We are sharing excerpts from the “Report on the Ecological Importance of Owls Head Crown land” with the permission of its authors, Dr. Jeremy Lundholm, PhD, and Caitlin Porter, MSc. You can find their unabridged report at the bottom of this page, should you wish to read it in full.
Lundholm and Porter are biologists at St. Mary’s University’s Ecology of Plants in Communities Lab, members of which have been studying the plant communities at Owls Head Provincial Park for fifteen years. Lundholm and Porter have studied the ecology of Nova Scotia’s coastal barrens for 15 and 10 years, respectively.
“Data used to inform this report and our knowledge of Owls Head Provincial Park crown lands were collected as a part of an independent research study on the biodiversity of coastal barrens in Nova Scotia.”Report on the Ecological Importance of Owls Head Crown land, page 1
“This report constitutes our objective expert opinion on the ecological importance of the Owls Head Crown lands and the likely consequences of building golf courses on this property.Report on the Ecological Importance of Owls Head Crown land, page 1
“We offer these comments as independent experts on plant ecology and the ecological importance of the Owls Head Crown lands, for the express assistance of the court, and this report is comprehensive concerning the relevant information in this matter.”
Globally Rare Plant Community
Owls Head Provincial Park Reserve supports Coastal Broom Crowberry heathland. This plant community occurs widely on the bedrock ridges across the subject crown lands property and adjacent privately-owned lands. This is a globally rare plant community is notable of the eastern shore ecoregion (Neily et al 2017; Porter et al. unpublished).Report on the Ecological Importance of Owls Head Crown land, page 13
The dwarf, trailing shrub called Broom Crowberry (Corema conradii) that predominates the flora of these heaths is an endemic species to northeastern North America, meaning this species can be found nowhere else in the world. In Canada, this plant only occurs within the maritime provinces and Quebec and within that limited range, Broom Crowberry is only common in Nova Scotia.
Conclusions of the Report
1. Soil depths at Owls Head rarely exceed 25cm (with the exception of deep wetland peat deposits). There is a limited capacity for the site to support any grass species at present. The sensitive and widespread coastal Broom Crowberry heaths at Owls Head are also associated with shallow soil conditions. In order for the site to support any turf forming grass species associated with a golf course, soils would be needed. Introduction of soils to this site would significantly alter the ecosystem of Owls Head. Addition of soils to the site would irreversibly alter the site in its entirety. Addition of soils to the site would directly destroy vegetation by either smothering or excavation of surficial materials, and/or indirectly destroy vegetation communities by establishing an environment capable of supporting deeper-rooting plant species that would out-compete barrens vegetation.
2. All of the ecosystems present at Owls Head are characterized as nutrient-poor ecosystems. Bogs, Barrens and eelgrass beds are characterized by species adapted to the nutrient conditions currently present. Golf courses require the use of fertilizers. Introduction of nutrients to this environment would lead to the loss of plant species and communities associated with the nutrient-poor environment. Nutrient runoff from fertilizers is also widely known to result in the destruction of eelgrass meadows in the marine environment (e.g., see DFO 2009). Given the low elevation, shallow bedrock, long coastline, and widespread wetlands on the property it seems unlikely that traditional mitigation strategies (e.g. silt curtains) would be feasible or effective at preventing runoff siltation and/or nutrient deposition.
3. Owls Head features widespread wetlands. A golf course development at this site would seem to conflict with Nova Scotia’s Wetland Conservation Policy, in that it would lead to (1) unavoidable loss of wetlands, and (2) loss of wetlands of special significance, which include (a) salt marsh, and (b) biodiverse wetlands.
4. If it is the case that Piping Plover nest on the beaches of Owls Head as was reported by Nova Scotia Department of Environment, Protected Areas Branch, in summaries of the conservation values of this site, the construction and use phase of any development at this site are likely to interact with the critical habitat of this federally listed species at risk. A Federal environmental assessment would be necessary to determine impacts to Piping Plover. We conducted no survey of avifauna present at the site but are aware the adjacent protected lands within the Eastern Shore Wilderness Area and 100 Wild Islands conservation lands are of great ecological importance for many bird species and as well these species are sensitive to anthropogenic disturbances such as the increased presence of people (noise, lights etc.) within their habitat.
5. Coastal Barrens in Nova Scotia in general cannot be considered low-diversity ecosystems (Oberndorfer and Lundhom 2009; Cameron and Bondrup – Neilsen 2013, Porter 2013). This site specifically cannot reasonably be considered to be low in biodiversity.
6. Given the landscape pattern of repeating bedrock ridges, the sensitive wetland and coastal Broom Crowberry heath features are distributed across its entirety. Thus, interactions between the environment and a development would cause unavoidable damage. We expect that a development at this site would entirely destroy the ecological values of the site.
Report on the Ecological Importance of Owls Head Crown land, pages 15-16
In our opinion, the sale of the Owls Head Crown land property to a private golf course developer would destroy this ecologically important habitat if the developer carries out his proposal for the golf courses. The topography and geology of Owls Head is such that developing the proposed three golf courses on this property would require massive earthworks, which will destroy the native plant communities occurring on the property.
In the event that the purchaser of the Owls Head Crown land does not build golf courses on this land, we remain concerned that the sale of the land, in and of itself, removes the Province’s ability to conserve the ecologically critical plant communities on this property and to allow for continued study of this property’s unique biodiversity.
Jeremy Lundholm, PhD
Caitlin Porter, MSc
To read or download the report in its entirety:
Letter from Lundholm and Porter, biologists from Saint Mary’s University
Biologist Caitlin Porter Responds to MP Sean Fraser
Photo Gallery from Lundholm and Porter