An island in Lake Huron gains protection

More than 18 kilometers of the coast of Manitoulin Island are now protected conservation lands. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) announced the acquisition of the Vidal Bay Forests and Shoreline property on December 7. The $ 16 million project covering 18,800 acres is one of NCC’s largest individual property acquisitions in Ontario and protects 18.5 kilometers of shoreline in Manitoulin. in the North Channel of Lake Huron.

“It’s been a really incredible opportunity to be able to work on a project like this,” said Esme Batten, director of programs for NCC in Midwestern Ontario. “I am very grateful to all who supported and protected Vidal Bay forever for future generations to enjoy.”

The purchase, completed over many months, was made possible “thanks to the generosity of private donors, many of them from the island, farmers and local organizations who saw the importance of the project,” said Ms. Batten.

Funding for the land conservation project was also provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lafarge, Manitoulin Transport, the government of Ontario through the Greenlands Conservation Association, as well as funds from the federal government through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program of Canada, part of the Canada Nature Fund. .

NCC staff have been working to protect Vidal Bay for more than 20 years. The property has long been recognized as a site of global importance, consisting of rare alvars and critical habitat for species at risk. The habitats found on the Vidal Bay property are home to many species listed under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, including spotted dark wing (endangered), lakeside daisy (special concern), Hill’s thistle (threatened), eastern wood pewee (special concern), eastern ribbon snake (special concern), arboreal thrush (threatened), lesser bittern (threatened), and Blanding’s tortoise (endangered).

In the early 1990s, NCC helped preserve the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Mnidoo Mnising (Queen Mum) Provincial Park to the south. “That was kind of a phase one of our plan to create a wildlife conservation corridor that stretches from the southern coast of Manitoulin to the north,” explained Ms. Batten.

Vidal Bay’s 18,800 acres provide a 248-square-kilometer complex of protected areas when connected and combined with nearby and adjacent lands that are already conserved or that NCC hopes to conserve, such as the Queen Mum and NCC conservation lands on Cockburn Island. This is an excellent example of the scale of work required to address climate change and the biodiversity crisis, NCC said.

“It is the largest of its kind south of the Canadian Shield in Ontario and wildlife can now travel unhindered from the southern shores of Manitoulin Island to the north,” said Ms. Batten. “It is so rare that we have protected large intact natural spaces like that. It’s really important for mammals like black bears and gray wolves to be able to move unhindered over a wide range. “

Property is also important for migratory birds, as a stopover for many species and also to provide critical breeding habitat. The Vidal Bay shoreline overlaps the Manitoulin Island North Coast Important Bird Area, designated for its importance to migratory and breeding bird species at risk.

There is still more to learn about the lands of Vidal Bay and more work to be completed. NCC has almost completed a reference inventory document; It is in the final review stage at this time. That inventory will help inform the property management plan.

The $ 16 million project covering 18,800 acres is one of NCC’s largest individual property acquisitions in Ontario and protects 18.5 kilometers of shoreline in Manitoulin, on the north channel of Lake Huron.

“It’s a five-year plan and we’re going to take everything we learned through that inventory process, including things like where rare species habitat is located, trails we might want to close, etc., and develop a management plan. of the property since that. We will also look at our conservation goals and find out what actions we are going to take to help us achieve our goals. That could be something like eradicating invasive phragmites off the coast, since we know there is a small population along the coast in Vidal Bay, ”said Ms. Batten.

Annual monitoring means the plan is not set in stone. “It’s really an iterative process,” he added. “There are many things that must be taken into account for the habitat to continue to thrive.”

NCC has involved many people in the development process. They have worked with Ontario Parks to make sure their plan for Vidal Bay is consistent with other areas. In July, NCC worked with the Manitoulin Nature Club, completing a virtual Bio-Blitz to help report the baseline inventory. They have also had the help of community members and representatives of local indigenous communities.

“We certainly recognize that the dynamics of conservation are changing. Indigenous peoples are being recognized as stewards of land conservation and we certainly recognize indigenous knowledge of natural areas. We are very grateful to be working closely with the Manitoulin communities to develop the inventory and baseline plan, ”noted Ms. Batten.

While Vidal Bay will be preserved ‘as is’ for conservation purposes, NCC intends to see “how we can best welcome people to the property safely,” he said. “We have been working with community groups like Manitoulin Snowdusters, to find ways to continue supporting winter snowmobile trail access.” There are also ongoing discussions about continuing to hunt on the property. “We recognize Vidal Bay as an important place for many people and we are eager to share it. There are already many trails that criss-cross the property and we are making sure they are the correct ones. “

“Opportunities to protect large intact wilderness in Ontario, such as those found in Vidal Bay, are incredibly rare,” said Batten. “The conservation of Bahía Vidal not only protects the habitat of the animals and plants that depend on it, but its forests and wetlands also clean the water and air while providing a place for people to connect with nature now and for future generations ”.

Lori Thompson, reporter for the local journalism initiative, The Manitoulin Expositor

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