Semipalmated sandpipers, Avonport NS (Photo by Christine Gilroy)

Semipalmated sandpipers, Avonport NS (Photo by Christine Gilroy)

Our work on 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)

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

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

Setting priorities

Within the boundaries 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? That is, can it survive, given the sound land use or the distance from other populations of the same species or habitat?

Developing strategies

The next part of NCC's process is choosing the right strategy to best protect the targets. We consider:

  • 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 (is there biological inventory information available, and can is the habitat intact or can it be restored)? A property may be within the bounds of the NACP, but the previous or existing land use may have changed 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

Once NCC acquires the land, the next step is developing a property management plan.

First, NCC creates a biological inventory for each property (unless one already exists). This 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 bordering the property. Staff review factors that could have a negative impact on the key conservation targets, including 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, goals are established for the property, such as restore and maintain a viable black oak–pine savannah and willow meadow marsh ecosystems.

From there, staff prioritize and put into place a series of actions 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. Staff then determine the land use activities that should be reduced or eliminated 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 a monitoring visit, staff 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 40 hectares (100 acres) in the southwest corner of the property in the next two years by using volunteers and mechanical means.

NCC tracks whether the actions are meeting the goals set out in the property management plan. Has the action been implemented? Has it improved the viability of the species/habitat or reducied the threat to those species/habitats? 

For conservation agreements, NCC commits to yearly monitoring of the conservation agreement to ensure 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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