In spite of a year that has been challenging in so many ways, our volunteers have contributed their time and their talents. We would like to extend our deepest thanks to each of those wonderful groups and individuals. While we can’t share each and every action, we wouldn’t be here without the passion and persistence of our supporters. Please keep reading to see just how far we’ve come.

Brief Background

December 18, 2019: CBC journalist Michael Gorman reports that Owls Head Provincial Park has been secretly delisted (removed) from Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan.

December 19, 2019: After learning about the delisting of Owls Head Provincial Park, concerned citizen Sydnee Lynn takes immediate action by starting a Facebook group committed to saving the park.

December 20, 2019: In a follow-up interview with Michael Gorman, former park planner Christopher Trider calls the proposal “a betrayal of the public trust.” Trider had worked for the Department of Natural Resources (now known as Lands and Forestry) for 21 years. Passionate about protecting this coastal parkland, Christopher Trider joins Sydnee Lynn as a leader in the movement to protect Owls Head Provincial Park.

Highlights of 2020

Scientific Research

Owls Head Provincial Park is a recognized site of scientific value. In the 2020 season, marine biologist Dr. Kristina Boerder and her team conducted terrestrial and shorebird surveys, eelgrass overview surveys, and eelgrass research surveys. For more information on the ongoing research, please click here.

Please click to enlarge the photos and see the captions

January 3, 2020: Sydnee Lynn and Paula Jane Milsom meet with Eastern Shore MLA Kevin Murphy. Kevin Murphy reveals that he had known about the plan to delist and sell Owls Head Provincial Park for two years but had chosen not to share this information with his constituents on the Eastern Shore.

January 9, 2020: The Ecology Action Centre releases a statement on the delisting of Owls Head Provincial Park.

January 13, 2020: The provincial government scrubs online content about Owls Head Provincial Park, such as maps and the park’s conservation values.

January 21, 2020: Biologist Caitlin Porter warns that development would mean “complete destruction” of the site’s ecological features. Porter and her colleagues from Saint Mary’s University have been doing fieldwork at Owls Head Provincial Park since 2011. You can read the letter from Porter and her colleague Dr. Lundholm here.

January 22, 2020: CPAWS NS introduces an “Action Page” that allows concerned citizens to easily send letters in opposition to the delisting of Owls Head Provincial Park. Two thousand electronic letters are sent through this system in just a few weeks in January and February.

January 24, 2020: World Wildlife Fund Canada writes a letter to the provincial government, expressing concerns about wildlife habitat, rare ecosystems, coastal wetlands, the climate crisis, and more.

January 25, 2020: The federal government rescinds its offer to sell federal land adjacent to Owls Head Provincial Park to the Nova Scotia government. Instead of becoming part of the golf course development, this federal parcel will become a protected area through the Canadian Wildlife Service.

January 26, 2020: The attendance at the community meeting hosted by Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association far exceeds seating capacity. Forest Watch representatives present a timeline of Owls Head Provincial Park, dating back to its inclusion in the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System (1975). No members of the Liberal government make an appearance, but members of the PC, NDP, and Green Parties express their opposition to the secretive delisting of Owls Head Park.

February 3, 2020: Volunteer Stan Frantz launches, which hosts an extensive archive of information. As of December 2020, the website has 239 posts (letters, articles, videos, scientific reports, photo galleries, and more).

February 3, 2020: Let’s Go to Court to Save Owls Head! A Go-Fund-Me account is launched in hopes of raising $15,000 to fund legal costs.

February 4, 2020: Respected biologist Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association initiate legal proceedings (a request for a judicial review). Environmental lawyer Jamie Simpson represents the applicants.

February 9, 2020: Just 6 days after it begins, the Go-Fund-Me campaign reaches its fundraising goal, thanks to concerned citizens.

February 19, 2020: The night before the planned march and rally, CBC reports a “pause” in the sale. The article contains a statement from the lawyer of the would-be developers, saying that they will “not be proceeding at this time.”

February 20, 2020: Rally to Save Owls Head – Despite the previous night’s announcement, concerned citizens still unite in the bitter cold to protest the delisting of Owls Head Provincial Park. Speakers include Christopher Trider, Mi’kmaw Grandmother Darlene Gilbert, local resident Pam Baker, Karen McKendry of the Ecology Action Centre, and politicians from all 3 opposition parties. NDP leader Gary Burrill tells the crowd that he will be introducing the “Owls Head Act,” eliciting cheers of support. In the Legislature, MLA Lisa Roberts (of the NDP) recognizes the protestors.

February 26, 2020: Gary Burrill introduces An Act Respecting Parks and Protected Areas, otherwise known as the “Owls Head Act.” If passed, this act could prevent any other parks from being delisted without public consultation.

This Bill strengthens the process for designations and removal of designations under the Provincial Parks Act, the Special Places Protection Act and the Wilderness Areas Protection Act.”

The Owls Head Act

The same day, NDP leader Gary Burrill and the Honourable Iain Rankin (Minister of Lands and Forestry) debate the delisting process in the Nova Scotia Legislature. You can read the transcript or watch the video of Mr. Burrill, here.

March 10, 2020: CPAWS NS and 22 other environmental groups submit a joint letter to save Owls Head Provincial Park. The letter calls on the government to “Stop the sale of publicly-owned lands at Owls Head,” “Protect Owls Head as a legally-designated protected area,” and “Fully implement the Nova Scotia Parks and Protected Areas Plan.”

May 15, 2020: Michael Gorman reveals that an independent report prepared for the province says the “highest and best use” of these lands is for “recreation and conservation.”

June 29, 2020: Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Kevin Coady hears the applicants’ request for a time extension (part 1 of the court case). Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association cite the government’s secrecy as the reason that they couldn’t possibly have filed within the six-month window after the delisting date.

Biologists Caitlin Porter and Dr. Jeremy Lundholm also submit an affidavit on the park’s ecological value. You can read their Report on the Ecological Importance of Owls Head Crown land in its entirety, or view the summary here.

July 4, 2020: CPAWS NS and a team of expert birders visit Owls Head Provincial Park to “document the diversity first hand.” During this and subsequent visits, they have observed 80 species of birds!

July 4, 2020: Coastal Adventures takes a group of sea kayakers for a “destination paddle,” during which they explore the coastline of Owls Head Provincial Park and the nearby islands. Its location makes the park ideal for eco-tourism & recreational tourism. During the 2020 season, these destination paddles were so popular that Coastal Adventures returned with groups twice more.

August 1, 2020: Eleanor and Jenn – Sea kayak Instructors make their second guided tour towards Owls Head Provincial Park. The group paddles around the nearby islands, in and around all the ridges, by the unique coastline of the provincial park, and more. Both the adventurers and the instructors are struck by the extensive eelgrass meadows and the area’s exceptional beauty.

August 5, 2020: Justice Coady rules in the applicants’ favour in part 1 of the court case (request for a time extension to file a judicial review). He determined that “the secrecy of the decision precluded any member of the public from legally responding within the six-month window.” You can read his decision in full, here.

“The evidence on this Motion clearly establishes that Owl’s Head was portrayed to the public as a Provincial Park. Government documentation and maps, going back as far as 1978, refer to the area as “Owl’s Head Provincial Park”. Further, it was managed by Lands and Forestry to maintain its reserve status. The public had every reason to assume Owl’s Head was a Provincial Park and, therefore, attracted protections not available on Crown lands.”

Interlocutory Decision, Page 3

August 11, 2020: Local recreation duo A for Adventure visits Owls Head Provincial Park for a paddle, a hike, and a beautiful view.

August 14, 2020: Lindsay Lee launches an Instagram account (@saveowlshead) to help spread the message on a second social media platform.

August 18, 2020: With the help of environmental lawyer Jamie Simpson, applicants Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch file an expanded version of their original request for a judicial review. This request takes issue with not just one but two secret decisions made by Minister Iain Rankin (Lands and Forestry):

  1. The decision to secretly delist the park (remove it from Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan).
  2. The decision to engage in a Letter of Offer with Lighthouse Links Development Co.

September 5, 2020: Marine biologist Dr. Kristina Boerder, CPAWS NS, and a team of expert volunteers survey the eelgrass beds that border Owls Head Provincial Park. Eelgrass, a native species of seagrass, has an incredible capacity for storing carbon.

“Seagrass accounts for 10 per cent of the ocean’s capacity to store carbon—so-called “blue carbon”—despite occupying only 0.2 per cent of the sea floor, and it can capture carbon from the atmosphere up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.”

The United Nations Environment Programme

October 6, 2020: Members of the Facebook group reach out to the candidates running for HRM city council. Owls Head Provincial Park is located in HRM and therefore subject to the municipality’s land use designations. The current zoning designation, Regional Park Zone, permits recreational use (such as hiking and kayaking) but not commercial recreational use (such as golf). As reported in the Eastern Shore Cooperator, most candidates oppose the delisting and potential commercial development of the park.

November 3, 2020: As part of the ongoing court case, the Department of Lands and Forestry releases new information. A record filed in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court includes the (previously redacted) sale price of Owls Head Provincial Park. This 268-hectare coastal property is worth a mere $216,000 ($306/acre), according to the valuation report commissioned by the prospective developer (Lighthouse Links). These documents also reveal that the preliminary estimate for constructing the first golf course is $12.6 million dollars. The developers would need to offset the costs with residential developments and could potentially save money by creating a sand plant on the site. As Richard Bell aptly described it, this would grind Owls Head Provincial Park as it now exists “into biological, ecological, and geological oblivion.”

“The secret backroom deal to sell the 700-acre coastal park property for $216,000 is an affront to many Nova Scotians and a violation of the public trust. To do it for a project that will destroy the ecological integrity of Owls Head is incomprehensible.”

Christopher Trider

November 21, 2020: Eastern Shore Forest Watch announces that they’ve raised the additional $10,000 to continue the judicial review.

December 10, 2020: Applicants argue that the Record (as produced by the Department of Lands and Forestry) should include additional documents, such as those that made public through FOIPOP (Freedom of Information) requests. Unfortunately, the judge ruled that this information would not be included in the judicial review. But the court case is still moving forward.

December 17, 2020: Environmental activist Jacob Fillmore protests the provincial government’s lack of action on key environmental issues. You can read Jacob’s statement here. Many Nova Scotians make calls and send emails in support of Jacob’s platform, which asks the government to take action on four key concerns:

1) Stop clear-cutting (and all other cutting under new terminology that has the same effect),
2) Protect species at risk without delay,
3) Cancel the Alton Gas storage facility,
4) And Save Owls Head Provincial Park.

Thank You

We wish that it wasn’t necessary to go to such lengths to hold our government to account, but we know that this case has the power to set a very dangerous precedent. We learned this year that roughly half of our provincial parks are awaiting designation (formal protection), just like Owls Head Provincial Park was before it was secretly delisted. So half of what we think of as “provincial parks” are at risk.

Each time you get involved, you’re improving our chances of protecting not only Owls Head Provincial Park but also the other undesignated park reserves, nature reserves, and wilderness areas in Nova Scotia.

There’s no one “right” way to get involved, so whether you’ve utilized your technical talents, written a letter to the editor, led a kayaking tour, constructed a huge sign for the movement, or camped out in Grand Parade, we thank you.

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