cannot tell the province what to do, but the existence of cooperation or coordination should be visible in the RP and celebrated. This point obviously relates to earlier point 2 regarding the need for volunteer stewardship, since a HGNP coordinator would be helping to create the means for volunteer stewardship in wilderness within HRM that is also on provincial land.
5. Finally, we urge that the RP clearly acknowledge the importance of coastal protection for HRM lands. At present, laws pertaining to that protection are not in force and, to our knowledge, HRM has no legal power to change that. Nevertheless, as before, we believe that the RP should signal the importance of coastal protection in these times fast moving and dangerous climate change.