BAMBERG — Friedrich Kuebart stoops to toss a twig from his mowed forest path.
His dog, Foxy, runs up ahead in the dappled sunshine coming through the leaves overhead.
Kuebart’s trails run through a wild woodlot filled with honey locust, oak, apple, black cherry, spruce, poplar, willow and pines. For the past 20 years, Kuebart has maintained a network of trails throughout the forest he’s planted on his acreage near Bamberg.
Kuebart estimates he’s planted about 20,000 trees on 44 acres of his property, and spent about $15,000.
He began planting about 2,000 trees each year in the early 1990s when the provincial government subsidized the cost and provided technical support for planting to landowners. Even after the program ended, he continued to buy and plant trees with the help of his neighbours and friends until the early 2010s.
Now in his late 70s, he is trying to create a succession plan. He cares for the land and doesn’t want to see it sold to someone who might cut down his trees.
Asked what he loves about his land, he says: “I love the sound. I love the wind, the shade and I love the smell. When it has rained and the soil is opening up, to me it’s paradise.
“I’m glad I have so many trees around because in summer when it’s so hot, I have shade and in winter when there’s storms, the house is protected.”
Succession options for landowners typically include selling the property or passing it down to offspring. But now residents in Waterloo Region and Wellington County may have another option — to work with rare Charitable Research Reserve to preserve their land.
Rare is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary and is now going public with a land securement strategy. The team at rare identified 300 properties within 17 ecologically significant areas in Waterloo Region and Wellington County as candidates for land conservation.
“We take a gentle approach with landowners,” says Stephanie Sobek-Swant, executive director of rare. “We don’t want to give people the impression that we want to take their land away. We hope we can just get to know them and build a relationship.
“Many landowners already know their land is important for conservation.”
Waterloo Region contains nine of the 17 areas, and approximately 250 of the properties identified as candidates for conservation, says Sobek-Swant.
These areas were selected based on factors including prioritizing wetland, woodland and flood plain, pre-existing protections like association with the conservation authority or regional forests, number of landowners, parcel size, distribution throughout the region, potential for funding and potential for donation or sale.
“We want the landowners to become more aware that there are more options for them. They can use certain tools to preserve their land in perpetuity,” says Sobek-Swant.
Many landowners prefer to donate their land outright and enjoy the various tax benefits that come with that, says Sobek-Swant. In some occasional cases rare can purchase land, and in other cases, conservation easements where the landowner keeps ownership.
When landowners want to donate land that falls outside rare’s targeted area, Sobek-Swant says staff are always happy to find a solution. For one proposed property closer to Stratford, she says another land trust covering the area in question was found.
Kuebart has reached a crossroads in life. He is thinking about moving into a nearby retirement home, but hopes to continue spending much of his time with his trees.
“I would like to die on this property,” he says. “I would like to have my last hours here. I feel I am part of the soil and the plants. I want to be protected by the elements that I set up and protected.”
Kuebart is deciding what to do with his property after he’s gone.
“I hope that somebody takes over who shares my spirit,” says Kuebart. “I want this property to be designated as a place of health and well-being.”
Although land in Waterloo Region is highly valuable and some might think it hard to convince landowners to donate, Sobek-Swant says in many cases landowners come to rare themselves. Many are highly concerned about ensuring their land is conserved in perpetuity.
Rare’s land securement strategy was officially launched in 2019, and the organization is already working with the landowners of seven properties to conserve a total of approximately 600 hectares, according to Tom Woodcock, rare’s planning ecologist.
These properties include subdivision land owned by developers and private properties in Kitchener, Cambridge, North Dumfries, Wilmot, Guelph and Eramosa.
“I’ve been pretty encouraged by the response we’ve had since we initially started,” says Woodcock.
“Conservation lands are important. When we ask someone to conserve land, we’re not asking them to do something for someone else,” says Woodcock. “This land is working for them as well.”
The natural environment cleans air and water and sequesters carbon. Woodcock says it’s “providing these ecological systems that we all need whether we get out and wander around in them or not.”
“The only thing that can conserve the groundwater system we use now is natural areas,” says Woodcock. “Agricultural fields or developments are not going to conserve our water.”
Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record