Contributed by Peter Barss
August 11, 2021
An owl stares out from a red and white sign nailed to a telephone pole, a fence along the highway, or a tree in front of a house. Some are propped up in the windows of homes and businesses. They all carry the same message: “Stop the Government Sale of Owls Head Provincial Park,” and they’re part of an extraordinary, province-wide, grass roots movement.
Owls Head Provincial Park, on the Eastern Shore, is Crown land and part of Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.The geology of Owls Head Provincial Park has remained virtually untouched since the glaciers scraped across Nova Scotia 10,000 years ago. The park is characterized by a globally rare plant ecosystem, compelling topography, bogs, a fresh water lake, and salt marshes bordered by a rocky coast and a sandy beach. The wildlife corridor increases biodiversity by connecting the coast and the interior wilderness areas. Offshore, there are robust eelgrass meadows that support marine diversity and absorb and store huge amounts of carbon.
Between 1975 and 2013, discussions took place in good faith between the Nova Scotia government, citizens and environmental groups. A five-year scientific study supported the conclusion that Owls Head Provincial Park is unique and worthy of preservation.Owls Head Provincial Park was included in the province’s Parks and Protected Areas Plan (PPAP). But all that changed in 2016, when a pair of wealthy American developers approached the Department of Natural Resources (now Lands and Forestry), wanting to buy the parkland to build three golf courses and other developments.
When reporter Michael Gorman of CBC News broke the story it sparked a firestorm of opposition.
Thanks to a whistle blower, we now know that the government removed Owls Head Provincial Park from the list of lands awaiting legal protection, specifically to enter into a Letter of Offer with the Americans (working as Lighthouse Links Development Company). All of this was done without public knowledge or consultation.
The terms and conditions of the Letter of Offer indicate that the property—which includes 5 miles of coastline— “will be sold for $306 per acre.”
Freedom of Information requests revealed that the government agreed not to consult with the public—or the Mi’kmaq— until after the Letter of Offer was signed.Many individuals and organizations had been working with the government since 1975 to preserve Owls Head Provincial Park, but our government officials discarded those decades of effort and input with a few strokes of the pen.
A case was brought before the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on April 1, 2021 by Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association. The applicants argued that the province should reconsider the decision to delist the property from the PAPA, since it was done without public notice or consultation.
On July 30, 2021, Justice Christa Brothers wrote that the government’s decisions to delist and offer to sell the park site, while “troubling,” were within the government’s legal authority.
Gorman’s initial story gave birth to one of the most extraordinary grassroots movements in Nova Scotia’s history. Thousands of Nova Scotians were shocked by the government’s secrecy. They are outraged that this ruggedly beautiful landscape could be blown up and ground into sand to make golf courses. So they took action.
The Facebook group that sparked the resistance is now 9,000-members strong. More than 30,000 people have signed the online petition. Supporters raised $27,000 for the judicial review. While it didn’t have the desired outcome, we’re thankful nonetheless.
Volunteers built and run a smart website, which describes the issue in detail and keeps everyone up to date.
There have been three rallies in support of stopping the sale. And then there there are the signs. The “Sign Lady,” Karen Reinhardt, lives in New Cumberland, Lunenburg County. She’s raised enough money to have about 1,500 signs made and has organized around 60 volunteers across the province to distribute them.
The movement is a collaboration of passionate people like Reinhardt, who share ideas and contribute in whatever ways they can. Everyone involved — citizens and scientists — understands that the importance of preserving Owls Head Provincial Park reaches far beyond the 268 hectares of parkland that Lighthouse Links wants to own. If the government sells this park, it will set a dangerous precedent; parks and protected areas awaiting designation will be at risk across the province.
This land is part of the environment we all share. Preserving Owls Head Provincial Park would show true environmental leadership. We are serious about giving our children and their children a healthy world to live in.
Are our politicians?
Peter Barss is a writer and photographer living in Lunenburg County who is a member of the Save Owls Head Provincial Park Facebook group