2014 was another successful year for The Couchiching Conservancy. Read about the work we have completed together to protect nature for future generations.
The Couchiching Conservancy did some significant bridge work in 2014.
One of the organization’s key goals is to move beyond isolated islands of green by linking protected areas to create critical masses of natural habitat with connecting corridors.
In other words: bridge building.
For years now, the Conservancy has been at work with various partners on the Carden Alvar to protect this globally-rare ecosystem. The alvar — a limestone plain with shallow soil or no soil at all — lies just east of Lake Dalrymple and it has garnered interest around the world. Protecting it would be a good thing, but if it is isolated with no solid linkages to the northern shield territory, it will be devalued.
Thankfully, Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park is a massive tract of protected land directly to the north of the alvar.
One of our goals has been to protect a link between Carden and the park, and this year, Ellen Larsen helped us make a giant leap forward with the donation of a 354-acre Conservation Easement adjacent to Queen Elizabeth II and the Kris Starr Sanctuary.
The Larsen property is a wonderful example of the transition between granite barrens in the north and Carden Alvar in the south with river habitat in between. This type of space, where species from one zone overlap with those of another, is known as an “ecotone”, and this ecotone has been dubbed the Land Between.
This was just one of several pieces of good news we were able to share with more than 130 people who came out to celebrate another year of progress at the Conservancy’s Annual General Meeting at ODAS Park in Orillia last Saturday.
In September, the Ontario government upgraded the status of Carden’s Cameron Ranch, Windmill Ranch, and the McCuaig McDonald Nature Reserve to officially create the Carden Alvar Provincial Park. The park designation takes the properties out of the relative limbo of “Crown Land” and raises the level of protection significantly.
Very late in the year, there was a change in the status of the Turnbull Ranch at the south end of the Alvar as well.
After years of thoughtful stewardship, which included placing a conservation easement on the property, Caroline and Neil Turnbull generously decided to donate the ranch outright to the conservancy.
This 400-acre property has been the site of the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike captive breeding and release program. For years, the Turnbulls provided the property and a cabin for Wildlife Preservation Canada staff to operate the program.
The grasslands on Turnbull Ranch will allow us to take advantage of a new provincial program that could generate funds for more grassland acquisition in time. That’s important because Bobolink were designated a threatened species in Ontario in 2010 when it became apparent that 77% of its breeding population has been lost since 1970.
In answer to that and the general decline of other grassland birds, a new tool has been created: The Species at Risk Benefit Exchange Program (SARBEX).
The conservancy became an early-adopter of the program, which sees developers pay qualified organizations to create or enhance habitat in one place to make up for habitat destroyed in another.
Bluebird Ranch, near Kirkfield, has been our test site, and it became a hive of activity in 2014.
Across thousands of acres, these properties and their linkages will be a lifeline for wildlife as they move north in the face of changing climate.
Written by Mark Bisset.