Protecting the special natural features of the Couchiching region for future generations
The Conservancy works with numerous partners to protect natural lands across six municipalities around Lake Couchiching and the City of Orillia. This includes the watersheds of the Talbot, Sturgeon, Coldwater, North and Matchedash Rivers, the Hawkstone, Bluff and St. John’s Creeks and parts of the lower Head, Black and Severn watersheds. Lake Dalrymple, Sparrow Lake, Bass Lake and the north west shore of Lake Simcoe are all within our coverage area. This region encompasses the ecological transition along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield and is highly diverse in its ecology.
As a foundation for its work, the Couchiching Conservancy undertook a study called The Natural Heritage Action Plan to identify the main strategic areas needing protection.
This work identified: the Oro Moraine, the Carden Alvar, Severn Wildlands and the Black/Head River corridor.
The key areas needing protection are reviewed every five years as part of a strategic planning process. At that time, the Conservancy consults with its membership and key stakeholders and convenes a strategic planning meeting to review priorities for the coming period.
A Strategic Plan for the Couchiching Conservancy was completed in 2019 and covers the time frame of 2020-2025.
The goals of the plan are:
- 1.0 Acquire and Protect Habitat
- 2.0 Steward the Land Under Protection
- 3.0 Build and Maintain Financial and Human Resources
- 4.0 Communicate, Collaborate and Celebrate
Within these broad geographic areas, the Conservancy looks at the following criteria to select projects:
- Ecological significance
- Context (linkages to other properties, size and threats)
- Public benefit
- Management needs
- Financial feasibility.
From time to time, the Conservancy will respond to areas outside the key regions if the public benefit warrants and the community support is present. A key example of this was the preservation of Church Woods.
The Couchiching Conservancy works with private landowners to secure ecologically significant lands that we have identified as priorities for conservation in our Natural Heritage Action Plan.
The Conservancy acquires land through:
Outright purchase: Couchiching Conservancy purchases a piece of land outright from a private landowner (corporate or individual).
Land donation: Couchiching Conservancy receives a donation of land from a private landowner (corporate or individual).
Conservation agreement: Couchiching Conservancy enters into a legal agreement in which a landowner agrees to restrict activities that would threaten the ecological value of the land. The land remains in the ownership and control of the landowner.
There are significant tax advantages through the federal Ecological Gifts Program for those who donate land or conservation easement agreements. In all securement projects involving an interest in the ownership of the property (including conservation easements), the owners involved will be advised by the Conservancy to seek independent legal and financial advice to ensure that their interests are protected.
Caring for our Land
Acquiring the land is a good start, but protection doesn’t end there. The Couchiching Conservancy is devoted to making sure the properties we accept are well managed and their natural values are maintained. From wetlands to alvars to woodlands to grasslands, our promise is to care for the land under our protection for future generations.
We ensure good property stewardship by:
- Developing property management plans. Based on detailed inventories of species and habitats, these plans document the condition of the land and identify priority actions needed to protect key species and habitats over the long term.
- Engaging communities and volunteers to help us take care of the land.
- Monitoring properties on a regular basis to certify that key natural features remain protected.
- Responding to unforeseen threats or issues as they may arise
- Volunteer training
- Trail maintenance including clearing, installing new bridges & fixing the old ones
- Species at Risk projects
- Trespass & dumping investigations
- Developing new property plans
- Review of existing Property Management Plans
- Actively control invasive plants such as Garlic Mustard, Phragmites Reed, Dog-strangling Vine, Japanese Knotweed, Purple Loosestrife, European Frog-bit and more
- Coordinating volunteers
- Handling neighbour relations
- Site visits and monitoring
- Managing cattle grazing leases
- Managing existing structures