In a media release from the Nature Conservancy of Canada, sent out Oct. 20, Kristyn Ferguson, the NCC’s large landscapes program director, revealed that they were working toward a major conservation project to protect 12,000 acres near Bancroft. Consisting of a partial land donation by Land’escapes Ben Samann, the rest of the land will be financed and NCC will be working towards raising the funds over the course of the next several months to pay for this acquisition, called the Hastings Wildlife Junction and the associated costs with acquiring and maintaining it for generations to come.
The NCC is Canada’s leading not for profit, private land conservation organization, working to safeguard vital natural areas and the species sustained within them. NCC and its partners have helped protect 35 million acres across the country since 1962.
Ferguson says that NCC did a scan of a lot of large landholdings in Ontario back in the spring of 2020. The lands in question jumped out at them as it was such a large parcel of ecologically significant land in southern Ontario, so they’ve had it on their radar for some time. Ultimately, the overall goal of the Hastings Wildlife Junction project is to protect at least 20,000 acres over the next few years.
“We were looking around at a number of potential conservation partners. This acreage would be a big one for NCC to bite off on our own. So we were in conversation with a number of our partners to see if there were any sort of collaborations. But, Ben was able to move quickly on the project, faster than anyone else, so we just gave him our blessing to do that,” she says.
Ferguson says they’re still working on the specifics of the finances, and having all the lands appraised. So, until they know the worth, they won’t know what percentage Ben will be donating and what percentage that NCC will be paying for.
The properties that comprise this new project are located in Marmora and Lake Township, and there are several parcels of land located west of Hwy 62 and north of Hwy 7. The region consists of many species at risk and a collection of wide-ranging mammals; the eastern wolf, black bear, moose, pine marten, successfully reintroduced elk, rare birds and turtles.
According to the NCC media release, the region has an expansive interior forest with a 98 per cent natural cover, significant rivers and wetlands, and is adjacent to over 74,000 acres of Crown lands that have been specially designated as enhanced management areas because of their unique features.
Andrew Holland, director of national media relations with NCC, says that the Hastings Wildlife Junction is particularly critical for maintaining the water quality for local aquatic life and downstream communities, ranging from Toronto to Kingston. Additionally, massive amounts of carbon, over 4.5 million tonnes, are stored in the forests and wetlands throughout this area.
Ferguson says that the NCC is thrilled to have this new project to conserve the lands, waterways and species that inhabit these areas for generations to come. She says that NCC has a well-oiled machine process when it comes to creating property management plans, which she says helps them understand what’s going on on the land, the current uses, where are the really sensitive areas, what sort of species are using it, what help they need. Once that scan is done, they have a better idea of what a management plan would look like going forward.
She says that they are in the early stages of engagement efforts with Indigenous groups to form a property management plan with their guidance, and will also be looking to other groups like foresters, for their assistance.
“So, there’s a number of ways we’ll tackle planning for the property and we’ll also be doing a conservation plan for the broader area which we call the central Ontario corridors natural area,” she says.
Ferguson says they also intend to give talks to naturalist groups, cottagers’ associations, industry events and anyone who wants to have them along to learn more about this project.
“We’re thrilled and have a presentation ready to go, so it’s really just about connecting and communicating and finding those groups that feel equally excited about this opportunity as we do,” she says.
Ben Samann, a businessman and founder of Land’escapes, is thrilled to be donating these lands to the NCC, given their proven ability to conserve and manage their land holdings and ensuring that people are part of their conservation vision. Additionally, the at-risk species and sensitive habitats within the parcel will be preserved.
Samann says that when he bought his 67,235-acre parcel in June of this year, it came with a lot of smaller parcels that he really didn’t know what to do with.
“The two large parcels were my major interest, and we identified the smaller parcels that were most important for long term conservation. NCC is probably the only conservation organization that has the resources to secure and protect this land,” he says.
While Samann has generously agreed to donate a portion of these lands, NCC still needs to fundraise to come up the money to pay for the rest of the acreage. However, the good news is that they’re about 80 per cent of the way there; they do need to come up with $3.2 million by the spring of 2022, however.
In addition to covering the cost of the land itself, they also need money to cover all remaining costs of the land acquisition, the creation of a property management plan,
And investing in a stewardship fund to make sure that this parcel of land is well looked after in the long term.
“We are feeling good and sure about these first 12,000 acres and we are on our way on that fundraising journey towards what we hope will be success to raise all the funds by the spring of 2022,” she says.
If you would like to learn more and make a donation to NCC for this project, please visit www.natureconservancy.ca/hastings.
The most exciting thing for Ferguson about this land acquisition is the wildlife that inhabits it. She says she keeps having amazing encounters with wildlife whenever she visits the property.
“Whether it’s a log with a line of turtles sunning themselves, at risk bird species singing from the trees, or you turn a corner and you’re following elk tracks. Or you look over and you’re staring at a white-tailed deer. I’ve never seen so many butterflies mid-summer, just all over the roadside flowers as I moved through these properties. So, that’s what I’m excited about.
This will ensure that all these creatures, as well as all the plants have a chance to continue to persist on the landscape and really thrive and flourish. It seems like a haven for wildlife. The rivers in the area are pretty special too. The Crowe River and Beaver Creek, these long undeveloped stretches of these incredible rivers and beautiful rapids. It’s really something to be seen,” she says. “There’s a lot out there and we look forward to welcoming people onto the site in a sustainable way, so they can enjoy it too.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times