Our Latest Updates in these Uncharted Times

In Featured, News by couchiching

June 16th, 2020:

All Nature Reserves with public trails have re-opened.

Conservancy staff continue to work from home, and the Grant’s Woods office is closed.  Grant’s Woods has a limit of 8 cars in the parking lot at a time.

Volunteer teams of two who are not from the same household may resume field monitoring and maintenance if you are comfortable doing so, following these protocols:

  • Travel to your site separately.
  • Do not share equipment.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Maintain distancing of 6 feet.

Staff can be reached by email and phone, and messages will be monitored, so please continue to use our regular business telephone #: 705-326-1620.


Mark Bisset: mbisset@couchconservancy.ca
Courtney Baker: courtney@couchconservancy.ca
Tanya Clark: tanya@couchconservancy.ca
Joelle Burnie: info@couchconservancy.ca
Dorthea Hangaard: dorthea@couchconservancy.ca
David Hawke: steward@couchconservancy.ca
Toby Rowland: citizensci@couchconservancy.ca
Ron Reid: ronreid@couchconservancy.ca


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Message from the Executive Director

I have missed the woods.

That’s why I’m delighted to tell you the nature reserves of The Couchiching Conservancy are re-opening.

Beginning May 14, you will be able to access all of the Conservancy reserves normally open to the public, with the exception of the Adams Nature Reserve, which will be closed just a little while longer.

We have been closely monitoring the directions of the province, public health officials and individual municipalities to make sure the Conservancy is aligned with the health needs of the community.

The decision to close our properties to the public March 26 was not an easy one, because we know how important nature is to our own well-being. As the ultimate essential service, many of us depend on a walk in the woods to calm our nerves in a time of crisis. However, as we began to see large crowds congregating at a few of our properties, it became apparent that remaining open would directly contradict multiple requests for the public to stay home.

But with the province opening parks and conservation areas this week, we feel it’s reasonable to follow their lead.

As we re-open our nature reserves, we are asking everyone to practice social distancing while staying on the trails. If you see that parking areas are full when you arrive, we ask you to go to another reserve or come back at a later time.

Large crowds not only pose a health risk to us all, they pose very real risks to the flora and fauna we all work so hard to protect. As people move off a trail to maintain their distance, wildflowers and plants just emerging are trampled. Species at risk can even be threatened.

If you have a dog, it is even more important now than ever to keep it on a leash to avoid unintended tangles with others enjoying the trails.

These few, simple practices will keep you safe, keep our reserves in good condition, and help our organization manage the risks posed by re-opening.

The Conservancy office will remain closed until further notice, as will the few amenities we have on our reserves, such as the toilet facilities and the gazebo at Grant’s Woods. Staff will continue to work from home, using a range of technologies.  There has been no shortage of tasks. Reserves are being monitored thanks to the careful organization of staff and volunteers, committees continue to meet virtually to carry out the business of the Conservancy. The board of Directors held its first Zoom teleconference in April and will continue its meeting schedule uninterrupted.  Rescheduling or in some cases re-inventing events and programs has kept us hopping.

On the acquisition front, we have two properties in the Black River Wildlands Corridor moving toward permanent protection and two conservation easements in the works for the Oro West priority area.

We will need your continued support in the coming weeks and months, as we navigate through these exceptional times. But we are on course; our determination to see Nature Rising is undiminished. And on top of it all, we can once again get out in the wild spaces we hold so dear.


Updates below are kept as an archive of communications sent


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Message from the Executive Director

After much consideration we are sad to announce that The Couchiching Conservancy is temporarily closing its nature reserves to the public.
While we understand the vital importance of getting out for a walk in the woods to deal with the stress we are all facing, we also know that some of our reserves have become gathering places for significant crowds in recent days.
Nothing is more important than supporting our health care workers and front-line service providers during this emergency, and all levels of government as well as public health officials have made it clear that the best way to provide that support is to stay home.
“Everyone can do their part by making social distancing a priority, wrote Carmine Stumpo, President and CEO of Orillia Solders’ Memorial Hospital yesterday. “Our Prime Minister has been clear, ‘enough is enough, go home and stay home’. Our Premier has taken unprecedented steps to close all non-essential businesses. Our Mayor has declared a State of Emergency in Orillia. It is now up to every individual to make the right choice.”
Two weeks ago, we shut our offices and began working from home, but we invited people to continue using our nature reserves while practicing physical distancing. Even a few days ago, declaring our nature reserves were open seemed like a public service in troubled times. But events are changing by the hour, and it seems to us that nothing is more important than backing the brave people who are putting their lives on the line to fight Covid-19.
In that context, it seems a small sacrifice to stop using Conservancy reserves for a few weeks.
At the same time, The Couchiching Conservancy is working hard to plot the best course through the lock down. We have postponed or cancelled activities and events that are not in line with the latest advisories from health and government officials. Where possible, we’re working to come up with alternative approaches to activities we can run without risk to our staff, volunteers and the general public.
Everything is being carefully weighed and considered, with public safety and your personal safety foremost in our minds. Things are changing rapidly and what we thought might work yesterday won’t necessarily work today. So I urge you to keep a close eye on our website for updates.
Above all, if you are outside, I ask you to adhere to the physical distancing measures now demanded of us all: stay two metres apart, cough into an arm, wash continually (those chapped red hands are now a badge of honour).
We are among the lucky ones in that we can, for the time being, continue to work through the use of online technology. We went into the crisis in good financial condition with no debt. We are well-positioned to come out the other side. It has been heartening and humbling to see our supporters continue to volunteer and donate to The Conservancy in such difficult times and we offer our heartfelt thanks. Despite our temporary closures, like you we know that nature is the ultimate essential service.
Here are some of the steps we have taken as of March 26, 2020:
  • We are seeking alternative approaches for events. The Passport to Nature Committee is working to adjust to the pandemic. Printing of the Passport booklet has been delayed and the first few events are being postponed. The Carden Challenge is very much on our minds and we are looking at options for this beloved event that raises critical funds to power conservation work for the Alvar. Our new Nature-thon is also under scrutiny. Please stay tuned.
  • Citizen Science and Ambassador training is continuing using the web-conferencing platform Zoom. Joelle Burnie has developed an instruction video which is available to you to help you use this tool;
  • Citizen Science monitoring activities are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis by staff. Dorthea Hangaard and Toby Rowland are contacting volunteers to discuss plans and alterations;
  • Decisions about field work involving volunteers (such as land stewardship and maintenance) will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Where work is not deemed essential, or we cannot use physical distancing practices effectively, we will postpone the work;
  • We have postponed the hiring of two seasonal field interns and will continue to review our options as the situation evolves;
  • Acquisition work is continuing, including the implementation of the Black River Wildlands Corridor Campaign. We have funding to work with and we plan to proceed with current acquisition projects to the extent possible. While the environmental crisis has taken a temporary back seat to Covid-19, Nature needs us no less today than it did yesterday.
We are consulting as much as possible with local officials, our volunteers and supporters as we work through these issues. If you have thoughts or concerns about our actions to date, let us know.
We’re in uncharted waters and more than ever we depend on the time-tested wisdom and strength of our community.
This will pass.
Mark Bisset
Executive Director

(Saturday, March 14, 2020)

Message from the Executive Director

So much can change in a few days when you live in interesting times.

A week ago, 260 of us got together for the annual celebration that our Annual General Meeting has become. Members, donors, volunteers and some who were just curious helped us break attendance records for the third year in a row.

A week later, the world has shifted onto a different footing.

The Couchiching Conservancy has responded quickly, and I want to share our approach with you and perhaps answer some questions as to how the next few weeks of our work will unfold.

Following the advice of our health care professionals and political leaders, we have closed the office at Grant’s Woods and asked staff and volunteers to work from home. Because our people are our single biggest asset, and because many of our volunteers and supporters tend to be in the demographic most at risk from Covid-19, we want to apply an abundance of caution in keeping everyone safe. We have the technology that allows everyone to work remotely, so we are using it. We will continue to respond to email as normal and our phone lines will be monitored for messages, so there should be little or no disruption in communications.

To allow us to continue training volunteers, particularly for our crucial Citizen Science work, we have purchased the teleconferencing platform Zoom to shift to webinar formats where appropriate for workshops. We will provide instructions in using the platform, which is very user-friendly.

At this stage, health officials are saying small groups and individual contacts can still proceed, and since much of our work will soon be taking place outside, we will carry on with stewardship work and landowner contact as usual. However, we will be practicing social distancing and we won’t be shaking hands – a tough habit to break in our community. There is one important caveat: if anyone in our community does not feel comfortable getting together or executing a public task, we will respect that without question.

We will continue to monitor the situation and if more drastic measures are required, we will take them.

In the meantime, please take care of yourself. We need each other, and Nature needs us. As one of our funders is fond of saying, sustainability begins at home.

Warmest regards,

Mark Bisset