Zone sauvage importante: 
Loch Alva Wildland

Imaginez une zone sauvage peu explorée dans le sud-ouest du Nouveau-Brunswick. Située à seulement 25 kilomètres de Saint John, elle abrite le plus grand nombre et la plus grande variété d'espèces du Nouveau-
Brunswick; Loch Alva Wildland est un trésor d'environ 30 000 hectares. L'auteure Roberta Clowater nous amène explorer cette zone sauvage ainsi que les intrigues politiques pour lui assurer le statut de zone protégée. Présentement, le Fonds mondial pour la nature a choisi Loch Alva comme point chaud pour sa campagne visant la protection de 14 des zones sauvages les plus spectaculaires d'ici le 1er juillet, 1998, journée de la Fête du Canada.

Hot Spot Wilderness: Loch Alva Wildland

Roberta Clowater, New Brunswick Protected Natural Areas Coalition
February 1998

magine a wilderness in southwestern New Brunswick that has been explored by only a few hikers, scientists, hunters, snowmobilers, skiers and anglers - a naturally evolving ecosystem which harbours the drinking water supply for the city of Saint John. Now, imagine how quickly this little-known area will be degraded if current logging plans are implemented; plans which call for most of the forest in this area being cut over the next twenty-five years.

Just 25 kilometres northwest of Saint John, there is a wild, undisturbed area of which most people in New Brunswick have never heard. Because few people know this wildland exists it has remained free from many problems associated with frequent human traffic. Lack of popularity has contributed to its unique situation. Likewise, because it has few human visitors, most people do not know how threatened it is.

Little John Lake, Loch Alva Wildland
(Photo: New Brunswick Protected Natural Areas Coalition)
Little John Lake, Loch Alva Wildland.

The Loch Alva Wildland is approximately 30,000 hectares in size. It contains many lakes, bogs, fens, marshes, and tamarack and cedar swamps. These features are interspersed in a hilly to mountainous forested terrain. Loch Alva is a large, deep lake in the southern part of the area. Turtle Mountain, the highest point in the area, is known for the scenic vista it provides of Saint John and the Bay of  Fundy, and for its striking rocky "bald" appearance that is visible for many miles around.

This past fall I had a chance to spend a day hiking in the northwestern part of the Loch Alva Wildland. As I walked up to the Mawhanne Mountain area, I stopped to drink in the undisturbed landscape all around me. There were no roads, no patches of cut forest - just a small trail and a clear view of the mountains and lakes in the distance. As I made my way back down to Robin Hood Lake, I stopped to chat with some of the cottage owners nearby. I share their sentiment that this wilderness area is special, and deserves to be protected from industrial use and roads. They aren’t just concerned about the potential impacts these developments would have on recreational enjoyment of the area but they are also worried about how fragile wildlife habitat would be degraded, and how traditional uses of the area would be affected.

This wilderness is home to some of New Brunswick's largest and widest-ranging animals. Black bear, moose, bobcat, pine marten, bald eagles, pileated woodpeckers and barred owls live there. The area is wild and remote enough to provide a haven for the endangered Canada lynx, and is a potential habitat for the eastern cougar. The area contains most of the Musquash River watershed, which supplies municipal drinking water for the city of Saint John. People own cottages on the Loch, and the area is used for sustainable recreation such as bird watching, hunting and fishing.

Sherwood Lake and Turtle Mountain, Loch Alva Wildland.
Turtle Mountain, Loch Alva Wildland
(Photo: New Brunswick Protected Natural Areas Coalition)

World Wildlife Fund Canada has initiated the "Hot Spots '98 Campaign", to help achieve protection for 14 of Canada's most spectacular wilderness areas by July 1, 1998, Canada Day. The Loch Alva Wildland has been chosen as the Hot Spot in New Brunswick. World Wildlife Fund Canada and the New Brunswick Protected Natural Areas Coalition are working to highlight the opportunity that exists right now to protect the Loch Alva Wildland, and also to show that Loch Alva is the leading edge of other wild areas in New Brunswick that need to be protected.

Located predominantly on Crown land, the Loch Alva Wildland is now under forest license to J.D. Irving Limited. A large forest fire burned much of the area early this century. Limited logging occurred in the distant past but most of the area is still free of roads, which is unusual for southern New Brunswick. Logging roads have only been built in the western portion of this area, and some blocks have been logged during the past twenty years or so. Plans exist to expand cutting and road-building throughout the area.

Calls for wilderness protection in the recent past have been met with resistance from the forestry industry and government in New Brunswick. One of the reasons given for this resistance (aside from wood supply and employment issues) is that government could not possibly prevent forestry companies from harvesting wood in areas where they have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars building logging roads. There are no roads here, so we have a timely opportunity to protect the unspoiled areas of the Loch Alva Willdland, and to restore the western parts where logging has already occurred.

This natural area has been considered for protection several times in the past, most notably in the late 1960s/early 1970s when it was nominated for designation as one of two potential wilderness provincial parks (the other was Mt. Carleton Provincial Park, which was designated in 1969). "Loch Alva Provincial Park" was never established, apparently because of a political decision to choose only one area for park status.

As a result of a scientific mapping exercise done in the early 1990s by members of the Department of Natural Resources and Energy, the area was cited as a candidate for protection as being representative of the Continental Lowlands and Fundy Coastal ecoregions. It was called the Loch Alva Study Area. Unfortunately, a protected areas strategy for the province was not implemented

Dr. Louis LaPierre is now under contract to the Government of New Brunswick to develop a protected areas strategy for the province, and to forward his recommendations to government. To that end, Dr. LaPierre has brought together an advisory group, which consists of Dr. Graham Forbes (University of New Brunswick), Dr. Stephen Woodley (Parks Canada), Vince Zelazny (DNRE Forest Management Branch), Chris Steeves (DNRE), and Martin Marshall and Alan Dockerty (DNRE Parks and Natural Areas Branch).

This group has held two workshops over the summer to outline the process which they are following. The workshops have been for invited representatives of government, industry, and non-government organizations, with no involvement of the public at large.

An analysis is being done to determine the potential locations of the large protected areas. They are trying to locate the areas that capture the greatest variety of habitat types and landscape features and have the least number of roads and other disturbances.

According to Dr. LaPierre, the proposed strategy will recommend at least one large protected area (20,000 to 25,000 hectares - at least as big as Fundy National Park) for each of the seven designated ecoregions in the province. Recognizing that these will not be enough to represent the diverse ecosystems within the province, the group will also recommend that government augment these large protected areas with a suite of smaller and medium sized areas. Also, necessary changes to legislation and policy will be recommended, to enable the proposed strategy to be implemented in a timely manner.

Until the final report is released early in 1998, it is not known exactly what kind of protected areas strategy will result from all this work. The scientific analysis the group has undertaken seems to be based on sound ecological and conservation biology principles. Ultimately, however, politicians will decide if and how those scientific recommendations will be implemented.

The Loch Alva Wildland is an ideal candidate to represent the ecoregions of New Brunswick, and should be placed under interim protection until formal, enduring measures are in place.

There are non-profit organizations working in New Brunswick to ensure that the opportunity that exists to protect the Loch Alva Wildland is not lost. Citizens can help encourage the protection of the Loch Alva Wildland by contacting their MLAs and cabinet ministers. For more information on the Loch Alva Wildland, the New Brunswick Protected Areas Strategy, or the Hot Spots '98 Campaign, please visit the World Wildlife Fund Canada website or send an email message to the NB Protected Natural Areas Coalition.