Conservation biologist creates website to help save Owls Head
Government says Owls Head isn’t a provincial park, but their documents say otherwise
January 28, 2020, 1:12 pm ASTLast Updated: January 28, 2020, 1:12 pm
Controversy over the proposed sale of coastal Crown land known as Owls Head provincial park in Eastern Shore has prompted Chris Miller to create a website urging people to speak out.
Miller, executive director of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said he created the site last week because of the number of people who reached out to him.
“A lot of people are really concerned about it, and people are contacting me and are (asking) ‘How can I help, what can I do?’” Miller said in an interview.
“So I’m directing them to submit letters to the government, for them to reach out to their MLAs.”
Owls Head provincial park is its name in the provincial government’s Our Parks and Protected Areas: A Plan for Nova Scotia and in its accompanying map. But according to the Department of Lands and Forestry, it never was a provincial park.
However, the land was being managed as a provincial park reserve and was awaiting legal designation. But last year that changed.
In December, CBC reported that the land was being sought after by a private developer looking to turn it into golf courses, and in March 2019, the Treasury Board de-listed it from the parks and protected areas plan outside of the public’s knowledge. This information was obtained through an access to information request.
Miller said the behind-closed-doors nature of the deal has upset many people.
“That really doesn’t sit well with people, especially since the process to create new parks and protected areas takes many, many years, in some cases decades. It has to go through multiple rounds of public consultation,” said Miller.
“By contrast, the decision by government to de-list it is a couple of people in back rooms.”
As of Monday, Miller said the website had been used to send over 1,500 letters to the government.
Miller is very concerned about the precedent that this could set.
“If they can de-list one site, they can de-list others. This is not an issue that is only going to affect Owls Head,” he said, adding that it could affect parks and protected areas elsewhere in the province.
At a town hall meeting in Musquodoboit Harbour last Wednesday, Eastern Shore MLA Kevin Murphy said he’s supportive of exploring the process of selling off the land.
“I am in support of economic development of the Eastern Shore,” Murphy can be heard saying in a video of the meeting, posted on Facebook. “It’s something that potentially could be very good for the area, provided it does meet all the rules and regulations.”
But Miller said this is the wrong place to build a golf course.
“There’s plenty of places in Nova Scotia where you can build golf courses, where you don’t have to sell off a park, and you don’t have to slam it into a place that has rare species and rare ecosystems,” he said.
The Signal contacted the Department of Lands and Forestry with several questions about Owls Head. In an email, department spokesperson Lisa Jarrett confirmed the land has been sought out by a developer.
“A Letter of Offer has been signed by both parties (developer and Department of Lands and Forestry) that stipulates a requirement for a plan related to public engagement by the developer regarding their project,” said Jarrett.
But before the Crown land is sold, she said, the plan will have to be reviewed by the department, and they will have to consult with First Nations communities.
Jarrett said the government continues “to work towards our commitment of protecting 13 per cent of our land,” but added that “this parcel was not identified as a priority to meet the 13 per cent goal, and was not designated as a provincial park.”
“The province frequently receives proposals for Crown land. Each application moves through the province’s process of evaluation and analysis,” said Jarrett.
Jarrett said that recently, the “government designated 17 new and expanded protected areas around the province.”
“Government’s role is to balance the protection of our land with the economic benefits that come from our natural resources,” she said in her email. “We believe these values can coexist and take this into consideration with each and every decision we make in the management of Nova Scotia’s Crown land.”
The Signal asked why the decision to de-list Owls Head from the parks and protected areas plan wasn’t made public, but Jarrett didn’t provide an answer.
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