Nova Scotia

Review of West Mabou Beach Provincial Park highlights key areas for conservation

Parts of a Cape Breton provincial park that a private developer is eyeing for a golf course development are "a priority ecosystem for conservation" and information about species at risk in the area is outdated.

DNR document says there could be even more endangered and at-risk species than known

West Mabou Beach Provincial Park includes hiking trails, a beach, sand dunes and vulnerable plants and animals. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Parts of a Cape Breton provincial park that a private developer is eyeing for a golf course development are "a priority ecosystem for conservation" and information about species at risk in the area is outdated, according to a new report.

The findings are included in an "initial assessment of ecological values and conservation priorities at West Mabou Beach Provincial Park," which was prepared last month by a Natural Resources Department biologist. CBC News received the assessment through a freedom-of-information request.

West Mabou Beach is part of more than 200 hectares of land that received provincial park designation in 2001. But recently, people who worked to get that status for the land are concerned their efforts could be undone as the developers behind the Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses eye the area for a potential 18-hole golf course.

West Mabou Beach is one of the few publicly accessible beaches in the area. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Cabot's co-owner, Ben Cowan-Dewar, has not responded to multiple interview requests, but former premier Rodney MacDonald has confirmed he's been helping Cowan-Dewar pursue the project. The two met late last year with senior members of the Natural Resources Department to outline their idea. However, Natural Resources Minister Margaret Miller has said she has not met with anyone connected to the golf course.

A department spokesperson said the assessment was requested last summer as word of the potential development reached staff. Emails released as part of the freedom-of-information request show the work was assigned to the biologist last month and delivered to department officials Jan. 11.

The two-page document notes a detailed field assessment of the park has not been done and the biologist couldn't find record of an inventory of ecosystem, species or geomorphological information.

'A priority ecosystem for conservation'

It says the area has an almost "nationally unique" type of gypsum karst. The park's dune forests are "not very common in Nova Scotia" and are "a priority ecosystem for conservation."

"There is also a record of a ground lichen-dominated dune ecosystem," according to the report. "These ecosystems are even rarer than dune forests and a high priority."

While it's already known there are endangered and threatened bird species and rare plants in the park, the assessment notes that survey efforts are old.

Assessment needs more work

"The area has a high potential for additional rare and/or unique plant, lichen and ecosystem occurrences because of the dune habitat and the unusual conditions provided by karst and karst-associated soils.… Dune complexes are among our most sensitive ecosystems.

"They are dynamic systems shaped by wind, wave and tidal action. There is a large literature on the direct and indirect impacts of development of dune biodiversity values."

The report concludes by noting "a site visit during growing season is required to obtain adequate data for this assessment." The province has not received a formal proposal for the golf course or request for changes to the park's designation.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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