WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?
Here are the answers to our most frequently asked questions. We make every effort to update this page as new information is made available. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please email us at email@example.com.
You can click on the – sign to the right of each question to collapse the answer.
Where is Owls Head Provincial Park?
Owls Head Provincial Park is a coastal property on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. Due to its proximity to the 100 Wild Islands, it has great potential for recreation (such as kayaking) and eco-tourism.
There are offshore eelgrass beds that support local fishing communities, such as Little Harbour. As part of the Atlantic Flyway (bird migration pattern), the park is an important coastal refuge for migratory birds.
Below is a map of the proposed Eastern Shore Seaside Park System from 1975. Only some of the parks have been formally protected thus far. (Click to enlarge the map)
Has Owls Head Provincial Park officially been sold?
No, the lands have not yet been sold.
On December 16, 2019, the Department of Lands and Forestry entered into a Letter of Offer with Lighthouse Links Development Company to potentially sell Owls Head Provincial Park. The Letter of Offer “sets out the terms and conditions between the parties, but it does not approve the potential sale,” according to former Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin.
It’s worth noting that the letter of offer has no expiry date. However, the sale has yet to be finalized and the Department of Lands and Forestry’s decision to secretly delist the park has prompted applicants Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association to take the case to court.
What is the sale price?
The price for this unique coastal ecosystem was assessed at $306/acre. This means that the property (705.2 acres) would only cost the developer around $216,000, far below the asking price of nearby parcels. You can read the Letter of Offer, here.
“The parcel of rocky, rugged Crown land in Little Harbour is worth $216,000, according to the valuation report commissioned by Lighthouse Links and filed with the court. Although that report was previously made public, the value of the land had been redacted.Michael Gorman, “Documents give details about controversial golf development in coastal N.S.”
Jamie Simpson, the lawyer for the parties suing over the decision to delist the property, noted the value is based on what the report determined to be the “highest and best use” for the land: conservation and recreational purposes.
“This is valued as if it were undevelopable land,” he said.”
Why oppose the sale of Owls Head Provincial Park?
There are many reasons to stop the sale and protect Owls Head Provincial Park. The core issues are:
- Governmental ethics & transparency, including meaningful public consultation
- The need to protect this globally rare ecosystem
- The desire to protect disappearing public coastline for future generations
Why is Owls Head Park deserving of environmental protection?
Planning to develop Owls Head – which has significant wetlands, coastal barrens, and offshore eelgrass beds – is an unfathomable decision in our current climate crisis. In short:
- Owls Head has significant biodiversity and ecological value, including rare and endangered species of both plants and animals.
- Offshore are eelgrass beds. Eelgrass is a type of seagrass, and it is far more important than you might think. You can read more here.
- Owls Head has significant wetlands. Like eelgrass, wetlands provide a wide range of ecosystem services (services that benefit nature and humans alike). These include maintaining watershed health, minimizing erosion, filtering water, protecting coastlines from storm surges, and “storing and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, potentially moderating climate effects.” (Nova Scotia Wetland Conservation Policy).
What species of conservation concern are present at Owls Head Provincial Park?
These ecosystems include a mix of open wetland, heathland (barrens), beaches, grassland, and rock outcrop. Provincial government land includes one of only nine sites in the province for the globally rare Coastal Broom Crowberry Heathland Ecosystem. Across it’s [sic] global range, this ecosystem type is only known from Nova Scotia and possibly parts of Maine. The ecosystem has been defined as part of a collaborative project between NSDNR, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Saint Mary’s University, and the Atlantic Canada Conservation Centre under funding from the Atlantic Ecosystems Initiative (https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/environmental- funding/programs/atlantic-ecosystems-initiatives-guidelines-2016-2019.html).Sean P. Basquill, Provincial Biologist, Ecosystems and Habitats Program (revealed through FOIPOP 2020-0081-DLF)
“Vegetation on the bedrock ridges of Owls Head is dominated by a shrub called Broom Crowberry (Corema conradii). Broom Crowberry is endemic to northeastern North America, meaning this species can be found nowhere else in the world. […] If our province does not make an effort to protect this species, there will be no other opportunity elsewhere to protect it.”Biologists Caitlin Porter & Dr. Jeremy Lundholm
The provincial land parcel and land directly adjacent include occurrences of two SAR [species at risk] – Piping plover (nationally and provincially endangered) and barn swallow (nationally threatened, provincially endangered). Other species of conservation concern (not legally listed but on provincial GS list) include Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Common Eider. Part of the area is mapped in our significant habitat database for nesting piping plovers.Sean P. Basquill, Provincial Biologist, Ecosystems and Habitats Program (revealed through FOIPOP 2020-0081-DLF)
Broader ecological values at the landscape scale are similar to other coastal areas of Nova Scotia. The sites provide important foraging, breeding, and migratory habitat for birds and other faunal species. The relatively cool humid climate supports combinations of boreal and temperate plants and lichens, found nowhere else in Canada.Sean P. Basquill, Provincial Biologist, Ecosystems and Habitats Program (revealed through FOIPOP 2020-0081-DLF)
“The marine environment around Owls Head supports meadows of eelgrass. Eelgrass is formally considered an Ecologically Important Species (ESS) for its functional role in protecting shorelines and supporting marine biodiversity. Eelgrass requires pristine water conditions and is not tolerant of nutrient pollution. (DFO 2009)“Report on the Ecological Importance of Owls Head Crown land, page 14
How do we know? Have there been any studies done there?
Yes, biologists from the Ecology of Plants in Communities Lab at St. Mary’s University have been studying at Owls Head Park for the past 15 years. You can read a letter from concerned scientists Caitlin Porter and Dr. Jeremy Lundholm here. If you are interested in science, we suggest their “Report on the Ecological Importance of Owls Head Crown land.”
CPAWS NS and their expert volunteers identified over 75 species of birds (including the provincially endangered barn swallow) during a handful of visits in 2020.
CPAWS NS, marine biologist Dr. Kristina Boerder, and a team of volunteers also completed numerous underwater transects to document the offshore eelgrass beds in 2020.
Why is it necessary to protect piping plover nesting habitat?
Piping plovers are a critically endangered shorebird. There are fewer than 40 breeding pairs in Nova Scotia, so each individual bird is very important. Their population has declined by more than 25% since 2001, largely due to human activity.
“Piping Plovers depend on dynamic, healthy coastal ecosystems. Key challenges to the recovery of this small shorebird include habitat loss from coastal development, disturbances from recreation and motorized vehicles, predator pressures, and climate change.”– Birds Canada
How would development affect these ecosystems?
Development on this particular site would cause irreparable harm to the unique geology, flora, and fauna that have developed over the past 10,000 years. Among other aspects, it would negatively affect:
- The hydrology (the movement, distribution, and management of water) of Owls Head and adjacent land/marine ecosystems.
- The health of eelgrass beds and subsequently the larger marine ecosystem. You can read about how the marine environment would be affected by development here.
- Wetlands, which would have to be filled in (destroyed) for golf course construction.
Why is important that Nova Scotia protect more coastal land?
“Coastal ecosystems are among the most productive yet highly threatened systems in the world. These ecosystems produce disproportionately more services relating to human well-being than most other systems, even those covering larger total areas [yet they] are experiencing some of the most rapid degradation and loss.”– Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, Marine and Coastal Ecosystems & Human Well-being
- Owls Head is a representative coastal landscape. Coastal ecosystems are severely underrepresented in Nova Scotia’s protected properties.
- Approximately 5% of Nova Scotia’s coastline is public. More and more Nova Scotians are losing public access to our shores and beaches.
- Less than 5% of Nova Scotia’s coastline is protected for future generations.
- National and international targets both call for the conservation of 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020 (Department of Fisheries and Oceans).
- Read more here
Why are people concerned about pesticides from golf courses? Aren’t pesticides banned in Nova Scotia?
This is an excellent question. Nova Scotia’s “Non-essential Pesticides Control Act” was passed on May 11, 2010. However, golf courses are exempt from the pesticide ban. The distinction lies in what is considered an “essential pesticide.” The bill states:
(4) This Act does not apply to a person who uses, sells or supplies a pesticide for– Non-essential Pesticides Control Act
(a) forestry activities;
(b) agricultural activities or
(c) a golf course
What is the provincial government’s role?
- Owls Head and other properties of high conservation value were slated for protection through the 2013 Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan. The plan was based on conservation science as well as extensive consultation with citizens, industry, and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs.
- On March 13, 2019, Owls Head was removed from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan through a secret minute letter. This was done without any scientific basis, public consultation, or notice.
- After the government secretly delisted the property, it put off updating sites and documents, making it appear to the public that Owls Head was still protected.
- The public would still be unaware if not for the Freedom of Information Request and investigative journalism by CBC’s Micahel Gorman, whose initial story is available here.
- Despite requests, the Letter of Offer and the developer’s plans were never voluntarily shared with the public. Some information is available now, thanks to the fourth Freedom of Information Request.
- The provincial government lobbied the federal government for their land parcel, on behalf of Lighthouse Links Development Co.
What is a Minute Letter?
“The decision to de-list Owls Head was made using a minute letter, which is protected by cabinet confidentiality and thus not available for the public to see.”– Michael Gorman, CBC
The minute letter that secretly delisted Owls Head Provincial Park was done through Nova Scotia’s Cabinet/Treasury Board, according to Eastern Shore MLA Kevin Murphy. It is also worth noting that the minute letter in the Freedom of Information Request (FOIPOP) is redacted.
How would the sale and development affect the local community?
- Construction of the proposed golf & residential community would severely disrupt everyday life in Little Harbour and all along the Eastern Shore.
- Development at the site would cause incessant noise. Dust and exhaust fumes would lower air quality
- Weeks of dynamite blasting would be required to destroy the granite ridges. This particular site is not suitable for development.
- It has been estimated (by golf course development experts familiar with the property) that it could require approximately 20,000 – 30,000 truckloads of fill and topsoil for a single golf course.
- That truck traffic would also congest traffic, lengthen commute times, and severely affect the state of public roads in Little Harbour and beyond.
- Property taxes will likely go up
- It will become harder to buy land (prices will go up, residents will be outbid).
Why do some people care when they’re not from the community?
“I’m from the South Shore and I do not presume to speak for the community of Owls Head / Little Harbour. However, the issue over the sale of this land is about so much more than a localized community problem. The land is Crown land, land that according to the Nova Scotia website is owned by everyone who lives in Nova Scotia. Negotiations for the sale of this land have been conducted in secret between two Americans and our government. The land and the waters along the shore constitute “globally rare” ecosystems that stand to be destroyed by development.– Peter Barss, Save Owls Head supporter
In short, this issue is emblematic of the disregard for environmental health that has pushed the world into an environmental crisis. We should all be concerned and we should all do what we can to slow and maybe stop this headlong rush toward environmental and social catastrophe. I was at the rally because I have grandchildren and I want them to have a world where plants cling to rocks that were given form by glaciers ten thousand years ago and a world in which meadows of seagrass nurture creatures that live in the sea.”
But I heard Owls Head wasn’t protected?
Owls Head has been managed as a Provincial Park Reserve for 45 years. Successive governments, dating as far back as the 1970s, promised to protect the site, which has been repeatedly recognized for its high conservation value. Until it was secretly delisted, Owls Head had been listed in the Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan.
Does the ‘Save Owls Head’ movement oppose all development?
Of course not. We are strongly in favour of responsible and sustainable development. We support investing in jobs and necessary infrastructure along the Eastern Shore. We believe that we can (and should) protect critical ecosystems while adding revenue through eco-tourism.
Politicians have strategically mischaracterized this issue as “Jobs vs. Environment.” This is simply not the case; it is a tactic to divide communities and deflect responsibility.
What does the ‘Save Owls Head’ movement support?
The following is a statement from group co-leader Christopher Trider. His statement encompasses the wider desires of many who support saving Owls Head Provincial Park.
- We support the completion of the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System that includes:
- a natural environment park with low impact walking trails and coastal access at Owl’s Head,
- destination camping and lakefront public day use at Lake Charlotte,
- improved public access to wilderness canoeing and hiking.
- We support the development and implementation of a comprehensive economic development model for the Eastern Shore that:
- includes ecotourism
- provides year-round sustainable employment
- protects the world-class natural resources and beauty of the area
- We support transparency, honesty, and integrity in government.
- We support investment in the renewal and improvement of the public facilities at Clam Harbour Beach.
- We support the protection of globally rare ecosystems and endangered species.
- We support the Parks and Protected Areas Plan, as announced and as a public policy document that includes Owl’s Head provincial park [#694, pp.54]
- We support investment in the infrastructure to restore and develop public access at Long Beach, East Chezzetcook as part of a broad program of public investment aimed at improving the public outdoor recreation, education and tourism opportunities along the Eastern Shore.
- We support the Nature Trust, conservation groups and private individuals involved in the 100 Wild Islands project.
- We support the establishment of the Eastern Shore Islands Wilderness Area.
- We support entrepreneurs and businesses that want to develop and grow a sustainable, year-round green economy along the Eastern Shore.
– Christopher Trider
Christopher Trider worked for DNR (now known as Lands and Forestry) for 21 years. One of Christopher’s key roles with the provincial government was to assess coastal properties that the province might acquire. In his own words:
“I know how hard they are to find, I know how hard they are to come by. I know how important these properties are for the long-term public good.”
Christopher is now a co-leader of the movement and one of the administrators of the Facebook page dedicated to saving Owls Head Park.
DISCLAIMER OF SORTS: Great effort has been expended to verify the information on all parts of this site. Our answers above are based on historical records, government documents, scientific articles and studies, and our group’s supporting research. Accuracy is very important to us, so please email our content editor (firstname.lastname@example.org) should you spot an error.