Cockburn Island, Manitoulan Islands Archipelago ON (Photo by NCC)
For more than five years, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has been leading an international effort to acquire a rich mosaic of forests, beaches, wetlands and inland lakes on Cockburn Island in northern Lake Huron.
Today, thanks to NCC and partners, more than 60 per cent of the island — 25,055 acres (10,139 hectares) — is protected for the long term. With an incredible 48 kilometres of undeveloped shoreline, this property protects a longer stretch of coast than that protected by Bruce Peninsula National Park. As a result of NCC’s efforts, this has become one of the last, large wilderness islands in the lower Great Lakes.
NCC now has an opportunity to take this project to the next level. NCC must raise an additional $1.4 million by May 2019 to secure an additional 1,400 acres (566 hectares) on Cockburn Island.
The parcels available for purchase include shoreline and are directly next to existing conservation land. This presents an opportunity to maintain the integrity of this precious island ecosystem.
With ever-increasing development in southern Ontario, it is rare to find such a complete and intact ecosystem. The growing demand for second homes and cottage developments has not reached Cockburn Island like it has in other parts of the Manitoulin Island Archipelago, where the unspoiled and scenic shoreline has caught the attention of potential buyers.
In 20 years, a project of this scale will be unimaginable. NCC has an extraordinary opportunity to conserve this remarkable piece of Canada’s natural history, before it’s too late.
Located in northern Lake Huron, between Manitoulin Island to the east and Drummond Island (Michigan) to the west, Cockburn Island provides habitat for a variety of globally significant species and plant communities. The large populations of these species and the healthy, undisturbed habitats that support them make the island an important biodiversity hot spot. In an international study of 32,000 islands in the Great Lakes, Cockburn Island ranked eighth for its conservation importance, lack of disturbance and low threat of development.
Cockburn Island provides important stopover and breeding habitat for migrating songbirds and waterfowl. This includes chestnut-sided warbler, wood thrush and the threatened Canada warbler. The island also supports wide-ranging mammals, including black bear, white-tailed deer, moose, grey wolf and coyote. The rivers and creeks support both resident and migratory fish species. Economically important species such as lake trout and whitefish spawn on shoals along the coast.
Unlike Drummond and Manitoulin islands, there has been little development on Cockburn Island. The island was opened up for agriculture and logging in the late 1800s, but its isolation resulted in the abandonment of many farmsteads.
The island today is home to a wonderful community of seasonal residents and cottagers. However, it has almost no permanent population. This makes this conservation opportunity all the more unique, and the timing for action imperative.
Collaboration in action
The Cockburn Island project represents an opportunity to protect one of the highest priority islands in the Great Lakes. Cockburn Island Council and representatives from the Cockburn Island Sports & Conservation Club have helped shape the property management plan for the land. Locals have expressed interest in collaborating to ensure the land is both protected and enjoyed.
This conservation project is supported by funding from the Government of Canada through the Natural Areas Conservation Program. This funding is in turn matched by contributions from generous individuals, foundations and corporations including the J.A. Woollam Foundation, Rogers Foundation and TD Bank Group through the TD Forests program. NCC continues to fundraise for the project, and invites supporters to contact us at 1-800-465-0029 x 2222 to learn more or to donate.
The Government of Canada's Natural Areas Conservation Program (NACP) is a unique public-private partnership to accelerate the pace of land conservation across southern Canada. The Nature Conservancy of Canada manages the program. Federal funds are matched by contributions raised by NCC and its partners. Habitat conserved under the NACP enhances natural corridors and other protected areas.