Death Sentence for Greenwich Park on PEI

We all love to walk on the wild side, but boardwalks and parking are no way to save a fragment of wild beach dune for the creatures of PEI.

by Sharon Labchuk

When the dunes at Greenwich, PEI were declared a national park last year, most people figured this relatively unspoiled natural area would finally be safe from developers. They were forgetting one thing though – politicians. Lawrence MacAulay, Canada's solicitor general and Liberal MP for the Greenwich area, has re-election on his mind. He's not going to let rare plants or the endangered piping plover get in his way.

Not one for modesty, he's bragged publicly about his major role in "convincing" Minister of Canadian Heritage Sheila Copps to designate this fragile ecosystem a national park. He further consolidated his political position in his economically depressed riding by announcing a federal $1.3 million 'development plan' for the park. The development will help attract more than 100,000 tourists this summer to trample this unique ecosystem to death. Even more tourists are expected in succeeding years as the park becomes more developed and better advertised.

MacAulay spouts the usual political rhetoric about "respecting and honouring the fragility and integrity of this beautiful place" but the man has little ecological sentiment. Out of the other side of his mouth he calls Greenwich, an area Parks Canada says has natural features not found anywhere else in the world, a 'project' and a 'resource.'

"This project is an excellent example of how federal investment will lead to social and economic opportunities," he says. Parks Canada on PEI, charged with protecting Greenwich, seems equally ignorant of the critical need for ecosystem protection over economic and recreational opportunities for humans.

Dave Lipton, Parks Canada's head bureaucrat on PEI, refers to national parks as 'products' his department markets. Last fall he directed the construction of a trail through sensitive sand dunes and over top of 4 recognized archeological sites without first conducting an environmental screening, clearly contravening the province's Archeological Sites Protection Act and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency regulations. The trail was hurriedly built and the screening process initiated only later, in order to access federal government funding available at the time. The trail construction created about 12 short-term jobs.

A walk on the trail reveals the damage caused by hasty planning and lack of expert advice. Built as close to the bank's edge as possible, parts of the trail are already collapsing over the side and onto the beach below. Pottery shards, brought to the surface during trail excavation, are clearly visible in the archeological sites. Pesticide-soaked lumber, used for the boardwalk section, now leaches its toxic load onto the sand dunes.

Parks Canada on PEI has no ecologist on staff, so MacAulay's economic development schemes for the area have been allowed to dominate. And while a biological survey of Greenwich has been contracted out by Parks Canada, it cannot be completed in time to influence scheduled major development this spring. Besides harm already caused by trail construction, Parks Canada has cut a 10 foot wide swath through the forested edges of the park, claiming this is standard procedure in all national parks. The swath will be kept denuded for all time to delineate park boundaries.

Three separate parcels of land, with privately owned property between, make up the tiny park on the Greenwich Peninsula. Development plans for the smallest parcel, which is not much more than a strip of dunes along the shore and a bit of field, include an access road for beach-goers and a parking lot for 90 cars and 10 buses "with room for expansion." Tourists frolicking on this beach will find all the amenities here – toilets, showers, hot dog stands, the works.

This land, previously only accessible by a long tiring hike up and down sand dunes, will soon be easy to reach by simply driving up the proposed access road and strolling along the beach. Parks Canada intends to penetrate this area with boardwalks. There's even a bizarre plan to allow recreational fishing boats on the little pond situated in the midst of this massive dune system.

On most fine summer days, one would be lucky to encounter a half-dozen people in this dramatic and biologically diverse natural area, although all-terrain vehicles were a problem. Now throngs of unrestricted and unsupervised tourists will be given free rein to go anywhere in the park, for Parks Canada has no plan in place to make people stay on the boardwalks. We know from the sorry mess at the national park in Cavendish that, free to roam, it's impossible to keep people from climbing and destroying fragile dunes.

A 'special planning area' outside park boundaries has been established by the Province. Development in this zone will sever the park ecosystem from the surrounding countryside. Already a developer who owns 400 acres near the park, is planning a four star hotel and golf course complex.

MacAulay and others see Greenwich as a cash cow to be milked for all it's worth. But some people are horrified that one of PEI's scarce natural areas has been reduced to a commodity and will soon swarm with tourists.

According to the most basic ecological criteria, the planet is overpopulated today with 6 billion humans, and our population may double in the next century before it levels out. Highly regarded conservation biologists say at least 50% of the Earth must remain wild, free from human interference, to protect biodiversity and avoid mass extinctions. These wild areas, they say, must be interconnected with corridors to allow for genetic exchange between populations and surrounded by buffer zones where only limited human activity is permitted.

An estimated 150 species per day are eliminated by human activity. Many species of plants and animals, once teeming in Atlantic Canada, have had their populations decimated. PEI has the most intensively 'managed' landscape of all provinces and various native animals, like bear, lynx, pine martin and woodland caribou have long since disappeared because of hunting, trapping and forest destruction. Are we not generous enough to leave wild places on this island to accommodate the needs of other species?

We urgently need to "rewild" large sections of PEI, not only because humans are part of Nature and we ultimately depend upon its integrity and health for our survival. But because humans have no right to reduce the diversity of life on Earth except to satisfy vital needs, and because other species have the right to exist irrespective of their usefulness to humans.

Let Greenwich signal a new appreciation for Nature conservation on PEI. Human intrusion into this national park needs to be limited to strictly controlled guided tours to only the least sensitive areas. The Island has miles of shoreline already servicing the recreational needs of tourists. Leave the Greenwich dunes to the endangered piping plovers and other wild things.

IF YOU CARE about conserving wildlands, and if the biological meltdown now in progress brings you to tears, infuriates you, or otherwise makes you feel like taking action, now is the time. Help defend Greenwich from development. When tourists arrive this summer, development will be well underway. Letters to all politicians below can be sent postage-free to: House of Commons, Ottawa. Letters to the editor are effective.

  • Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage; fax: (819)994-5987 coppss@parl.gc.ca
  • Your Member of Parliament, House of Commons, Ottawa, K1A 0A6
  • Joe O'Brien, Director General for Eastern Canada, Parks Canada, 1869 Upper Water St, Halifax, NS B3J 159; fax: (902)426-1378; joe_obrien@pch.gc.ca

* Contact Earth Action to find out how else you can help: Earth Action, 81 Prince St., Charlottetown, PEI C1A 4R3; fax: (902)621-0719; slabchuk@isn.net

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