Thank you! Annual General Meeting Re-cap

In Events, Featured by couchiching

Thank you to everyone who attended our virtual Annual General Meeting and Film Festival!

With over 270 people in attendance from all across the landscape, the community committed to protecting nature continues to grow.

Executive Director, Mark Bisset, welcomed people to the meeting.

Secretary, Lisa Neville, ‘Zoomed’ through the minutes of the last Annual General Meeting and shared a re-cap of the highlights.

Treasurer, Jack Booth, took participants through the Financial Statements. Total revenue was significantly more than 2019 while expenditures were slightly lower. The revenue increase was primarily in donations. Of the 87.3% of the total revenue from grants and donations, 85% was from environmentally minded individuals and organizations. Investments increased, with a strong return. You can review the Audited Financial Statements here. A big thank you to members, volunteers and supporters who make this work possible!

A new Board of Directors was accepted, made up of the following people: Neil Gray for President, and directors Jamie Ross, Lisa Neville, Kathy Hunt, Jane Bonsteel, David A. Homer, Dale Leadbeater, Janet Machan and Bob Sullivan.

Incoming President of the Board, Neil Gray, addressed everyone and recognized the new Past President, Jamie Ross, and the members leaving the Board – Doug Christie, Jack Booth and Wendy Lowry. Our sincere thanks for the incredible work they have all done to help over the years, as Board members, and in other ways. Neil also shared some information about the new Board members and the staff of the Conservancy. Going forward, David Hawke will continue to play an important role as a consultant. Over 170 people volunteered in 2020 in various roles and projects, and supporters helped to power the Conservancy through the pandemic.

Doug Varty, chair of the Development Committee and co-chair of the Advisory Council shared about the progress of the Corridors Campaign. To date, over $873,000 has been pledged and donated to assist in protecting habitat within the Black River Wildlands and Carden Alvar. Our thanks to those who have already helped.

Executive Director, Mark Bisset, shared reflections and accomplishments:

At the last Annual General Meeting, over 260 people attended. Looking back now, do you remember how it felt to all be in the same place, united by a common purpose, excite about the work we’ve done together and the accomplishments to come? Remember substituting hand shakes for elbow bumps that day, and as often forgetting and shaking hands anyway? Within a week, Ontario was shut down. At the time, the message ‘Nature is Open’ was fitting, but after long discussions, we followed public health leads and closed the Reserves. Staff posted signs, then took them down and replaced them with ‘Welcome Back’ signs when the Reserves opened again.

From there, our supporters stepped up and made their donations earlier. Staff completely re-created events and programs, and we ended up breaking records.

At the same time, there was a broader awakening. All of a sudden, people were seeking nature in numbers we hadn’t seen before. Struggling with isolation and enforced quiet, people went into the woods.

A great problem to have, but this growing flow of people gave us more to think about. How many is too many for the health of the reserves we protect? Are we going to have people going off trail to avoid each other? If they’re new to the woods, how do we help them understand good trail etiquette? Staff and volunteers again rose to the challenge, turning the uptick in visits into an opportunity to welcome new people to the Reserves.

So instead of pushing environmental issues into the background, the pandemic seems to have created a bit of an “ah-ha moment” in the public consciousness. There is increasing talk of the need for more park space. Our headlong rush to destroy wild habitat has even been linked to the pandemic itself.

In this age of apps and iphones, who would have predicted we’d soothe our souls in troubled times with a simple walk in the woods?

Will this mind-shift create the conditions for change?

I think it’s bound to move people a little closer to the idea that wild places are more than just empty space to be paved over. And that’s one of the conditions we need to realize a world in which Nature is Rising.

Despite all the setbacks, postponements and cancelations this year, we actually broke a record. Volunteers monitored 31 reserves and easements, and made 192 team visits. We now have a highly trained core of people who have created an unprecedented picture of what’s occurring on our reserves. From virtually zero a few years ago, our submissions to the centre that collects and manages conservation data for the province have now topped 1,400. Of those, more than 320 Species at Risk observations came in this year. This is really important documentation used in all sorts of decision-making processes.

Special recognition for Volunteers:

  • Doug and Charon Varty
  • Neil and Ann Gray
  • Melanie and Alan Tuck
  • Roland Rehhorn and Joan Vincent
  • Alan Smale, Mike Read, John Walinck and Kevin Binsted
  • Janet Machan
  • Jeff Cole

Two new Nature Reserves were protected in 2020 – the Whitney Wetland Reserves & Dr. Ron Taylor Nature Reserve

Whitney: We were thrilled to take on this parcel, not only because of the important habitat present, but because it is directly adjacent to the McIsaac Wetland Nature Reserve. Together, the two reserves combine to protect 117 acres of this important wetland. Norm and Irene got together with a few Conservancy folks in the summer for an informal celebration. An official dedication will follow, hopefully this year. Thanks to the Whitneys for this wonderful gift.

Mud Creek at Whitney property. Photo: Dave Hawke.

Taylor: In July, Dr. Ron Taylor and Charlene Taylor completed the part-donation of the Dr. Ron Taylor Nature Reserve. This 175-acre tract is located at a key point in the Black River Wildlands Corridor. It’s been stewarded in its natural state by the Taylor family for decades and they wanted to make sure it is allowed to continue to flourish for generations.

Marley: This reserve is so new, we haven’t settled on a formal name yet. Technically, it’s a 2021 property, since it closed in January, but we wanted to use the AGM to officially announce that we have created another 71-acre reserve on the Black River, thanks to the generosity of Reet and Jaanus Marley and their family. Again, this property is directly adjacent to Queen Elizabeth II Provincial Park, and a good example of our strategy in action. We’ll tell you more about it at next year’s AGM. Thanks to Reet, Jaanus, Karin and Elin Marley for this beautiful gift.

Easements: Finally, we have two conservation easements in the works in the Bass Lake West Corridor. For a number of reasons, not the least of which was the Pandemic, we were delayed in moving forward with these two projects last year, but we are very hopeful they will be brought under protection in 2021. These are among several prospects we will continue to work on throughout the year.

Wrap Up:

The meeting wrapped up with a Film Festival, put together by staff member Joelle Burnie. We shared three videos featuring never before shared trail camera footage, volunteer activities and more.