UPPER NAPPAN - Users of the Chignecto Game Sanctuary are not against added protection, but continue to have questions about how the area will be accessed.
Members of the Cumberland Trails and the Chignecto-Glooscap Snowmobile Association told members of Cumberland municipal council on Wednesday, they have concerns with the area being studied as a potential wildlife area.
"We have grave concerns with having all the land declared protected and having Natural Resources out of the area," snowmobile club spokesperson Larry Scopie said during council's December committee-of-the-whole meeting. "Our historic trail maintenance partner would be lost. It would appear that they would no longer have a vested interest in a healthy road network."
Scopie said snowmobile and off-highway vehicle groups rely on the trail network through the sanctuary and the surrounding Crown land to get from one area to the other. His group also fears added protection would all but end their efforts to make the sanctuary a winter destination.
The snowmobile group questioned whether the province is moving closer to its goal of protecting 12 per cent of its land mass by 2015 by taking a bigger chunk of Cumberland than its should.
Council had planned to hear only from the government departments on Wednesday, but changed its mind after having told the groups several weeks ago they'd be allowed to give presentations.
Both the snowmobile club and Cumberland Trails support a proposal brought forward earlier this year that would have given added protection to a smaller portion of land in and around the sanctuary.
Dwayne Cleveland from Cumberland Trails said he left the meeting feeling more content that government officials will be listening to what his group and other users are saying.
"We want access to the roads in the area while having a wilderness area," Cleveland said. "We protect wilderness now through the game sanctuary and we help maintain the moose herd. We're already part of preserving the moose herd in that area and the road system is an important part of that. If we don't have access to where the moose are we cannot continue to do what we do."
Cumberland Wilderness wants to bring added protection to the area so vulnerable species can be protected and the area preserved so future generations an enjoy it. Its spokesman, David Wood, said it was never the plan to be too restrictive when it comes to access by ATV and snowmobile users.
"We want people to be able to go into the area to do a wide variety of activities," Wood told council. "We support access with minimum access. I'm all for people being able to go there, but it has to be with limited access."
Like the off-highway and snowmobile clubs, Wood said, it too wants to maintain community connections. However, it's proposing far fewer trails through the proposed area than what snowmobilers and off-highway vehicle users want.
Cumberland Wilderness is proposing the main highway from Shulie to Apple River, the Boar's Back Road, the Goodwin Road and the Thundering Hill Road as designated trails. It's also proposing another road in the area, but only if the Goodwin Road is plowed in winter.
Peter Labor from the Environment Department and Harold Carroll from Natural Resources presented the details of what's being studied and urged everyone with a stake to make their opinions known. Initial consultations will continue through June 2010 at which time boundaries will be proposed and a second round of consultations undertaken.
Carroll said that while a large tract of land is being studied, not all that land will be included in a proposed wilderness area.
Several county councillors expressed concern with added protection saying it's going to have a negative economic impact.
Coun. Ratchford Merriam said communities in his area rely on the tourism generated by snowmobile and off-highway vehicle users and people in his area work in the woods. He took exception to a small group of people trying to tell a larger group what it can and can't do.
"We have a small group of individuals working supposedly with DOE and Natural Resources making plans for the people that can't speak for themselves, the people who can't get out to meetings, the people who aren't aware of what's going on because they haven't got computers," Merriam said. "Those are the people that hopefully we're speaking for. I'm speaking for the people who put me in this chair and I can't see how what you're proposing is going to improve on what DNR has been doing successfully for more than 70 years. If you can't show me how this is going to benefit my area economically and the people in the area I've grown up in I'm going to oppose you."
Blake Daley of Cumberland Wilderness said his organization never said it had all the answers and said socio-economic studies are beyond its scope. However, he said, the process for creating a wilderness area does require such an analysis be completed.
Coun. John Kellegrew is hoping the decision-makers will make a decision that is the best for everyone.
"People may not get everything they want, but at least come up with a suitable position that everyone is satisfied with," Kellegrew said.