Semipalmated sandpipers, Avonport NS (Photo by Christine Gilroy)

Semipalmated sandpipers, Avonport NS (Photo by Christine Gilroy)

Our work in properties and projects

NCC staff members remove invasive garlic mustard from the Happy Valley Forest, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

NCC staff members remove invasive garlic mustard from the Happy Valley Forest, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

Perhaps the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) work becomes most tangible at the property or project level. This is where we secure land (through purchase, easement or donation) and develop our approach to manage or restore it.

Using the information from the natural area conservation plans (NACPs), we can focus our efforts at the finest scale of planning – the property.

Setting priorities

Within the bounds of the NACP, there are many factors that influence what targets we select to protect. We ask questions such as:

  • Is the species or habitat viable – i.e., can it survive, given the sounding land use or the distance from other populations of the same species or habitat?

Developing strategies

The next part of the process deals with selecting the right strategy to best protect the targets. NCC considers factors such as:

  • Does NCC want to take ownership of the land? Or would it be equally or better protected through ownership by a partner organization? 
  • Would a conservation agreement protect the habitat and species? Are other creative conservation tools (such as life estate, purchasing mineral rights or lease backs) a better option?
  • Can NCC play a role in providing information on species or habitat management?
  • Is there existing connectivity to other natural areas? Does it fill in a gap in an area of already protected lands? 
  • What is known about the condition of the individual pieces of land (ex: whether there is biological inventory information available, and whether the habitat is intact or can be restored)? A property may be within the bounds of the natural area conservation plan, but the previous or existing land use may have altered the condition of the land to such an extent that there is little or no habitat value remaining. Consideration is given to NCC’s ability to restore habitats, as well as the cost and timeframe involved.
  • Are there landowners willing to sell or donate their land? Without a willing landowner NCC cannot move forward. However over time, family situations change, economies change, people’s perspective on the future change. Conservation is a long-term initiative.

Taking action

If NCC acquires land, the next action is developing a property management plan.

First, NCC creates a biological inventory for each property (unless one already exists). This inventory summarizes the habitats and species on the property.

Once NCC’s conservation biologists have an understanding of what features exist on the property, they assess the threats on or adjacent to the property. Staff review factors that could have a negative impact on the key conservation targets. That may include such things as invasive alien species, incompatible recreation and dams. Other threats can include hazards and infrastructure on the site such as garbage dumps, pits, wells, buildings, fences and other structures.

Once this information is gathered, a series of goals is established for the property. A goal statement may be: To restore and maintain a viable black oak–pine savannah and willow meadow marsh ecosystems.

From there staff prioritize and implement a series of actions designed to achieve the goal.

If after careful review of the conservation features and threats, NCC decides to acquire an interest in land in the form of a conservation agreement, the purpose of the agreement is established. From there, staff determine the land use activities that should be reduced or eliminated in order to best protect the habitats and species. For example, if the conservation agreement restricts the development of new buildings, staff will review the baseline documentation report to determine where the existing buildings are located. During the monitoring visit, staff will document what, if any, new buildings have been added to the property.

Measuring success

If NCC owns the property, the actions in a property management plan that are directly tied to particular species and/or habitats and the associated threats are prioritized as critical, necessary or beneficial.

For example, if the goal is increased forest cover and a significant threat is alien invasive species, the actions may include planting 10,000 sugar maple seedlings on 100 acres (40 hectares) in the southwest corner of the property in the next two years by using volunteers and mechanical means.

To determine if the actions are achieving the goals set out in the property management plan, NCC tracks whether the action has been implemented and whether or not it has improved the viability of the species/habitat or reducing the threat to those species/habitats.  

For conservation agreements, NCC commits to annual monitoring of the conservation agreement to ensure that the landowner complies with all the restrictions in the agreement. Staff review each restriction and compare it to the baseline documentation report, previous monitoring reports and any communications with the landowner on file.

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