Frequently Asked Questions
In collaboration with Ducks Unlimited Canada, the EAC has created an FAQ of some commonly asked questions about wetlands and conservation.
Why are wetlands important? What are the consequences of degrading or destroying them?
Nova Scotia is rich in wetlands. Based on the 2004 inventory, Nova is comprised of almost seven per cent freshwater wetlands and salt marsh. These wetlands provide humans and local ecosystems with valuable benefits.
Wetlands act as natural sponges by absorbing rainfall, allowing ground water to replenish and reducing flood impacts. This high storage capacity of wetlands also helps safeguard against dry seasons and drought. In addition, wetlands provide water purification by trapping sediment and absorption by wetland plant roots and microorganisms in the soil. This filtration process can remove many unwanted nutrients and pollutants, improving water quality.
Coastal wetlands protect communities from coastal climate change by buffering storms through absorbing damaging wave energy. This is particularly important when hurricanes or severe storms come ashore. Wetlands can also store carbon and mitigate climate change by reducing released greenhouse gas emissions.
Many wetlands are important places used by the Mi’kmaw people for hunting, trapping, fishing, harvesting shellfish and gathering traditionally used medicinal plants. They are considered important over-wintering areas for eels which are a source of food, skins and medicines for the Mi’kmaq all year.
Wetlands are also critical for biodiversity! Wetlands are home to thousands of species, including some of Nova Scotia’s at-risk species such as Blanding’s turtles, and for bird breeding and migration.
From a monetary standpoint, a GPI Atlantic study, (2000), says that wetlands provide an estimated $7.9 billion worth of benefits to Nova Scotians annually.
We need to protect our wetlands to avoid reduction of water supply, reduced water quality, loss of coastal climate change buffering and loss of biodiversity. When we destroy wetlands, we can also be faced with an increased abundance of weeds and mosquito issues, an increased risk and severity of algae blooms, loss of important protection during severe storms, and an increased risk of both floods and droughts. Protecting wetlands protects us!
What protections for wetlands exist in Nova Scotia?
The Government of Nova Scotia is responsible for the protection of wetlands. The province’s Environment Act is the legislation which states that alterations to wetlands must be approved. Currently, the Nova Scotia Wetland Conservation Policy (2011) also plays a major role in guiding wetland management throughout the province. In addition, if two or more hectares of any wetland is to be disrupted by the undertaking of an activity, the person(s) seeking to undertake the activity must complete the environmental impact assessment process.
Municipalities have the power to create by-laws that regulate activities within the municipality, but these municipal by laws are subordinate to provincial laws. A by-law that is more stringent than a provincial law – including by-laws around the protection of wetlands – may be enforceable as long as it does not conflict with the provincial law. A municipality can regulate development adjacent to wetlands, which can contribute to strengthening protections of wetlands. However, the municipality cannot prevent people from applying through the province to alter a wetland.
For more details on the laws, policies and regulations that govern wetland protection, see East Coast Environmental Law’s A Citizen’s Guide to Wetland Conservation in the Halifax Regional Municipality (2014).
What is the process for altering a wetland? How are wetlands compensated in Nova Scotia?
When a development is expected near a wetland (or complex of wetlands) smaller than two hectares, the person responsible for the development is legally required to file a Wetland Alteration Application with Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment and Climate Change. If the impact is larger than two hectares, the applicant must file for an environmental assessment. Applications include many pieces of information, such as wetland delineations and functional assessments completed by qualified wetland evaluators. Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change review the applications and will issue permits to successful applicants that outline conditions that must be followed.
Wetland alteration applicants must offset the loss of the wetland(s) by restoring, expanding, enhancing, or creating a wetland elsewhere at a 2:1, 2:1, 3:1 and 4:1 area ratio, respectively. This is known as Wetland Compensation. Primary wetland compensation seeks to create a functioning and sufficiently sized wetland to balance the loss of the altered wetland. Applicants hire qualified consultants to complete the wetland restoration project, and projects must be approved by Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change. Secondary wetland compensation are projects that supplement primary compensation and can include activities that support wetland knowledge and policy in the province.
There is a wetland in my local community that is being altered and I’m not sure if the those who are altering it received proper approval from the Nova Scotia government to do so. What should I do?
The best place to start is by contacting your local Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change Regional and District Office. Inspectors at these offices have the authority to inspect any area where a wetland alteration is taking place, regardless of if the alteration was granted approval or not. Citizen reports of suspected wetland alterations are an important way to bring attention of unapproved alterations to inspection staff. You can find the contact information for each of the offices here.
I have a wetland on my property. What can I do to help maintain the wetland and support local ecosystems?
The best thing to do with a healthy wetland on your property is leave it alone! Allowing a wetland to function uninterrupted will benefit you and the wildlife around in many ways: flood mitigation, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, protecting water quality and much more!
If you are interested in learning more about stewarding a wetland on your property or protecting it beyond your lifetime, the best place to turn is an organization that specializes in conservation, such as Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust or the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Working with these organizations can help you formally protect your wetland, even beyond your lifetime or if you decide to sell your property. These formal protections can take many shapes, from conservation agreements and easements to land donation and purchases.
If you have a wetland that you think has been degraded or affected by things such as invasive species, pollution or upstream development, get in touch with Ducks Unlimited to inquire about potential wetland restoration opportunities. In many cases, this can be done at no charge to the landowner.
How will the Coastal Protection Act protect or impact coastal wetlands?
The Coastal Protection Act offers no direct defense for wetlands, but does offer indirect protection through horizontal setbacks and minimum elevation requirements for new developments outside of population centers. Most coastal and tidal estuary adjacent wetlands will be protected by coincidence as they are located at or below the highwater line, and therefore well below building appropriate elevation.
How can I get involved in helping to protect wetlands in Nova Scotia?
Wetlands are incredibly valuable natural features. They store water preventing both floods and droughts, filter water, protect our communities from wind and wave energy during extreme weather events, they are biodiversity hotspots and they play an important role in both climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, because of historical and ongoing degradation and destruction of wetlands, stronger protections of these natural features are important.
Better protection of wetlands can be accomplished through law, policy and regulation by government, through education and increased awareness, through grassroots citizen mobilization and through supporting and amplifying groups already doing work and research on wetland protection. The EAC, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Nature Nova Scotia, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nova Scotia Nature Trust, Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute and ACAP Cape Breton are just a few of the many groups working to preserve and steward wetlands.
A great way to advocate for stronger protection of wetlands is to contact your elected representatives and discuss with them the importance of local wetlands, and why wetlands matter to you.