HALIFAX - A large swath of ecologically sensitive land in southwestern Nova Scotia will be preserved by the Nature Conservancy of Canada under a $4.5-million land purchase from J.D. Irving Ltd.
The land conservation organization said Wednesday that the deal ensures nearly 1,500 hectares of land on 12 properties in Shelburne and Yarmouth counties will be preserved.
Bill Freedman, a Dalhousie University biologist and member of the conservancy's board, told reporters the land acquisition was one of "historic scale."
"It's the largest such private sector land conservation action that's ever been undertaken in the Maritimes," said Freedman.
The package includes forests, lakes, wetlands and shoreline located in what is known as the Atlantic Coastal Plain along the Tusket and Clyde river systems.
The areas are home to rare plant species, 11 of which are listed as species at risk, and the endangered Nova Scotia mainland moose.
"In both scale and its consequence for the survival of our indigenous biodiversity the project ... is one of the most impressive feats of conservation ever achieved in this province," said Freedman.
The federal government contributed $1.9 million toward the purchase price while the Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust contributed about $2 million.
Linda Stephenson, the conservancy's regional vice-president, said the land was purchased from J.D. Irving at a "bargain price" below its appraised value, although she wouldn't go into detail for reasons of confidentiality.
"Irving is still marketing some of their lands and this was a real estate transaction," said Stephenson. "It will become public information because there are public funds in it, but today I'm not able to do that (reveal details)."
Stephenson did reveal that the company had also made a donation to assist the conservancy with the purchase.
Although the land purchase will count towards the province's goal of restoring at least 12 per cent of the province's land mass to Crown ownership by 2015, none of the tracts are part of an outstanding land acquisition deal the government hopes to conclude with Irving.
The company has 20 parcels of land the province is hoping to buy in Annapolis, Digby, Yarmouth and Cumberland counties.
A recent cabinet order revealed that up to $40 million has been set aside to help with the purchase.
Last week, Environment Minister John MacDonell said that a formal announcement was planned for later this month.
J.D. Irving spokeswoman Mary Keith would only say Wednesday that talks are ongoing about lands that have ecological value.
"Wildlife, water, recreational ... there is certainly that focus in the lands that they have identified and that we are currently discussing," said Keith.