Manitoba's roster of provincial parks grew by two Thursday, as Goose Islands and Grand Island were officially added by the Pallister government to the list of protected areas.
The new Lake Winnipegosis parks, located roughly 60 kilometres southwest of Grand Rapids, total 1,150 hectares of undeveloped wildlife habitat – and that is how they will remain, Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said.
"Our government recognizes the importance of protecting areas with significant natural and cultural value, particularly the habitat of the province’s variety in nature," Cox said in a news release. "These islands will be protected and will remain undeveloped, ensuring that Manitobans are able to enjoy our natural sites and indigenous peoples have continued access to the area for hunting, trapping, fishing and other traditional pursuits."
The announcement is a win-win for Manitobans, according to a pair of local, not-for-profit conservation organizations.
The Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is "very pleased to see the islands protected forever for future generations of Manitoba and wildlife to enjoy," executive director Ron Thiessen said. "This is very good news.
"Manitoba is rich with natural areas and abundant wildlife, so it's very important that we create a balance of conservation and sustainable development," he said. "These islands on Lake Winnipegosis are very important for wildlife and cultural values.
"They are also important in the sense that if they were developed and that development caused damage to the islands and that damage extended into Lake Winnipegosis, that could affect the lake's health as well as the commercial fishing and tourism that's dependant on the lake itself."
The two areas – comprised of a series of islands on the east and west side of the lake – have been under consideration for provincial park status off and on since 2001, making Thursday's notice "more a relief than a surprise. It's been in the pipeline for so long," said Nature Manitoba executive vice-president Roger Turenne.
The extended timeframe shows "the difficulty of protecting such areas, even one as small and uninhabited as Goose Islands and Grand Island... (that) have long been identified as justifying a degree of protection because of ecological values, wildlife habitat," he said.
"The two (local) First Nations have been working for that designation for a decade-and-a-half... This is good news – it's also in the nick of time because (the areas' recent six-month) interim protected status expired yesterday."
The parks will be managed under the province's natural land-use categories, which means no development, Turenne said. "Nobody's going to set up a campground there. That's not the purpose.... the primary motivation is to protect the wildlife habitat status.
"They may be remote, but they are not remote for mining companies."
Protecting the islands, which are accessible by boat from some lakeside communities, was a key goal of nearby Pine Creek First Nation, chief Karen Batson said.
"These lands have great historical significance as traditional lands utilized by generations of Anishinaabe people from Pine Creek First Nation and other surrounding indigenous communities," she said in a news release. "As a community, we are pleased to have worked collaboratively with provincial counterparts to ensure the continued preservation of this natural habitat for future generations."
The addition of Goose Islands and Grand Island raises the number of Manitoba provincial parks to 92, but there is always room for more, Thiessen said.
Currently, the province has 11 per cent of its land designated as protected. With the federal government aiming to designate 17 per cent of its land by 2020, CPAWS hopes Manitoba will seek to reach that number, too, he said.
"There's a long way to go."