On Thursday, Environment Minister Natalie Jameson announced a 28-acre parcel of land along Wright’s Creek in Hillsborough Park will be given protected status under the Natural Areas Protection Act.
The move follows criticisms from local residents, watershed and conservation groups about the province’s plans to remove the protected status of a section of old forest in the Royalty Oaks Natural Area. The woodland is situated near the corner of St. Peters Road and the Trans Canada Highway.
Royalty Oaks is considered the oldest forest in Charlottetown. Some of the larger trees have been in the area since before Confederation.
The de-designation of Royalty Oaks was part of plans from the province to construct an expansion of the intersection along St. Peters Road and the Trans Canada Highway, as well the construction of a bike lane along St. Peters Road.
Jameson’s announcement came on the same day that work began on a displaced left turning lane on this intersection, which is slated to be completed in August. The construction plans in the area are part of long-term plans to address population growth in East Royalty and increasingly dangerous traffic along the Veterans Memorial Highway.
In a statement, Jameson referred to the 28-acre parcel of land as the “crown jewel” of the neighbourhood, which is located within her district.
“Protecting this natural area will strengthen the network of watersheds and green spaces in the neighbourhood and city of Charlottetown, forever,” Jameson said.
Jameson added that construction along the Royalty Oaks area would result in the loss of only “one or two older trees” but that “hundreds, if not thousands” of trees would be planted in the new protected area along Wright’s Creek.
John Andrew, a co-founder of the Wright’s Creek Watershed Environmental Committee, met with Jameson in response to concerns related to the Royalty Oaks. He believes a proposal he presented to the province was the basis for the current plan to designate the land along Wright’s Creek.
"If you are going to de-designate a part of it, then what you should do is make an example of the situation by designating a much larger area," Andrew said.
"I indicated actual areas that they could designate. And one of them is the forested land along Wright's Creek."
Andrew, who ran as the Green Party candidate against Jameson in last summer’s deferred election, said the land was originally owned by his father but was sold to the P.E.I. Housing Corporation in the 1970s.
Lynne Lund, Green Opposition critic for Environment, Water and Climate Change, said the decision to designate the area around Wrights Creek was positive news.
"If we are going to be moving land from protection and then replacing it with protected land, you definitely want to see a net increase. This does that. So that's important."
But Lund remained critical of the decision to infringe upon the Royalty Oaks area as part of construction plans for the intersection and bike lane.
"I still maintain that there's no reason for us to be putting the bike lane where they are going to now,” Lund said.
“I see it as a pattern of concern for a minister who is happy to de-regulate environmental protections.”
Rosemary Curley, who has been an outspoken critic of the province’s Royalty Oaks plans, said the loss of one or two trees in the forest was significant.
"I really think it's a shame that Royalty Oaks is being whittled away,” Curley said.
"We're probably talking trees that are 120 years old."